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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dish Duel: Banh Mi Bay Bridge Classic

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 3:05 PM

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.

Toppings: Saigon's pickled veggies do not include daikon - what's up with that? Ba Le's has scallions, while Saigon uses white onion. Both use carrots, and top with jalapeños (fresh, not pickled) and cilantro. Ba Le throws in a whopping wedge of cucumber -- somewhat distracting next to the julienne of other veggies. Both are the perfect combination of sweet and spicy with a hint of fish sauce. Winner revealed after the jump.

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)

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Kim Westerman


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