Everyone is always debating who makes the best bánh mì in Austin. At least, my friends always are. Maybe your friends have loftier things to worry about, but my crew is serious about sandwiches. What started with a few simple comments on Instagram manifested into a full-scale event, with the aim to finally put it to bed. We were going to crown a winner.
When a determined group of food bloggers put their minds to a competition, you’d better believe the judging was not taken lightly. Master of data, Tasting Buds ensured that we didn’t enter into this haphazardly. There was voting ahead of time to determine who would make it into the competition. We settled on two categories: grilled pork and the traditional combo. Scoring sheets were simple. Each sandwich was to be scored from 1-10 and there were places to write notes about the bread, the filling, and anything else we wanted to talk about.
The contenders were selected in advance and we dutifully fetched our assigned sandwiches before convening at the home of Foodie is the New Forty. The restaurants were not told about the competition, so the sandwiches were as authentic and regular as any other Saturday. The players:
In a state of raging hunger, we painstakingly set up the sandwiches. The Smoking Ho, pictured above, brought butcher paper and a massive cutting board. He’s our resident AFBA bánh mì expert so be sure to check out his City Guide post on the topic. After a lengthy photo shoot of the sandwich table, it was time to dig in. The room was quiet as everyone worked their way through the sandwiches, thoughtfully taking notes and sipping the Vietnamese coffees made by Girl Eats World.
Afterwards we discussed our findings over cream puffs and love letters. And the verdict is…
…that taste is subjective. Sorry, were you expecting a definitive winner? I’m getting to that. But before you skip to the bottom of this post, let me note that if one bánh mì was significantly better than all the rest, everyone would already know about it. But let me break down some of our findings.
When it came down to bread, everyone agreed that the most desired factor was crunchiness. And across the board, the bread was softer than we’d hoped. Lulu B’s bread held up the best, in my opinion. Lily’s was the best looking but possibly the worst quality bread. Lily’s was actually the worst overall.
Baguette House fared well on the combo (and also make the longest sandwiches) but the pork was abysmal. Still, Baguette House ranked among the top two. Which place had the best ranking among the group? Saigon Le Vendeur! More than half the judges picked Saigon as their favorite overall when polled at the end of the day. But Saigon’s combo was the most polarizing of sandwiches, yielding the highest and lowest of scores. (I ranked it as the worst sandwich of the day, but rated the pork very highly.)
What role did preconceived notions play?
Most of us came into this with personal preferences, but only a few kept those opinions after tasting the sandwiches side by side. My favorite, Tam Deli, remained my favorite. The same for Brisket and Bagels, who remained loyal to Ng BMT.
The judging was very individual, as each of us valued different things. While all agreed that filling carried more weight than bread, we had differing opinions on texture, flavor, and sauce. I gave higher points for those loaded with jalapeños, while South Austin Foodie felt they could be overpowering. Some appreciated a good sauce but Craft Taste was repulsed by mayonnaise. Gaminess was prized by some, but a negative for other’s palettes.
I placed a higher value on the veggies over the meats and might have been alone in that. Lulu B’s does not make a combo, so their lemongrass chicken was the lone variation. As someone who doesn’t love lemongrass, I appreciated how subtle it was. Others disliked that they could barely detect the lemongrass.
Value and service didn’t place a huge part in the rankings but we did discuss them. Tam Deli ranked as a high value option for low price point and sandwiches loaded with filling. (They were also the shortest in length.) Lulu B’s was the most expensive and also has the worst service of the group.
We did not include Elizabeth Street’s bánh mì purely for cost reasons, so I’ll have to head over and try one while the others are fresh in my mind. Because there were only so many of us and we could only reasonably eat so many bánh mì, we had to leave some out. Sadly our tasting and this post do not account for Dang Banh Mi, Bun Belly, Pho Van, I Heart Pho, Ya Ya’s, and more. If you have strong opinions about any of those places, please leave a comment so that others can see it.
So there you have it, the results of #BanhMania. On this day, the victor was Saigon Le Vendeur!
To read more about our Banh Mania, check out this post from Foodie is the New Forty.