NOTE: this post is very long so I've added a Cliff Notes version in a post below!
Having recently moved within walking distance of Chinatown, I have become addicted to weekend walks for Bahn Mi sandwiches. So, I decided I should start working my way through the neighborhood, trying as many as possible to decide which are the best of the bunch. A few weeks into my quest, this is what I've found.
163 Vietnamese Sandwiches
Overall Impression - So far this has been the worst of the bunch. The roll they serve is so large the filling is completely lost. If they increased the amount of filling, it'd at least be the best value of all the Bahn Mi's. The sandwiches have too many onion and a huge, overpowering slice of cucumber. There wasn't enough cilantro to balance things out for my liking.
BBQ Beef - great beef here, tender and full of flavor. I just with there were more of it!
Tofu - not good at all. The tofu was completely bland and made for a poor taste in the sandwich. You'd have done better taking the tofu out, it needs to be seasoned, tofu can't really stand on its own
Mei Sum Bakery
Overall Impression - good little sandwiches, nice flavor, good toppings. The rolls are fairly small, but they're stuffed with whatever filling you choose. They have a good ratio of carrots/onion/cucumber/cilantro. It's also nice to be able to get a desert, or better yet a pork bun with your bahn mi
Specific Sandiwches -
BBQ Beef - pretty good, but I had a few tough/inedible pieces. A nice flavor, but I liked 163's BBQ beef more.
Pork - This is actually served with two different (though tough to identify) types of pork. One I'd call pork loaf, but a more proper term might be pate. The other looks like a type of salami. Either way it's tasty if not a little disconcerning.
Lu's Sandwich Shop
Overall Impression - you have to love getting food in a place that's connected to a jewelery shop, served by someone who could be your neighbor. This place has been my hands-down favorite thus far. Good size roll, lovingly toasted twice (first time just the bread, the second with the fillings included). She also uses two types of sauce that taste delicious. I prefer the very thin slices of cucumber, along with lots of carrots and more cilantro than any of the others I've tried. The sandwich just hits on all cylindars, it's hard to believe you're paying $2.50 for something that tastes so good and is so substantial.
Specific Sandwiches -
BBQ Beef - nice little slices of beef, though not quite as heavy on the BBQ flavor as I'd like. There could be a few more slices in here and I'd have been happier, but given the other factors, it'd still pick it over the first two shops' BBQ Beef
Ground Pork - hands down the best bahn mi I've tried, this one is a true gem. Great little meatballs of pork, dripping with a tomato-y sauce. The sauce just puts it over the top, it brings the whole sandwich together and makes me want to order another as soon as I've finished. It's been very hard for me to avoid this sandwich to try any others!
I'll keep posting more as I work my way through more of the neighborhood. I also plan on taking some trips outside of Chinatown when I find myself in certain neighborhoods. The Super 88 Chicken Curry bahn mi has been getting rave reviews and I look forward to trying it, but it's tough to make a destination-trip anywhere for a $2.50 sandwich!
Please feel free to point out any bahn mi experiences you've had, and let me know which sandwiches I need to try for myself!