Here we delve headlong into the world of head cheese, plus ham and pickled carrots and pâté, to find bánh mì that are a cut above the rest.
2. Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen
262 Irving Ave., nr. Menahan St., Bushwick; 718-483-9837
The smell of wood smoke and simmered star anise hits when you enter this pint-size year-old shop. The entry-level sandwich sports a thick layer of brisket, and so it goes that purists may be upset that there’s no pork to be found. What’s more is that carrots are sheeted, not julienned, and bean sprouts have been subbed out for daikon. But, seriously, pay no mind: The bánh mì brisket is brought up in the same spiced broth used in the nontraditional but formidable pho, which imparts a mushroomy funk, and while a hodgepodge of French dips, South Asian mash-ups, and Texas barbecue may come to mind, this sandwich is doing its own delicious thing, and authentically at that.
3. Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery
198 Grand St., nr. Mott St., 212-941-1541
The city’s most ambassadorial bánh mì is still a perpetual bargain, as well as a paragon of the form. That’s not to say it’s not customizable: A good amount of regulars seem to opt for squishy, untoasted bread, and the sandwich artists are happy to pile on more chiles past the point of what should probably be a legal limit. In an elegant feat of engineering, the root vegetables are wrapped in a cocoonish sheet of chả lụa, which cuts down on sogginess and gives the sandwich an extra vinegary punch.
4. Bành Mí Zòn
443 E. 6th St., nr. Ave. A; 646-524-6384
In addition to all of the expected sliced meats, the fully loaded classic at this bustling East Village spot includes chà bông, which is also known as meat floss. The porky ore adds a chewy, sticky dimension to the sandwich and plays nicely with flat slices of fat-streaked, red-cooked pork belly, ever condemned to play the bánh mì’s straight man. The bread has a crispy exterior and soft crumb, almost like foccacia.
169 Park Ave., nr. Adelphi St., Wallabout; 347-309-4699
This small shop, which opened last fall in the shadow of the BQE, excels at pho and cơm tấm, the meat-topped herb-strewn broken rice dish. Hot peppers don’t figure much into the “diverse array of fresh vegetables” advertised on the menu, but the pâté goes on in a generous slather with thin slices of pork roasted in house, and tomato, of all things, to make for an understated, elegant sandwich. The bread, which brims with carrots and a frill of cilantro, is bigger and flakier than most loaves.
6. 5ive Spice
52 Fifth Ave., at Bergen St., Park Slope; 718-857-3483
Ungrammatical, resolutely fusion-y name aside — Five-ive? Five-ivy? — there’s bánh mì magic happening in Park Slope, thanks to the from-scratch green sriracha on the tables and liberal applications of mayo emulsified with bone marrow on the bread. Beneath the fistful of carrots and fatty sliced ham, there’s a jammy crumble of pork that adds a smoky sweetness to all the salt and vinegar, and the rustic dining room is a great place to snack on a classic with a cold Vietnamese coffee, served with lots of pebbly ice in a — what else? — Ball jar.