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Monday
Jan212013

FiPS Food Throwdowns: Banh Mi Edition

FIPS Food Throwdowns is a series where we order the same exact thing from two different Park Slope restaurants and evaluate which was better. It's a culinary smackdown...a triumph of the will of sorts.

In Park Slope, the banh mi sandwich has a storied tradition. Specifically, the hood is home to two Vietnamese sandwich shops along 7th Ave--Hanco's & Henry's--who are so intertwined, from their owners to their menus, that NPR's This American Life did a 2010 segment on their strange rivalry. Hanco's came first. Then a guy from there left & opened Henry's with the same exact menu...blah blah blah.

Down on 5th Ave, there are two more Vietnamese sandwich shops--Home & Lotus Vietnamese Sandwiches--and late last year, a new, ridiculously-named joint--Banhmigos--opened up in a tiny spot just off of 7th Ave on Lincoln Pl. If it wasn't for frozen yogurt shops, Vietnamese sandwich shops would be the best target for any & all "OH GREAT, ANOTHER ONE" jokes.

For today's Throwdown, we'll be pitting the original--Hanco's--against the new kid on the block--Banhmigos. They're TOTALLY gonna meet after school by the bike racks and scrap for my approval by serving me the exact same takeout order, proving once & for all which of the two is OBVIOUSLY BETTER.

Since I'm a lazy ass, this past weekend, by the time I got out of bed on both days it was pretty much afternoon already, so I had myself two banh mi breakfasts, starting on Saturday with Banhmigos' "Da 'B'" (their traditional sandwich) and following up on Sunday with the Classic from Hanco's.

Banhmigos, 178 Lincoln Pl (btwn 7th & 8th)
When I arrived, there were a few people inside the tiny storefront. I stepped up to the counter, ordered "Da 'B'" spicy and settled down on one of the window seats. Less than TWO MINUTES LATER, my order was ready. While I appreciate the speed, I can't help but feel slightly weird about their ability to assemble a sandwich at a clip faster than most fast food restaurants. Total cost: $6.50

While I eat a Cambodian sandwich from Num Pang in Union Square at least once a week, when I got my banh mi home & unwrapped it, I realized that until this weekend, I'd never had a Vietnamese sandwich, which is somewhat similar. FOOD FAIL on my part. At pretty much every Park Slope Vietnamese sandwich shop, the traditional banh mi contains pate, ground pork & Vietnamese ham along with carrots & daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro and mayo on a French baguette. Banhmigos traditional banh mi is no exception.

Since I was losing my banh mi virginity, it took me a few bites to fully appreciate the many flavors & textures going on, but once I did, I mostly enjoyed it. Banhmigos' bread had a thin crust that didn't tear the roof of my mouth up & an airy inside, which held together nicely under the weight of the three meats & excessive veggies.

As for those meats--the pate, roasted ground pork & Vietnamese ham--they were aiight but all three weirded me out. Both the pate & the Vietnamese ham were thin, grey slices of meat with the rubbery texture of packaged deli meats. The roasted ground pork, while flavorful & somewhat spicy (from a red spicy sauce they use), in the end looked a hell of a lot like dog food. It also had a color that was closer to grey than brown.

With this meat trifecta, the veggies played an important balancing-out function. The sliced carrots & daikon radish (which they sort of skimped on with me) are pickled, which is awesome. I could eat a bucket of the stuff. The cucumber & a few secret ninja jalapenos provided even more of a crunch. There's some cilantro in there too but it wasn't really all that central to the sandwich...unless you're one of those crazy fuckers who think cilantro tastes like dish water. Then you'll notice it like BARF.

Overall, I appreciated the mix of flavors & textures but I really don't see what the big deal is with banh mi sandwiches...or, at least, Banhmigos did nothing for my personal banh-mi-acceptance cause.

Hanco's, 350 7th Ave (btwn 10th & 11th)
Yesterday afternoon, I grabbed my "morning" coffee around noon & headed to Hanco's. They had about ten people hanging out in their space, a space which is way bigger than that of Banhmigos. I ordered up the Classic spicy & for CRYING OUT FRIGGIN LOUD, it took them almost five minutes to get me my order. In this GO GO GO world, who has five whole minutes to wait for a fuckin banh mi? I mean, c'mon, Hanco‘s. Get it together. Total cost: $6.50

Ingredient-wise, Hanco's bahn mi is basically the same thing as that of Banhmigos', from the bread to the meat to the veggies. Hanco's is the granddaddy of Park Slope Vietnamese sandwich shops though & there are a few things that they definitely do better than newcomer Banhmigos.

The bread wasn't one of those things. It wasn't bad but I prefer my bread a bit less crusty than what I tried at Hanco's & compared to Banhmigos, the "mouth-roof-tearing" quotient was clearly higher.

Hanco's meats didn't scare me nearly as much. The Vietnamese ham, while not of extremely-high quality, was actually ham-colored & while the roasted ground pork still looked a bit like dog food, it was definitely more like people food. It wasn't as spicy as I prefer, but it was more flavorful than that of Banhmigos'.

The ratio of sliced carrots to daikon radish was way better in Hanco's Classic but, tastewise, they were about the same as Banhmigos'. Along with the cucumber, there were also a few jalapenos hiding in the mix. Their cilantro was a little more unwieldy though, as they tossed it in there stems & all. All told, I liked it enough that I'll likely try it again.

OBVIOUS WINNER: Hanco's. While it's all relative, other than the bread, the quality of the ingredients in their traditional banh mi is definitely better. Sure they took a whole five minutes to prep my order but in the end their banh mi was better & while we’re at it...they aren't named "Banhmigos." Sorry Banhmigos! You've been bitch slapped by your elder!

Read way more from Shawn at eatdrinksnack.com and eatdrinktaco.com.

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