Thursday, April 30, 2009

Banh Mi Battle! O Sandwiches vs Cafe Nhu Y : Philadelphia

budabudabudabudabuda dummmm. It's a head-to-head battle of banh mi! In one corner, it's O Sandwiches, a more modern, sleek restaurant with prime real estate location (down the street from Pat's and Geno's). And in the other, the quintessential tiny, hole-in-the-wall Cafe Nhu Y.

And like the starkly differing exteriors, the banh mi's offered at these respective restaurants seem to demonstrate contrasting banh mi philosophies.

O Sandwiches seems to be going for the younger crowd with more modern, Western sensibilities:

Special Banh Mi ($2.95)- O Sandwiches sells their baguettes separately and I must say that the baguettes were quite lovely: light, fresh, and with a nice crunch on the outside. The vegetables were noticably fresh, in particular the cucumber, giving the banh mi a very bright taste. In fact, it seemed the only thing that kept this banh mi from lightly floating away, was the addition of pate, which added some depth to the flavors.

One other note, I'm not sure whether this was an anomaly or not, but the jalapeno chile pieces, had a particularly good kick, making adding any hot sauce unnecessary.

Pork & Pate ($2.75) - Like the special, this banh mi was quite light. Flavorwise, the pate played a larger role in the flavor (and the jalapenos didn't have the surprisingly hot kick they did in the special.)

But on the whole, the flavors in this and the special banh mi seemed well-thought out and pleasing to most, except for those looking for more traditional flavors.

Cafe Nhu Y - Holy smokes, this place is tiny. I think I've seen closets bigger than this place.

Special Banh Mi (sub $3)- Particularly compared with O Sandwiches bread, this tasted like these buns had been bought at the same places that food truck sandwich places buy their buns. (which granted is decent so far as buns go, but compared to freshly made baguettes, not so much). The meats had a particularly strong salted/pickled almost fish-like flavor that just invoked the smell of some Chinatown grocery stores. That musty flavor of the meats together with the vegetables, which didn't quite have the bright freshness as those in O's special, gave this sandwich a slightly darker flavor. It was certainly interesting, but perhaps not something for everyone.

Shredded Pork (sub $3) - The pork skin add a small tender crunch like super-tender tendons or grilled onions. The meat flavor doesn't hold back - they have salted/pickled flavor (less fishy than those in the special) that just reminds me of some flavors in Chinese ingredients that I just don't find in American or European foods. For some reason, eating this made me wonder whether Cafe Nhu Y served Pho or not.

All in all, I'd be more apt to recommend O Sandwiches, mainly because of the breadth of customers who I suspect would be happy with their banh mi's. Which makes me a little sad, since there's nothing more I like to do than promote a small hole-in-the-wall place. But just for balance and to ease my mind, it does seem like there are fans of Cafe Nhu Y.

O Sandwiches
1205 S. 9th St Philadelphia, PA 19147 (Map)
215-334-6080 | yelp

Cafe Nhu Y
802 Christian St Philadelphia PA 19147 (Map)
($Philadelphia, $Recommended, $Vietnamese, $Sandwiches)

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