Cafe Thao Mi
1773 West 4160 South
(West Carriage Square)
7:30 a.m. to 7:30 pm Mon-Fri
7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sat
7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sun.
Tay Do Supermarket.
3825 South Redwood Road
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun-Wed
9 a.m to 7 p.m. Thurs-Sat
Hong Phat Market
3086 Redwood Road
9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Every day of the week.
Bánh mí (or Saigon subs as they are called in America) are a kind of submarine sandwich, that might also be a rite of passage for a secret society. If you haven’t had one, you don’t know what I’m talking about, and if you have, you probably have buddies with whom you share your passion for this amazing dinner-sized, snack-priced foodie favorite. They are cheap, delicious and like no other sandwich. They fill the same niche as a street taco, except they over-night just fine in your fridge and are portable.
Bánh mí is a byproduct of the French occupation of Vietnam. Key to this sandwich is a Vietnamese-styled French baguette. Made with rice flour and wheat, it has a lightness in its crust that is satisfyingly crunchy, but not painful on a tender lip like a baguette can be. The innards of the sandwich are a combination of classic French ideas on the pig and pig liver, mixed with Vietnamese flavors of cilantro, pickled daikon and carrot, hot pepper and often jalapeño. The result is a family of sandwiches whose flavors are simply unknown in other foods.
The varieties of the sandwich are dictated by the meat choices—pork: in slices or cold cuts, as ham, barbequed or roasted, or made into meatballs; and chicken in similar varieties. The Asian vegetables and pickles, mayo, liver spread and bun are universal.
Bánh mí are made to order, so particulars can be avoided if you know what you don’t like (liver paté or pickled radish, for instance). Don’t start by omitting what you think you don’t like in these amazing sandwiches. Get a combo and eat the darned thing. If you like it hot, ask for jalapeños, which I feel are mandatory. These are sandwiches for the food adventurer.
Bánh mí has made a big impression in many metropolitan areas. They are cheaply priced, available in ethnically diverse neighborhoods and have caught the attention of foodies over the years. In Salt Lake City, except for the very occasional sighting at the local Japanese bakery, they have only been spotted by yours truly on and around Redwood Road in crazy movie-set-feeling strip-malls and plazas.
All three delis mentioned here (which is not an exhaustive list of bánh mí outlets), have their particular charms. The Hong Phat Market seems most like a third world village shop, plucked up smells and all, unpacked in an abandoned 7-Eleven. The patrons there seem well adjusted to buying difficult and alien-looking foods (think fish heads, pig heads, absurdly large melons with spines like a dinosaur). The deli is located at the back of the store. Sometimes it’s a bit of sign language that gets the conversation past your lack of Vietnamese and the nice counter-lady’s lack of English. The sandwiches here are very generous and attractive and the lady usually asks you if you want the peppers by holding one up and saying I-don’t-know-what to which I reply, “Yes, yes please.” During the course of my research for this article, Hong Phat Market raised the prices of their sandwiches to three dollars from two-fifty. I don’t know if this was in relation to my weekly purchase of 15 or 20 at a time, but my vanity thinks it might have been. In any case, as these stores price things in lock step with each other, it wouldn’t suprise me to see the other shops raise their prices soon, too.
The Tay Do Supermarket is more upscale, westernized and cleaner. There are usually some pre-made bánh mí on the deli counter for sale for only two dollars. These are a good deal, and pretty much do everything you want from a drive-away sandwich. Peppers are always included. The made-to-order menu sandwiches include a chicken offering and the buns here are a little harder than in the ready-made version. If you ask the friendly folks behind the counter to make you some delicious sandwiches, remember to ask for peppers. If you are a white boy like me, they assume you can’t handle it and sometimes omit them even when you ask.
The Cafe Thao Mi is a restaurant and coffee shop—they have a full selection of Vietnamese food available, both prepared and displayed on the counter (for cash and dash dining). It’s a “cute” place and I feel a little sad that it is always empty in its sort of post-civilization walking mall. The bánh mí are offered in a number of varieties, both pork and chicken and the counter-help are happy to talk sandwiches. You can get precisely what you want if you really know what that is. This is the first bánh mí place I discovered, and it is probably my favorite. I always get the simple combination sandwich here, the number one. It gets the flavors just right every time.
I love these little sandwiches. They make me feel sophisticated and urban, while at the same time satisfying my cheap-and-getting-away-with-it personality. You should check them out at your earliest convenience.