Your Chinatown Banh Mi Crawl

Where to find the best banh mi around town is often a contentious board topic, as the competitors are many, and each shop seems to have its pluses and minuses. This one does a great sardine sandwich but its pork is subpar; that one has great bread but the seasonings are too bland. How do you find the One True Sandwich that will haunt your dreams?

Try a whole bunch of different places, of course. And since three board favorites are located conveniently close to each other in Chinatown, you can drop a $20, try everything you're interested in, and go back for seconds of what you like best.

Sub City is the newest contender, located in the same spot as the defunct (and lamented) Mike's Banh Mi, and new enough that it still bears a "grand opening!" banner. davis_sq_pro lauds Sub City's bread, which has a "crispy exterior, soft and not too airy interior." Sandwiches come heaped with fantastic amounts of pickled vegetables, which include daikon and cucumber along with the typical carrots and cilantro. Oh, and "you may not know it unless you're nosy like I am and peer over the counter, but Sub City offers two kinds of chiles: long thin slices of fresh jalapeño, and a kind of lightly pickled relish of fresh bird chiles (red and green crosswise slices) that is rather hotter," says MC Slim JB.

Mei Sum is an old board favorite, largely on the strength of its bread, which glenn mcdonald, another counter-peeper, recently discovered is from Quinzani's. Strange that a bakery doesn't bake its own bread, but all righty. "It's got good texture and crust, without being TOO crusty. One of my least favorite things about banh mi is having the crust cut into the roof of my mouth with every bite," says kobuta. Mei Sum's beef is good and tender, its vegetables are dressed with fish sauce (giving them a little zing that Sub City's lack), and its bird chiles are sliced but not pickled, and thus hotter than the pickled relish Sub City offers.

The final stop on your crawl is 163, the favorite of MeffaBabe, who has worked in Chinatown for four years and has "tried them all." Eatin in Woostah is another fan: "The beef Banh Mi was incredibly good. My 9-year-old had the cold cut, which she loved. The pâté spread was super tasty. And I prefer the extra crunchy baguettes there." 163's only downside is that requests for "spicy" sandwiches are often ignored; check for chiles before leaving or risk disappointment.

Sub City [Chinatown]
42 Beach Street, Boston
No phone available

Mei Sum Bakery Coffee Shop [Chinatown]
40 Beach Street, Boston
617-357-4050

163 Vietnamese Sandwich [Chinatown]
66 Harrison Avenue, Boston
617-988-8006

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