An expert's guide to the best banh mi in Ho Chi Minh City

19 Apr 2024

Renowned Vietnamese American chef and author Andrea Nguyen explores the streets of former Saigon in search of the renowned banh mi sandwiches, ranging from traditional breakfast options to popular late-night choices.

The banh mi, a beloved Vietnamese sandwich, consists of a light and fluffy baguette filled with a flavorful combination of cured meats, cheeses, pâté, and fragrant herbs and vegetables.

For Andrea Nguyen, an acclaimed chef and writer of The Banh Mi Handbook, the banh mi holds a special place in her heart. Nguyen views the banh mi as more than just a sandwich; it symbolizes Vietnam's resilience and transformation from its history of French colonialism to its current path of rapid development.

Andrea Nguyen describes the banh mi as a culinary journey through Vietnam's history, blending colonial and indigenous culinary traditions into a vibrant representation of Vietnamese cuisine. As someone airlifted out of Saigon during the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Nguyen holds a deep connection to the city, often returning to rediscover her roots and seek out the finest banh mi offerings.

In Ho Chi Minh City, commonly referred to as Saigon, Nguyen finds the birthplace of the modern banh mi, which has evolved into a diverse and dynamic sandwich with a plethora of ingredients. Reflecting Saigon's cosmopolitan culture, the banh mi has become a ubiquitous street food staple, akin to pho in the northern capital of Hanoi.

Nguyen appreciates the creativity and variety found in Saigon's banh mi offerings, with thousands of carts, stalls, cafés, and restaurants each putting their own unique spin on the classic sandwich. She shares her favorite banh mi spots in Saigon, showcasing the city's rich culinary landscape.

1. Best of the best: Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa

Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa draws large crowds throughout the day, becoming a popular destination in Saigon despite being equally acclaimed by food critics and social media influencers. Andrea Nguyen appreciates the bustling atmosphere at Huỳnh Hoa, especially late at night when it provides a sense of community and spontaneity, uncommon for an evening food venue in Vietnam.

Specializing in the đặc biệt, or 'the works', Huỳnh Hoa's banh mi features a generous assortment of ingredients including roast pork, pork floss, sausage, pâté, cucumber, coriander, homemade butter, mayonnaise, chili sauce, salt, and pepper. Nguyen notes that while the sandwiches may be priced at VND68,000 (approximately US$2.75), the quality of ingredients justifies the cost, ensuring a satisfying dining experience without any concerns about ingredient quality.

For those interested in visiting, Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa's contact information is as follows:

Address: 26 Đ. Lê Thị Riêng, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Phone: +84 962 455 517

2. Best for breakfast: Bánh Mì Hòa Mã 

Banh mi is a beloved breakfast option in Saigon, often consisting of simple ingredients like a fried egg in a Vietnamese-style baguette. Dedicated banh mi establishments typically open early in the morning and close by midday or when they sell out of their offerings.

Andrea Nguyen favors fried egg banh mi, highlighting places like Hòa Mã that specialize in this breakfast variation. Hòa Mã, in business since 1958, serves breakfast in a traditional manner, with eggs, pâté, and assorted meats served in a hot pan alongside a side of baguette. Diners have the option to enjoy it as a western breakfast with utensils or assemble their own DIY sandwich.

Nguyen notes that places like Hòa Mã are known for their generosity and slightly higher prices due to the ample portions provided. Additionally, she emphasizes that banh mi was not always considered cheap food, especially when considering the quality of the bread, which plays a crucial role in the sandwich's overall taste and texture. Hòa Mã maintains a high standard for its baguettes, ensuring a satisfying dining experience.

For those interested in visiting, Hòa Mã's contact information is as follows:
Address: 53 Đ. Cao Thắng, Phường 3, Quận 3, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Phone: +84 8 3839 6582
Facebook: Pages/BánhMìHòaMã

3. Best for a quick fix: Bánh Mì Như Lan

For a convenient and dependable banh mi option in the heart of Saigon, consider Bánh Mì Như Lan, a well-established bakery and delicatessen located near the towering Bitexco Financial Tower in District 1.

Andrea Nguyen describes Như Lan as an iconic institution in Saigon, particularly convenient for visitors due to its central location. While primarily known as a deli, Như Lan distinguishes itself by baking its own bread on-site. The bakery offers a diverse selection of banh mi, ranging from traditional pork-filled sandwiches to less common varieties featuring chicken or fish.

In addition to banh mi, Như Lan offers a wide array of other food items, making it a versatile dining destination. Despite its extensive menu, Nguyen admits that whenever she finds herself in District 1, she can't help but consider whether it's "banh mi time" as she passes by Như Lan.

For those interested in visiting, here are Như Lan's contact details:
Address: 68 Hàm Nghi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Phone: +84 968 593 378

4. Best for fusion: Bánh Mì Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ Minh Tuấn

Banh mi epitomizes fusion cuisine even before the term 'fusion' gained popularity – a collision between the French baguette and the diverse flavors of Vietnam. As Vietnamese individuals returned to their homeland post-war, they brought back influences that enriched local culinary traditions. Andrea Nguyen highlights the emergence of döner kebab banh mi as a prime example of this culinary evolution.

Döner kebab banh mi shops are abundant throughout Saigon, many of which are not listed on mapping apps. Bánh Mì Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ Minh Tuấn stands out as one of the most popular establishments, conveniently located in District 1 with a noticeable shawarma meat spit rotating prominently on the street.

This culinary fusion represents layers of cultural blending and tells a story of Vietnamese migration and global influences. Nguyen emphasizes how Vietnam's opening up to the world has led to creative culinary innovations like the döner kebab banh mi, driven in part by influences from platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

For those interested in visiting, here are the details for Bánh Mì Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ Minh Tuấn:
Address: 89 Đ. Cách Mạng Tháng 8, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Phone: +84 946 005 008

5. Best for risk-takers: Bánh Mì Cụ Lý

After indulging in fusion-style döner kebab banh mi, it's worth exploring some of the more adventurous variations of this iconic Vietnamese sandwich.

Andrea Nguyen highlights Banh Mi Cụ Lý as a notable example of the diversity found in banh mi offerings. What sets this place apart is its unconventional approach, using fried sausage and head cheese instead of traditional cold cuts.

Banh Mi Cụ Lý, operating exclusively during breakfast hours, is easily identifiable by its white-awning façade, where generous portions of processed meats are generously stuffed into freshly baked baguettes.

The standout feature of their banh mi is the golden exterior of the sausage, which is then thinly sliced and paired with simple garnishes like cucumber and cilantro. While this flavor profile may not appeal to everyone, Nguyen finds it delightful.

For those interested in visiting, here are the details for Banh Mi Cụ Lý:
Address: 189 Hai Bà Trưng, Phường 6, Quận 3, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Phone: +84 907 999 523

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