Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Banh MANIA! ~ Discovering the Best Banh Mi in Austin ~

Many, MANY years ago, I had a conversation with fellow food blogger Peter about putting together a banh mi taste-off. Fast forward a few years, and an Instagram post by another fellow food blogger, Dave, gelled the guest list and we were off to the races! We had seven families participating, so we collectively chose seven restaurants to try and to standardize things, we ordered both combination and grilled pork banh mi from each spot (except for Lulu B's, which doesn't offer a combination sandwich - there, we instead got lemongrass chicken). On the appointed date, we converged in one spot with 33 sandwiches, a bag of mini cream puffs, a massive tin of Julie's love letter cookies, a couple of amazing homemade bagels, the ingredients for Vietnamese coffee, and a diverse set of palates for a real life Banh Mi Throwdown.

The tasters:
Kristin & Chris
Peter & MJ
Linda & Mitch
Suzanna
David & Laura
Jimmy & Amber
...and me!


Banh Mania!
Preparing for the inevitable photo shoot

Banh Mania!
The lineup

Banh Mania!
From left to right: Lulu B's, Saigon Le Vendeur, Baguette House
(combo on the bottom, grilled pork on top)

Banh Mania!
From left to right: Thanh Nhi, Ng BMT, Lily's
(combo on the bottom, grilled pork on top)

Trying to choose favorites - particularly based on 1/6th of a sandwich whose ingredients weren't likely spread evenly throughout - was pretty difficult. There was much tasting and re-tasting before we finally sat down and compared notes. Here were my favorites & the group winners:

Combination Sandwich - My Favorite: Saigon Le Vendeur

Banh Mania!

This sandwich was fantastic. I had eaten SLV's combination sandwich before and remembered it being pretty good, but this time they really wowed me. This one had LOTS of pâté, which I love, and it was bursting with pickled veggies that still tasted super fresh and crunchy.

Two restaurants tied for my second place favorite: Tam and Lily's.

Combination Sandwich - Group Favorite: Baguette House

Banh Mania!

I was a little surprised that this one was the popular favorite; I had only given it a 7/10 (and my lowest-rated combination sandwich was a 6/10). I thought the meat tasted too...lunch meat-y and there wasn't nearly enough pâté (which may very well be the reason it was the crowd favorite - turns out pâté is sort of polarizing). I did, however, like their crusty bread and they had a higher meat-to-bread ratio than some of the others, which I appreciated.

Grilled Pork Sandwich - My Favorite: Saigon Le Vendeur
and
Grilled Pork Sandwich - Group Favorite: Saigon Le Vendeur

Banh Mania!

Again, Saigon Le Vendeur impressed me with their grilled pork sandwich - and this time, the group average agreed. The seasoning on the pork was outstanding and the meat itself was super tender. The uber fresh tasting pickled veggies helped elevate the sandwich to winning status. Tied for second place on my list were Lulu B's and Ng BMT.

In case you're a data nerd, here are the group average ratings for each sandwich:

Combination:
• Baguette House - 7.6
• Tam Deli - 6.83
• Ng BMT - 6.55
• Saigon Le Vendeur - 6.45
• Lily's - 6.25
• Thanh Nhi - 5.88
(Lulu B's scored lowest with a 5.5, but it was their lemongrass chicken, so not an apples-to-apples comparison.)
Grilled Pork:
• Saigon Le Vendeur - 7.4
• Tam Deli - 6.8
• Lulu B's - 6.6
• Ng BMT - 6.55
• TIE - Thanh Nhi & Lily's - 5.6
• Baguette House - 5.0









Banh Mania
Banh Mania made Violet happy, too!

This was a really fun afternoon and I loved the opportunity to bahn-d with blogger friends. The side-by-side comparisons really highlighted the differences amongst the various options. The good news is that there wasn't a single sandwich here that I wouldn't eat again. We're lucky to live in a city with such a bahn-anza of Vietnamese sandwich options.

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