Dish Deathmatch: The Battle of Bánh mì
The Bánh mì is a popular Vietnamese sandwich for the epicurean crowd. At first blush, the thing looks like a typical sub sandwich — a big french loaf with lots of stuff crammed in it. Upon closer inspection, though, it turns out that the “sub” has stuff you won’t necessarily find on the menu at the neighborhood Subway: cucumber, carrots, pate, pork belly…
Enter the Battle of Bánh mì. If you Google the sandwich name and “Columbus”, two eateries are frequently mentioned: Mi Li Cafe, and Buckeye Pho. Online reviewers rave and rave about their respective versions of the exotic sandwich.
Mi Li Cafe looks a little like a diner. It’s even got that casual appeal, except everyone there (everyone) is speaking a foreign language that is heavy on the vowels.
Buckeye Pho is glitzier and newer and found on Bethel Road. The reference to “glitz” isn’t meant as a dig, it’s just accurate: super-chic.
Both stops offer some different versions of Bánh mì, but the rendition made with cold cuts sits at the top of the selections at both eateries. From the outside, the two sandwiches are difficult to distinguish. Both have crusty, fresh bread of exactly the same length, there’s a spread of pate in there, slices of pork belly, a couple of mystery deli meats (one is grayish, and porkish -the other is pink with white spots and head-cheese-ish), a long strand of cucumber and a nice carrot-based slaw with some fresh, crunchy jalapeños.
Here’s the difference, and it’s subtle. The old school Mi LI place uses more finesse and a delicate hand, and that practice makes the sandwich hold together better. The slaw is dewy soft and finely shredded. The slices of pork belly are paper-thin and evenly distributed. The textures and flavors harmonize together in bite after bite.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with courser-cut carrots. It was a little more intellectually daunting to bite into Buckeye’s thicker slices of pork belly, though.
There was no bad Bánh mì here. The reviewers were right: these places were the bomb. That said, there’s something to be said for a sublime and subtle blend at Mi Li Cafe.
You can do your own taste test by stopping at: