|Top: The Ba Le contender. Bottom: The Saigon sammy.|
A product of French colonialism in Vietnam, the banh mi is classic street food, a sandwich that combines elements of both nations' culinary traditions - France's baguette and pâté, usually, and Vietnam's cilantro, chiles, and pickled vegetables. One of the most popular banh mi sandwiches contains grilled pork. SFoodie tried versions at two highly touted spots, Saigon Sandwiches in the Tenderloin and Ba Le in Oakland, in our own take on the Bay Bridge Classic.
Baguette: Saigon's bread, toasted on the outside, wins points for crispness. Ba Le also toasts, but the overall effect is softer. Both scoop out some of the insides to allow more room for fillings.Meat: Saigon serves tender strips of pork, hands-down better than Ba Le's odd, pressed composite of mystery meat, which has good flavor but weak texture. And Saigon stuffs in more meat than its Oakland rival.
The winner: Saigon, though we miss the daikon. But if you ever find yourself in the East Bay with a wicked banh mi craving, Ba Le is a solid second.
Ba Le Banh Mi 1909 International Blvd. (at 19th St.), Oakland; 1500 International Blvd. (at 15th St.), Oakland (takeout only)
Saigon Sandwiches 560 Larkin St. (at Eddy)