Confession: I love sandwiches.
That’s not really a confession. You all already knew that about me.
But you might not have known that of all the world’s different takes on “The Sandwich,” one of them captures my heart unlike any other – The Vietnamese Banh Mi.
What makes a good banh mi?
For me, it’s something about that delicate harmony between so many unexpected ingredients. Who knew carrots, jalapeno, cucumber, and even daikon would go so perfectly with some sweet mayo and uniquely seasoned deli meat, all wrapped in a crunchy, flaky bun?
Lucky for us, there’s no shortage of offerings like that around the Twin Cities. For whatever reason, Minneapolis and St. Paul rock an incredible collection of Vietnamese joints.
So, which one serves the best banh mi? And how could I find it?
Well, in the interest of fairness, I’d clearly have to eat them all.
I gladly volunteer as tribute in these Hunger Games…
So, I set out on a mission. Over the course of 5 days, I’d eat every popular banh mi sandwich I could get my hands on. From Minneapolis’s famed Eat Street, to Dinkytown near the U, Frogtown in St. Paul, and all the way to a strange Asian Market in the suburbs… I happily put it all on the line to try every delicious Banh Mi I could find.
At times, I had more leftovers than I knew what to do with. Other times, I ate more than my poor stomach should ever take.
Either way, join me on this long, adventurous journey. (Or if you’re the spoiler type, just scroll down to the end to see my final 3 picks for the best banh mi sandwiches in the Twin Cities. Whatever floats your boat…)
- Eat Street Banh Mis (Day 1)
- Dinkytown Banh Mis (Day 2)
- Frogtown’s University Street Banh Mis (Day 3)
- The Super Secret, Super Market Challenger (Day 4)
- Downtown Minneapolis (Day 5)
- Conclusion – The 3 Best Banh Mi in Minneapolis & St. Paul
- Map of the Banh Mi Shops
Eat Street Banh Mis (Day 1)
Lu’s has a couple locations throughout the cities. But ask any local, and you have to go to the Nicolette address for the true experience.
Walking into this Eat Street spot, I had a lurking feeling that Lu’s might be the Banh Mi to beat. I mean, it’s on Eat Street! And it serves Banh Mis! Might as well hand over the title now.
But in the interest of fairness, I knew I had to get to tasting. I asked the lady behind the counter what their most popular sandwich was. Without even hesitating, she told me the Grilled Pork. Who am I to mess with a good thing?
- First thing I noticed was that Lu’s Grilled Pork Banh Mi is packed with meat. A lot of Banh Mis are mostly bread. Not Lu’s! This baby was bursting at the seams with an intimidating amount of charred pork!
- I guess I should’ve realized this from the description, but this pork was definitely grilled. I’m not sure what I was expecting; I think a more traditional banh mi pate flavor profile, whereas this one almost had a… hamburger?… type flair to it. Very juicy and even a little oily.
Probably due to user error, this wasn’t what I was expecting at all. But still undeniably tasty. And for the right person in the right mood, I imagine it’s heaven.
- Address: 2624 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55408
- Website: Lu’s Sandwiches
When I told my friends about my banh mi challenge, Jasmine Deli is a name they brought up over and over. So I showed up at prime lunchtime, super excited for the day’s second sandwich.
I first got suspicious when I saw the pitch black building. And when my gentle tug on the door was met with a big harsh LOCK, I knew we were out of hope. (I even went back a week later, and was greeted with more of the same.)
Apparently, Jasmine Deli is closed temporarily, either due to COVID or other reasons. (Like a good hole in the wall, their website is outdated and their phone’s voicemail box is full.)
So, Jasmine Deli becomes the first challenger to bow out of the competition entirely. I hope they come back soon, but until then… onto the next sandwich!
- Address: 2532 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404
- Website: Jasmine Deli
My Huong Kitchen
Tucked in a parking lot off Nicolette, I almost missed My Huong Kitchen’s handmade street sign and bright yellow awning.
Once inside the tiny space, I saw menus scattered about, each one sporting Banh Mi Sandwiches in the menu’s prime top-left real estate. A promising start!
Less than half-an-hour off my mistake order at Lu’s, I went with My Huong Kitchen’s Vietnamese Cold Cut, which promised to be a more traditional sandwich.
- Bite number #1: super crunchy bread.
- Looking back, this was probably the thinnest of the 9 sandwiches tested. Not a ton of meat on this one. Instead, the star of the show was the sweet, saucy mayo and fresh veggies.
- I loved the way they layer the ingredients. (All the ingredients are evenly spaced out, so each bite is a perfect bit of everything.) I wish more placed would do this!
All in all, for a lighter, refreshing banh mi? My Huong Kitchen is a great choice.
- Address: 2718 Nicollet Ave #101B, Minneapolis, MN 55408
- Website: My Huong Kitchen
Quang is an Eat Street legend, known mostly for its magical pho that cures the hangovers of hordes of Uptown locals and UofM college students alike.
So on my visit, I wasn’t surprised to see a long line out the door. (Not surprisingly, it ended up being the longest of any place I tried on this challenge.)
I skipped that line by ordering curbside. In about 15 minutes, a friendly runner deposited a tightly wrapped banh mi into my passenger seat. I normally wouldn’t have thought much about it, but when you’re on your third sandwich in less than an hour, you start having visions of yourself as a helpless user, picking up the next score like some sort of drug addiction gone bad.
Thankfully, my reality was much less dire. In fact, it was absolutely wonderful, as I bit into my personal favorite banh mi of the day.
- The bun was extra airy and extra flaky – that sort of French Croissant style baking that makes a banh mi so special.
- The inner meat wrapped itself around a long cucumber, and that meat tasted noticeably saltier and more uniquely seasoned than some of the other offerings.
- Not much mayo – the main flavor was the great bread and seasoned meets.
Definitely a great sandwich, although would we expect any less from this legend?
Three sandwiches down, I rolled myself home and got ready to do it all over again…
- Address: 2719 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55408
- Website: Quang Restaurant
Dinkytown Banh Mis (Day 2)
Pho Mai is owned by the same owners at MT Noodles, a longtime legendary location out in Brooklyn Park. According to the owners, they decided to open a Dinkytown spot to showcase the best sellers at Mt Noodles, which just so happen to be Pho and… Banh Mis!
Challenge entry, accepted!
Supposedly, the most popular banh mi here is actually the grilled park. But in keeping with the theme of the challenge, I went with the cold cut banh me. (That’d be the Banh Mi Thit Nguoi, for the bilingual among us.)
To the sandwich:
- On bite #1 you immediately notice the extreme crunchiness of the bread. It’s flaky and explosive, and if you’re not careful, the extreme crunch will wear out the roof of your mouth.
- The cold cut deli meat is fantastic. They slice it into layers, like a more traditional sandwich.
- The veggies are bursting with a sweet, pickled flavor. Combined with the mayo (which they layer thin and let soak into the bun at just the perfect amount for me) the sandwich showcases a brilliant balance between the sweetness of the veggies and the saltiness of the cold cuts.
All in all, it’s a fantastic sandwich. Even though I know I have a second sandwich to eat today, I find myself wanting to bite into this one again and again because of its addicting sweetness.
- Address: 319 14th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414
- Website: Pho Mai
How could I leave out a place named after the sandwich in question?
Banh Appetite sits just two blocks down from Pho Mai, so I walked off some cold cut calories and headed down the street for sandwich #2 of the day. (And #5 in less than 48 hours!)
I grabbed the Classic, which the menu says comes with BBQ pork, pork roll and pate, along with all the usual suspects in the veggie department. It’s worth noting that at $7.75, this was the most expensive sandwich taste tested. (Yet outside the banh mi world, that’s still a price that’d make for one of the cheapest lunches around.)
- The bun here is more of a traditional baguette. The result is that it’s not quite as explosive or flaky as some of the other spots tasted, which all things considered, is probably good for the roof of my mouth at this point.
- Looking at the sandwich, one of the first things you notice is the pate-like spread layered on the bottom of the sandwich, and this is one of the first things you taste, too. It’s got a bold pork flavor, and combined with all the other meats, it’s delicious.
- Banh Mis are notorious for placing the meat on one side and the veggies on the other. Not so at Banh Appetit. I love that they’ve mixed all the ingredients together, which makes each bite a fantastic mix.
It’s a solid sandwich, and I appreciate the unique spin compared to the more traditional banh mis tasted so far.
- Address: 511 14th Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414
- Website: Banh Appetit
Frogtown’s University Street Banh Mis (Day 3)
iPho by Saigon
Okay, any restaurant that includes their own banh mi bar is clearly serious about their sandwiches.
Yep, walking into iPho by Saigon, I was surprised to take a right-turn away from the dining room and start shuffling towards an entire corner of the restaurant that looks like Chipotle was hijacked by banh mi fanatics. Love it!
As much as I wanted to get wild with the build-your-own options, I instead stuck with the menu. This made my job that much easier, thanks to iPho’s “The Regular Sandwich” plastered front and center.
- iPho by Saigon’s regular banh mi comes on a big bun and packed with ingredients.
- The sandwich comes with a mixture of red roast pork, pork loaf, and chicken pate, so it wasn’t surprising that the primary taste is a symphony of Vietnamese deli meat.
- The bun is soft and crunchy, but not explosively so like some other places.
- This is the most mayo heavy sandwich yet. Even bites of just the bread were noticeably flavorful thanks to a dousing of that signature yellow-tinted mayonnaise. (No doubt a sign they’re using fresh eggs in a homemade mayo mixture!)
My sandwich had a couple of bites where the layers of meat mixed with the mayo and veggies, and this was definitely the star of the show. I found myself wishing that miracle happened a little more often, but when it did… banh mi heaven.
- Address: 704 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55104
- Website: iPho by Saigon
Trung Nam French Bakery
Judging by the line of cars struggling to fit into Trung Nam’s parking lot whenever it’s open, this place is probably the people’s choice for Banh Mis in the neighborhood.
Does it live up to the hype?
Making a choice on banh mis here is pretty simple. There’s one option, and your only decision is how much meat you want. In the interest of fairness in this challenge, I passed on the “deluxe” version with extra meat version and went with the $5 regular sandwich.
- First bite and you immediately realize this bread is on another level. Probably not surprising, since Trung Nam is a bakery first, mostly known for their legendary croissants. But this bun is without question the best yet. So light, so airy. It’s truly banh mi perfection.
- The mayo is subdued. You almost don’t even notice it.
- The meat pate looks to be chicken, and there’s just enough of it to complement those fantastic bread bites.
- Trung Nam does something interesting with the veggies. They place one long, matchstick-sliced jalapeno down the sandwich. It looks a little odd but serves a great purpose – every bite has a perfect hint of spice.
I ate this one outdoors, at Boom Island Park, which always makes food taste better. In fact, I was so enthralled with this sandwich that I actually overstayed my welcome and got a $50 parking ticket!
That technically makes this sandwich by far the most expensive of the challenge. Worth it though, because the people aren’t wrong about Trung Nam. This amazing banh mi absolutely deserves its popularity.
- Address: 739 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55104
- Website: Trung Nam
The Super Secret, Super Market Challenger (Day 4)
As I sat out on this challenge (and annoyed all my friends with my incessant updates about yet another Banh Mi sandwich), a surprising pattern kept emerging. Everyone kept talking about a random Asian grocery store, all the way out in Maplewood, as having some of the best banh mis in the Twin Cities.
That store? Ha Tien Super Maket.
Ha Tien Super Market
At first glance, the “Regular” Banh Mi from Ha Tien could have come from any number of the big name Vietnamese restaurants around the Twin Cities. And after the first bite, my opinion didn’t change.
This was a really, really good Banh Mi! Soft bread, a perfect amount of salty meat, and some serious kick from a hefty jalapeno.
The only thing I kept wrestling with was whether or not I was dishing out bonus points for the unassuming environment. I mean, a super market deli isn’t exactly supposed to compete with some of the biggest restaurants in the cities, is it?
I’m still not sure, but the taste was undeniable. This was, without question, one of the best banh mis I’d had anywhere. Do what you must with that paradigm shifting information…
- Address: 1959 Suburban Ave, St Paul, MN 55119
- Website: Ha Tien
Downtown Minneapolis (Day 5)
I originally didn’t plan on this one, but found myself near Loring Park and asked myself, “Why stop a good thing now? The belly hasn’t completely tapped out, yet…”
Enter Lotus To Go Go (yes, that’s two “go’s”… don’t question it.)
Lotus To Go Go Restaurant
First impressions? This is the biggest banh mi yet!
She’s stuffed to the gills with meat, veggies, and other toppings. One of which appears to be mint, which is the first of the 9 sandwiches tried so far.
Onto the bites…
- The bun seems more hoagie like than the uber-unique traditional banh mi.
- The mayo is sweet, and so are the pickled veggies. Add in the minty herbs and it’s a really unique flavor!
- The meat is sliced thin, showing that Lotus is choosing the deli style banh mi that only a few others have dared attempt.
Halfway through, I got a few absolutely fantastic bites that mixed everything together perfectly.
Overall, this one reminded me of iPho by Saigon, but with even more filling.
- Address: 113 W Grant St, Minneapolis, MN 55403
- Website: Lotus Restaurant
Conclusion – The 3 Best Banh Mi in Minneapolis & St. Paul
Coming to the end of this challenge, I find myself a little sad. (Although my digestive tract certainly is not!)
I worry that in naming a favorite, people might somehow think the other sandwiches weren’t good.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the Twin Cities is rocking some incredible banh mi sandwiches! I’m pretty shocked to say this, but after 9 different sandwiches in 5 days, I can honestly say that I didn’t have a single bad sandwich.
If I had to put a number scale to it, everything I ate would range from around 7.5/10 to 10/10, with the subtle differences mostly coming down to personal taste. And for those personal tastes, if you put a gun to my head, my three favorites would be…
(more drumroll, please!)
- Trung Nam French Bakery
- Pho Mai
That said, the real winner of this challenge isn’t any of these three sandwich shops, but us… the lucky residents of the Twin Cities. Because, surprisingly, our humble town in the middle of America’s heartland sports some truly killer banh mi sandwiches.
Go out and give them all a try!