September 14, 2014

Hit Me Banh Mi One More Time: Ba Le and Nam Son

"What's your favorite banh mi?" is the question that stumps us whenever we discuss Sandwich Quest with someone in Philly, considering our first banh mi at Q.T. Vietnamese more than three years ago was a big disappointment. The two sandwiches we tried there were just not good enough for us to recommend and we have not sought another since.

It was clearly time to jump back on the horse and try the banh mi again. This time we decided to tackle two - one each from Ba Le Bakery and Nam Son Bakery along Washington Ave.

Close-up of Nam Son banh mi
Thank the food gods that we did because the banh mi is squarely back on the list of things to try on Sandwich Quest. The shredded pork banh mi at Ba Le was the "a-ha!" moment, in particular. From the first bite, I began to understand why people love the banh mi. Just like any good sandwich it starts with the bread, and in the case of the banh mi - the French baguette!

The Ba Le baguette surpassed Nam Son although both were good. Soft and light on the inside with a crackly crust, every bite was a joy. And get this: you can buy individual baguettes for dirt cheap. At Nam Son they are 65 cents or 4 for $2.50. Compare that to Metropolitan Bakery, where a single baguette costs $1.25. The full banh mi sandwich is also a bargain at $4.50 at both places.

What really made the difference for both Ba Le and Nam Son was the freshness of the ingredients. Ba Le, where I tasted more of the cilantro flavor and the right combination of cucumber and carrots atop shredded pork, was a step ahead even though Nam Son was not bad by any means. Nam Son was a bit heavy on the carrots as you can tell from the picture.

Shredded pork banh mi from Ba Le Bakery

Shredded pork banh mi from Nam Son Bakery

And yowzers did the Ba Le version pack a punch of heat. It was just the right amount, though, as the jalapenos and spicy pork added much to the flavor without overpowering the rest of the sandwich.

If this were a banh mi smackdown, I’d give it to Ba Le with a late round knockout. However, the real winner was Sandwich Quest as both places more than proved that the "Vietnamese hoagie" belongs on anyone's list of Philly sandwiches to try. 

Let me know your favorite banh mi and be sure to tell us which type to order, too (barbecue pork, tofu, etc.).

And yes, the headline parody is the first and last Britney Spears reference that will ever appear on this blog.


angelina marie said...

Street Food Philly (food truck) has THE best banh mi sandwich in Philadelphia, in my opinion.

Unknown said...

Ba Le is and has been the best for years, bread really makes it, but all other ingredients are great as well

Unknown said...

Isn't nam son bakery closed?

K said...

You should try Vinh Long in Lower Moyamensing