If you look at this food map, you'll see Californians are all about the Asian food. Just all the kinds. While my bluntness and tendency to yell at people on the street might be all New Yorker, my real food preferences are all Californian. GIVE ME PHO OR GIVE ME DEATH. Or, in this case, banh mi. I really love banh mi. I used to order banh mi and bubble tea for lunch every Tuesday. I can get all the bubble tea I want in Korea and I love love love Gong Cha's system of choosing your preferred amount of ice and sugar, but non-Korean Asian food has been hard to come by. Until last week, when I ate banh mi THREE TIMES. Let's compare.
Location #1: Le Hoi Banh Mi
Things are constantly changing so much in the Kyungridan/Noksapyeong area that it's hard to keep up but I'm pretty sure I was one of the first to stumble across this new Banh Mi take out window underneath 5bey. They invited us to wait inside while our sandwich was being made and we went into a small, adorable room with lanterns, a long, low bar and tiny stools. There were still some construction materials lying around, so I assume they were still in their soft opening and will have a little more indoor seating soon. We took our adorably packaged sandwich to eat as we walked.
The sandwich wasn't quite what I expected. No pickled carrots or daikon. No Cilantro. But it did have an egg on it and you KNOW I'm a sucker for anything with soft egg. The pork was thinly sliced with fresh hot peppers and I THINK a variation of Hoisin sauce. The bread had the exact amount of squish and chew you expect for banh mi and definitely was my favorite bread of all three sandwiches. Since the quick pickled vegetables are what really make banh mi for me, this didn't quite satisfy my craving but was still excellent. I will be eating here again. Maybe I'll try the veggie sandwich next time.
Location #2: Le Saigon
My husband and I just really noticed Le Saigon the other day, but upon further research, I've realized it's been there forever by Seoul restaurant standards (which basically means longer than six months but in this case means many years).
As you can see above, Le Saigon makes a more classic banh mi. I once again went with pork which was in chunks instead of slices this time and a little lighter on the sauce. I was a little disappointed that the peppers were pickled instead of fresh on this sandwich but happy about the quick pickled carrots and daikon as well as the house spicy mayonnaise. It wasn't quite spicy enough for me so I definitely made liberal use of the house made (?) hot sauce on the table. Was it the best banh mi I've ever had? No. Was it the best classic banh mi I've had in Seoul? Definitely.
Location #3: Rye Post
Rye Post is a fancy sandwich shop on Itaewon-ro that does sandwiches from a variety of cuisines, not a Vietnamese place specifically, so it's not really surprising it comes in last place for banh mi. We got this sandwich delivered and I forgot to take a picture (sorry!). While there was nothing really wrong with it, there wasn't anything really right either. They bake their bread in house daily, but like a lot of bread in Korea it was a little pale and didn't have the proper crunch and chew for a banh mi baguette. There were pickled vegetables but the sandwich was a little dry, especially compared to the other two. I will order from Rye Post again, but I'll probably be sticking to the Philly cheese steak fries, not the banh mi.
Pork Banh Mi costs W6,000 at Le Hoi Banh Mi located beneath 5bey in the Kyungridan/Noksapyeong area of Itaewon
Pork Banh Mi costs W7,000 at Le Saigon which has a location both in Kyungridan and in Itaewon proper
Pork Banh Mi costs W7,800 at Rye Post which is located on Itaewon-ro
All of these places are open for lunch which definitely gives them extra points in my book.