Ahhhh, the banh mi. Such a tasty and cheap little Vietnamese sandwich. Soft French bread filled with carrots, jalapeños, cilantro, and a delightful meat. It's one of our favorites, but we tend to overlook the little guys when we are at our favorite Vietnamese spots because, well, because there are just so many other awesome eats, like pho. (When was the last time you passed up a bowl of pho for a banh mi? Yep. That's what we thought).
But this week, we threw the pho to the wind in the name of battle, and we put Phoenix favorite Da Vang up against Vietnamese newcomer Pho House to see who has the better banh mi.
May the best sandwich win!
In this corner: Da Vang 4538 N. 19th Ave.
Longtime Phoenix (and New Times) favorite Da Vang has been serving up some of the best Vietnamese food in the Valley for more than 18 years. The family-owned restaurant is located in a dive-y strip mall on 19th Avenue that easily could be overlooked if one wasn't exactly sure where they were going. The interior is nothing to write home about -- just your typical traditional Vietnamese eatery -- and the service can be hit-and-miss. All are things we'll gladly look past for a bowl of Da Vang pho.
The good: Our barbecued pork Da Vang sandwich came neatly wrapped in white paper with a cute blue rubber band. The bread was light and crispy, and the carrots, jicama, and jalapeños were julienned just right. The meat was super- flavorful and it had the right amount of cilantro.
The bad: Where's the meat? Da Vang was a bit stingy with the meat. We would have loved to get even one more slice of sweet pork, but for $2.25, we can't complain too much.
In the other corner: Pho House 3275 E. McDowell Road
This three-month-old Vietnamese restaurant sits in a mostly Hispanic strip mall on McDowell Road at 32nd Street. This place is, by far, one of the most dive-y Vietnamese eateries around town, but the people behind the counter are super-nice (although very quiet) and they, too, make a mean bowl of pho.
The good: Also wrapped nicely in white paper (but with a red rubber band) the thick, chewy bread was loaded with thick spears of cucumbers, sliced carrots, cilantro, and thick slices of sweet barbecued pork. All this for just under $3. A total steal.
The bad: The bread was soft and thick, but it wasn't anything close to the light and tender French bread that makes up your typical banh mi. The veggies were cut waaaay too thick for my liking and the meat was a bit fatty (delicious, but fatty).
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And the winner is . . .
It's a tie.
Even though the Da Vang sandwich could have used more meat, what was there was tender and delicious, and the bread was almost perfect. Pho House packed on the toppings, but the bread was way too thick -- and not traditional French bread. So why the tie? My dining companion and I both thought Da Vang's bread and their veggies were far better, but the meat in the Pho House sandwich (even though it was fatty) was our favorite. If we could combine the two we would have the perfect sandwich -- a sandwich that we would easily pay $5 for.