The banh mi sandwich is the culinary masterpiece of French colonial rule in Vietnam. Equally composed of French and Vietnamese parts, the baguette is crunchy and the ingredients are fresh and springy, creating a worldly balance. Housed inside a pillowy loaf are a slew of meat and veggie options, usually grilled pork belly or pork liver pâté, paired with pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, cucumbers and sliced jalapeños. Nowadays you can virtually customize any banh mi to your liking, but the best banh mi’s are served traditionally. The layers, the flavors, the beautiful colors, and various textures all make it a delicious handheld fusion. It truly is a winning sandwich.
It’s true, the banh mi is a West Coast phenomenon given the many thriving Vietnamese communities in California cooking up traditional banh mi, but it’s also been made over through delicious upscale takes (Beef Tongue Banh Mi at Liholiho Yacht Club, $12.50) to modern progressive Asian fusion (“Sloppy Bun” Red Curry Beef banh mi at Bun Mee). Whatever you like, there are a variety of banh mi options in San Francisco that will sensationalize your taste buds. Here are some of my favorite shops serving up bread and pork heaven:
Saigon’s banh mi is without a doubt my favorite banh mi of all time, and take it from someone who’s grown up eating Vietnamese food in the Tenderloin, this really is the City’s best. For $3.75 you can get your choice of chicken, pork, pâté, tofu or combo and be out the door within minutes (depending on how long the line is). It’s a no-frills, fast, simple joint that you can appreciate because they’re generous with their fillings while maintaining low prices. My favorite is the pâté: warm, creamy, and always delicious.
This is a super popular banh mi shop, and for a great reason! Their offerings nicely tread the line between traditional and modern, with takes on Filipino Kare Kare to an authentic pâté spread. Their pork is legit, baguettes are excellent, and it’s decently priced (around $7 a sandwich). With three shops located in San Francisco and one down in Pacifica, whichever hidden Dinosaur hole you stumble upon will leave you happy and full. Tip: get the special—it’s MEATY!
This is an awesome lunch spot near UCSF in the Inner Sunset and a place I like to treat myself to on my lunch breaks. Located on a residential street, this hidden gem has a variety of sandwiches to choose from (savory, Panini, breakfast), but the best is definitely their banh mi. why? Because the pork belly is juicy and it’s covered in a mouth-watering Sriracha aioli. If your hands aren’t messy by the end of your meal, you’re not eating it right! It's not your typical banh mi but it sure does leave a lasting impression. Tip: parking here sucks, so park slightly further away, grab a sando and have a picnic at Golden Gate Park.
I used to come to Café Bunn Mi a lot when I lived in the Outer Richmond. They have an incredible crispy duck banh mi that is JUST WOW! The duck banh mi would be my obvious recommendation because it’s so tasty, however they do other meats if you’re looking for something less rich. Café Bunn Mi definitely knows how to cook their meat because it’s never dry and always packed with flavor. You can expect the sandwiches to be overflowing with veggies, too. They also do other traditional Vietnamese fares like pho, rice plates, and imperial rolls. Just a heads up, it’s cash only.
Disagree? Tell me what your favorite SF banh mi shops are in the comments below!
The granddaughter of immigrants turned restaurateurs, Tiffany is a first-generation San Francisco native with a passion for food, yummies, and all the noms. She has a video series on her YouTube channel called "Delicious Diary" that features her favorite eats in and around her hometown. She's no expert, but she sure has good taste!