Who Makes the Best Banh Mi in Boston?

Banh Mi

Matt is still interviewing for and waiting to hear from medical schools, meaning we basically don’t know where we will be living in the fall. We could be New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia…or we could also end up staying in Boston. Because we just don’t know, we’re making a concerted effort get out of our Somerville/Cambridge bubble and take more advantage of the entire city of Boston (and beyond) while we’re here.

Our latest adventure took us to Dorchester, Chinatown, and Allston in search of the best banh mi in Boston. Sure, it was a little random, but we both love a good banh mi and we thought it would be a great (and cheap) day of eating. It was also a fun way to explore some new-to-us neighborhoods.

We started at Banh Mi Ba Le in Dorchester. This colorful shop looked promising; I tried to ignore the delicious looking fresh spring rolls and sweets on display to focus on the task at hand.

Banh Mi Ba Le

I ordered the Barbecue Beef Banh Mi (right) and Matt went with the Tofu Banh Mi (left). The meat version had tender, nicely caramelized beef, crisp pickled vegetables, a sweet mayonnaise-butter spread, a drizzle of their special house sauce, and a generous sprinkling of fiery chilis. The tofu version was stuffed with fried tofu and drizzled with soy sauce instead of their house sauce. We both noted that the bread tasted fresh and the vegetables were especially crisp and flavorful. The chilis really stood out, leaving the perfect amount of lingering burn in our mouths.

Our only gripe was that they were a little heavy handed with the mayonnaise-butter spread. That said, I had to try really hard to not eat the entire thing so I could save room for the rest.

Banh Mi Ba Le
1052 Dorchester Ave
Dorchester, MA 02125
Ba Le Restaurant on Urbanspoon

From there, we hopped on the red line to our next stop: Mei Sum in Chinatown. We actually walked in and out of this little bakery a couple of times before realizing we were in the right place, as the bakery counter only displayed pastries.

Mei Sum BBQ Beef

I again went with a Barbecue Beef Banh Mi. The first thing I noticed and loved was that the bread was warm and toasty. The beef was tender, but not as caramelized as the previous banh mi. The carrots and daikon weren’t very crisp, although the hefty slice of cucumber tucked into the sandwich provided a nice crunch throughout. There was a small smear of melted butter on one side of the bread and I could definitely taste the fish sauce in this version. (I love fish sauce, so this was a good thing in my book.) The chilis looked similar to the ones at Banh Mi Ba Le, but carried much less of a punch.

Mei Sum Tofu

Matt’s Tofu Banh Mi was similar. He noted that the tofu was a little drier than the first, but liked the warm bread and the more modest amount of butter.

Mei Sum
40 Beach St
Boston, MA 02111
Mei Sum on Urbanspoon

Our final stop was Pho Viet’s at the Super 88 Market in Allston. In an effort to work up an appetite, we took our time strolling from Chinatown to Allston.

I can’t believe that I had never been to the Super 88. I don’t know how I would have chosen what to eat if we hadn’t been on this mission – everything looked and smelled phenomenal.

Pho Viet BBQ Pork

I switched it up a little and ordered the Barbecue Pork Banh Mi. Their version was the most generous with the protein; the warm, tender pork was spilling out of the bun. Aside from the quantity, it was the best tasting meat I had tried so far. The bun was warm and much more crackly than the other two we tried, but still soft and chewy on the inside, making for a messy but delicious sandwich. A thin spread of mayonnaise provided the perfect amount of fattiness and the fillings were more evenly distributed than the rest. What I didn’t love were the thick slices of jalapeno, which were more awkward to eat and packed less punch than the birds eye chilis in the first two.

Pho Viet Tofu

Matt’s Tofu Banh Mi had tofu that was softer than the heavily fried versions at the other two restaurants, but equally (if not more) flavorful. However, he was still pining for the chilis from the first banh mi.

Pho Viet’s
1095 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
Pho Viet's on Urbanspoon

So, who makes the best banh mi in Boston?

(Disclaimer: I’m sure there are plenty of delicious versions that we didn’t try…)

If I had to pick one, I would go with the Barbecue Pork Banh Mi at Pho Viet’s. Even though it was lacking a spicy kick, I thought both the meat and bread made for a superior sandwich. I also felt like it had the best proportions of the various fillings.

Matt couldn’t overlook how delicious the chilis were in his first banh mi, so chose the Tofu Banh Mi at Banh Mi Ba Le as his favorite. He also thought that the quality of their tofu and veggies gave them the slight edge.

The moral of the story is that you can’t go wrong with any of the banh mi we tried. Each is a delicious and hearty meal for less than $4.

Do you have a favorite Banh Mi in Boston?

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