18 January, 2022, 18:56

Oh Banh Mi, Oh My: 6 Banh Mi Sandwiches In Tucson

When the colonial French occupied parts of Indonesia and Vietnam, they – as all good French folk do – brought with them a delicious type of bread called a baguette.

The locals liked it so much, they gave it their own name, which is essentially their term for wheat: banh mi. Long after French occupation, the good people of Indochina would invent ways to use this magnificent loaf. One of those ways was to fill it with savory meats, loads of crisp vegetables and bright tasting herbs.

The banh mi sandwich is what some refer to as a “Vietnamese Po’ Boy”. The basic ingredients are simply the baguette bread and a protein such as chicken or pork. A vegetarian option might include tofu or seitan. Sometimes, mayonnaise finds its way onto the bread followed by a variety of native vegetation that might include cilantro, jalapeño, daikon radish, and cucumber. Pickled carrots are the usual suspects which essentially make the banh mi a phö hoagie sans slurping.

Thanks in part to an increasingly exciting culinary scene, Tucson is now host to a number of restaurants that offer this French-inspired, Vietnamese concoction.

Cali Grill

1800 E Fort Lowell Rd #116
Cali Grill's Banh Mi with Grilled Pork

Cali Grill’s Banh Mi with Grilled Pork

Located in the old midtown Sushi King, Cali Grill seemed to pop up out of nowhere. With delightful Vietnamese cuisine in a hip and comfortable setting, their banh mi is truly authentic. Options include cold cut and grilled pork along with a chicken and tofu. Cali Grill’s banh mi is a perfect balance of savory and tangy. One of the smaller banh mi selections, their well-seasoned proteins and pickled vegetables wrapped in a soft baguette is more “light lunch” or “snack sized”. But… whatever. It’s priced right, which means your friends won’t look at you too funny when you order three of them.

Visit Cali Grill on Facebook

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Nhu Lan

Food Truck (Typically at Speedway & Stone)
Nhu Lan Banh Mi

Nhu Lan Banh Mi

On a dusty lot at the corner of Stone and Speedway you’ll find the Nhu Lan food truck. It’s fairly new but a welcome addition. For $3 the offer an exceptionally generous sandwich loaded with spicy jalapenos, grassy cilantro, pickled carrots and onion, speared cucumbers and pork. But, this isn’t any old, run-of-the-mill deli pork. Nhu Lan house cures and home BBQs their own meat, delivering a unique flavor that would give any other banh mi a run for the money. A pillowy baguette with a distinct chew, the chef – upon being questioned if baked in-house – smiled and replied he would never reveal his secret.

Visit Nuh Lan on Facebook

Noble Hops

1335 W Lambert Ln
Pork Bánh Mi from Noble Hops

Pork Bánh Mi from Noble Hops

Noble Hops delivers a banh mi that would satisfy the burliest of beer drinker and the faintest stomachs that gurgle at the notion of consuming anything but standard American fare. Mighty, meaty, unapologetic and a little surly, Noble Hop’s banh mi is a sandwich for eaters. It might make your crazy uncle Hank rethink his distrust of pickled carrots. This banh mi screams “America” yet is deeply steeped in Vietnamese roots.

Visit noblehopspub.com

Prep & Pastry

3073 N Campbell Ave
Banh Mi at Prep & Pastry

Banh Mi at Prep & Pastry

With it’s beloved Sunday brunch and the hungrily waiting packed crowds, Prep & Pastry actually offers a banh mi. If pork belly is your thing, served on home created focaccia with locally sourced vegetables and husky hand cut fries, then it is your duty to belly up to Prep & Pastry.

Visit prepandpastry.com

Saigon Pho

943 E University Blvd
Saigon Pho's Banh Mi

Saigon Pho’s Banh Mi

If you’re on the go, on a budget, and in the University area, Saigon Pho is your top option. Amongst the fray of noodles and traditional Vietnamese fare, Saigon Pho has a few different “baguette” options. There’s no fancy embellishments or exotic ingredients; they’re not out to impress David Chang or get Michelin rated. They simply offer a tasty and traditional banh mi that’s in your hands in seconds.

Visit saigonphotucson.com

Vina Baguette

1540 E Broadway Blvd
Banh Mi at Vina Baguette

Banh Mi at Vina Baguette

A little gem of a food truck, Vina Baguette is nestled on Broadway in the parking lot of Axis Market. The bread is crisp and fluffy and the ingredients are always tasty and fresh. And, fairly cheap to boot. The chicken is poised with subtle flavors that make their way through the palette in a respectful yet decadent way.

Visit vinabaguette.com

Mark Whittaker is a former heavy metal DJ and music journalist from San Francisco that now eats and writes his way through the Old Pueblo.

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