To hell with cold cuts and stale bread. If you’re in the market for a sandwich that packs a punch, look no further than the banh mi. A marriage of a French baguette paired with salty, sweet and spicy Vietnamese fillings, this sandwich is worth seeking out. For those who haven’t yet tried one, the standard plan includes a baguette, a protein (chicken, tofu, pork), and pickled veggies. In recent years, Pittsburgh has become home to several banh mi spots, some in the traditional vein, some with creative updates. Here, in no particular order, are a few of our favorites:
Pittsburgh is stocked with Vietnamese restaurants, a select few of which serve banh mi. Vietnam’s Pho, located in the Strip District, is one. Duck under the scaffolding around the entrance to the Penn Rose building, and you’ll enter a no frills sandwich counter. Don’t be fooled by the sparse décor, because the banh mi offerings here are among the best in the city. The star of the sandwiches is most certainly the protein—the grilled chicken and pork are tender, salty and sweet, and the lemongrass tofu is a tangy meat alternative. Lightly pickled carrots, onions, jalapenos, and cucumber offer the perfect complement to these flavors. Sometimes the sandwiches come with mayonnaise, but this depends on which chef is in the kitchen.
Vietnam’s Pho (1627 Penn Ave)
Lucy’s cart is another Strip District mainstay. Posted most days next to Bar Marco, the eponymous Lucy constructs her sandwiches while you watch. Using a pair of chopsticks she picks out freshly pickled carrots, jalapenos, cauliflower, and onion, layering them on top of grilled meats that lend a smoky quality to the sandwich. The sandwiches are topped with fresh cilantro and slathered with sweet, delicious soy sauce.
Lucy’s (2216 Penn Ave)
Brillobox is first and foremost a quirky bar with cool drinks and vintage decor, but what many don’t know is it also has an incredible bar food menu, which includes an out-of-this-world banh mi. The bread at Brillo is a standout – super fresh, crusty, and chewy. Our protein pick is the tofu, which is cut into bite-sized strips, soaked in a teriyaki marinade, topped with pickled carrots, cucumbers, and jalapenos, and garnished with Thai basil and cilantro. What makes Brillo’s sandwich unique is the addition of a tangy aioli, which brightens the other flavors.
Brillobox (4104 Penn Ave)
Not only is Lili Café in Polish Hill a neighborhood gem, it’s also quite an experience. Among the eccentric decorating accents (think part grandmother’s attic, part Alice in Wonderland theme park), you’ll find a tasty take on banh mi served for brunch. As with all orders at Lili’s, there’s vegan and non-vegan options. For the banh mi, it’s scrambled tofu or scrambled eggs. The café ups the ante on fresh veggies, adding avocado and radishes to the pickled veggie mix, along with red onions, carrots, jalapenos, and cucumbers. The sandwiches are then sauced with sriracha and veganaise, if that’s your thing. Note: Lili’s brunch menu rotates so check out their Facebook for each weekend’s menu.
Lili Café (3138 Dobson St)
Coming Soon: Banh Mi and Ti
Looking for even more banh mi? Soon Lawrenceville will have its very own dedicated banh mi establishment, with the introduction of Banh Mi and Ti. The restaurant will pair the sandwiches with another Vietnamese favorite, bubble tea. Check out their Instagram for updates on the opening.
Bánh Mi and Ti (4502 Butler Street)