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Vancouver's Top 10 Try Before You Die Banh Mi

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Vancouver is blessed with a wealth of Vietnamese restaurants. But which serves the best banh mi? We asked food blogger Fernando Medrano, to compile a definitive list.
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Banh mi (pronounced BUN-Mee, Vietnamese for 'bread') is the colonial love child of French and Vietnamese cuisines. French techniques (baking and charcuterie) localized by the Vietnamese using Asian ingredients created a sandwich which rightly belongs in the pantheon of world fusion food.

Traditional banh mi are variations on this theme: a Vietnamese-style baguette sliced and slathered with a special yellow mayonnaise and pate (often made with pork liver); then layered with a crisp quick-pickle made with carrot and daikon; then filled with sliced cold cuts, steamed meatballs, shredded meat, grilled meat or tofu; then garnished with cucumber and cilantro; and finally drizzled with soy sauce or Maggi Seasoning sauce. Regional variants can include fried egg, duck, meat floss, sardines, peanuts, and wheat gluten.

The most critical component of the banh mi is the bread; Vietnamese baguettes have an airy crumb and an egg shell-thin, brittle crust, which like its authentic French counterpart does not keep well and becomes stale and chewy within a couple of hours of baking. Most shops will keep just enough bread to last through the lunch rush. As a rule, the best banh mi operations - ones with steady supplies of fresh bread - are therefore bakeries. And in Vancouver, you can apply a second rule: the best banh mi are all along Kingsway, the epicenter of Vancouver's Vietnamese community. However, there are a few notable exceptions.


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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Pho Thái Hòa

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1625 Kingsway, Vancouver
BC, Canada
(604) 873-2348
This is one of a handful of well-rounded Vietnamese restaurants with extensive menus that offer much more that the typical pho joint. It is also one of the few which serve a decent grilled meat banh mi (banh mi thit) - so order one of those instead of the cold-cut sandwiches: grilled beef, pork, pork patties, and lemongrass chicken. Accompany the sandwich with one of their great Vietnamese fruit shakes.

2. Au Petit Cafe

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4851 Main Street, Vancouver
BC V5V 3R9, Canada
(604) 873-3328
"Don't eat Vietnamese food west of Main Street" is a long-standing guiding principle for aficionados of this cuisine, but this Main Street favourite is perhaps the most westerly Vietnamese restaurant that you would still want to actually eat at. Au Petit Cafe's house-made pate is the key element which puts them on the must-eat list. They outsource their bread to La Baguette and regular deliveries ensure a steady supply of fresh bread until well into the afternoon.

3. Kim Chau Deli

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1327 Kingsway, Vancouver
BC V5V, Canada
(604) 255-8385
Kim Chau, which started in the 1980s as a cottage operation out of an East Vancouver home, is the oldest and largest maker of Vietnamese charcuterie in the city. They supply deli meats to most of the Vietnamese restaurants and cafes in town. Using nearly foot-long baguettes baked by Empress Bakery just a few blocks away - their sandwiches are definitely the largest in town.

4. Tung Hing Bakery

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1196 Kingsway, Vancouver
BC V5V 3C8, Canada
(604) 875-3394
Tung Hing Bakery, a branch of a Toronto-area mini-chain, is perennially in this city's banh mi top lists mainly on the strength of their baguette - perhaps the finest example in the city. The constant but fast-moving line-up of customers is testament to their popularity. Their banh mi counter fronts a full Vietnamese bakery and pastry shop so make sure to pick up a couple of sweet treats to go with your sandwich. The apple fritter, durian pastry, and butter bun are all excellent.

5. Ba Le French Sandwiches (Banh Mi)

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701 Kingsway Ave., Vancouver
BC V3C 6R8, Canada
(604) 875-0088
Ba Le is a very common name for banh mi shops. In Vietnam, you will find perhaps hundreds of unrelated shops all identically named Ba Le - all with the same identical Eiffel Tower logo. Here in Vancouver, there are two shops called Ba Le, but the one on Kingsway should be your destination. A couple of years ago, they retrofitted their shop with new French-made baguette ovens and sent their baker to France to learn how to use them. The steady supply of fresh bread coupled with Ba Le's own house-made charcuterie places this shop near the top of this list. (Try the Vietnamese "bacon" - a pork belly rolled into a cylinder, cured, and sliced into circles.)

6. Dock Lunch

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152 E 11th Ave, Vancouver
BC V5T 2C2, Canada
(604) 879-3625
Dock Lunch is a little takeout window run by Elizabeth, a self-trained cook, who has built a cult following within the neighbourhood. This one-woman show serves up a minimal daily-rotating menu of Southern-inspired food, but on Banh Mi Fridays, she serves a formidable meatball sub overflowing with large pork meatballs and fresh Vietnamese-style slaw served in a traditional French baguette. Authentic? No...but it is undeniably tasty.

7. Five Elements Cafe

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1046 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
BC V6V 2V8, Canada
(604) 559-5938
Long time residents of the Drive may recognize Victoria, this family-run restaurant's matriarch. She used to run Mekong River once located a few blocks south of this iconic location - the former location of Tony's Deli. After taking the last decade to raise her kids she is back with what promises to be one of the best budget-friendly restaurants on the Drive. The lunchtime crowd is a diverse mix of area residents and students from the nearby Britannia High School. The grilled meat banh mi (banh mi thit nuong) are excellent - the meat fillings (beef, pork, or chicken) tastes of flame and delicious char. The soups are very good as are the worthy array of house-made gelato.

8. Mr. Red Cafe

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2234 E Hastings St, Vancouver
BC, Canada
(604) 710-9515
This new Vietnamese restaurant situated in the diverse Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood is notable for being the only place that serves Northern Vietnamese food in the city. This cuisine is typically lighter and more subtle than the robust food from the south. The unusual northern-style pate banh mi, stuffed with their house-made liver and ground pork spread; topped with shaved pork floss is the one to get. And while you are there, make sure to check out the northern dishes such as bun cha Hanoi (grilled meat in a dipping sauce made using fish sauce), and Xoi (sticky rice).

9. DD Mau

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1239 Pacific Blvd., Vancouver
BC V6Z 2R6, Canada
(604) 684-4446
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DD Mau's banh mi, though modernised to cater to the Yaletown crowd, does not stray too far from tradition. Their amply-stuffed duck banh mi and beef short rib banh mi are some of the tastiest sandwiches this city. Their roast pork banh mi - made with a good Chinese style roast pig belly with crackling to match - is Yaletown's answer to Meat + Bread's more famous porchetta.

10. Viet Sub

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520 Robson St., Vancouver
BC V6B 2B7, Canada
(604) 569-3340
If you are downtown and you have a hankering for banh mi, the friendly staff at Viet Sub will make a perfectly tasty, fresh sandwich for you with hardly a compromise. And at this $4-$5 price point, it could be one of the most budget friendly lunches you can buy on Robson Street.

1. Pho Thái Hòa

1625 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC, Canada
This is one of a handful of well-rounded Vietnamese restaurants with extensive menus that offer much more that the typical pho joint. It is also one of the few which serve a decent grilled meat banh mi (banh mi thit) - so order one of those instead of the cold-cut sandwiches: grilled beef, pork, pork patties, and lemongrass chicken. Accompany the sandwich with one of their great Vietnamese fruit shakes.
1625 Kingsway, Vancouver
BC, Canada

2. Au Petit Cafe

4851 Main Street, Vancouver, BC V5V 3R9, Canada
"Don't eat Vietnamese food west of Main Street" is a long-standing guiding principle for aficionados of this cuisine, but this Main Street favourite is perhaps the most westerly Vietnamese restaurant that you would still want to actually eat at. Au Petit Cafe's house-made pate is the key element which puts them on the must-eat list. They outsource their bread to La Baguette and regular deliveries ensure a steady supply of fresh bread until well into the afternoon.
4851 Main Street, Vancouver
BC V5V 3R9, Canada

3. Kim Chau Deli

1327 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5V, Canada
Kim Chau, which started in the 1980s as a cottage operation out of an East Vancouver home, is the oldest and largest maker of Vietnamese charcuterie in the city. They supply deli meats to most of the Vietnamese restaurants and cafes in town. Using nearly foot-long baguettes baked by Empress Bakery just a few blocks away - their sandwiches are definitely the largest in town.
1327 Kingsway, Vancouver
BC V5V, Canada

4. Tung Hing Bakery

1196 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5V 3C8, Canada
Tung Hing Bakery, a branch of a Toronto-area mini-chain, is perennially in this city's banh mi top lists mainly on the strength of their baguette - perhaps the finest example in the city. The constant but fast-moving line-up of customers is testament to their popularity. Their banh mi counter fronts a full Vietnamese bakery and pastry shop so make sure to pick up a couple of sweet treats to go with your sandwich. The apple fritter, durian pastry, and butter bun are all excellent.
1196 Kingsway, Vancouver
BC V5V 3C8, Canada

5. Ba Le French Sandwiches (Banh Mi)

701 Kingsway Ave., Vancouver, BC V3C 6R8, Canada
Ba Le is a very common name for banh mi shops. In Vietnam, you will find perhaps hundreds of unrelated shops all identically named Ba Le - all with the same identical Eiffel Tower logo. Here in Vancouver, there are two shops called Ba Le, but the one on Kingsway should be your destination. A couple of years ago, they retrofitted their shop with new French-made baguette ovens and sent their baker to France to learn how to use them. The steady supply of fresh bread coupled with Ba Le's own house-made charcuterie places this shop near the top of this list. (Try the Vietnamese "bacon" - a pork belly rolled into a cylinder, cured, and sliced into circles.)
701 Kingsway Ave., Vancouver
BC V3C 6R8, Canada

6. Dock Lunch

152 E 11th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5T 2C2, Canada
Dock Lunch is a little takeout window run by Elizabeth, a self-trained cook, who has built a cult following within the neighbourhood. This one-woman show serves up a minimal daily-rotating menu of Southern-inspired food, but on Banh Mi Fridays, she serves a formidable meatball sub overflowing with large pork meatballs and fresh Vietnamese-style slaw served in a traditional French baguette. Authentic? No...but it is undeniably tasty.
152 E 11th Ave, Vancouver
BC V5T 2C2, Canada

7. Five Elements Cafe

1046 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC V6V 2V8, Canada
Long time residents of the Drive may recognize Victoria, this family-run restaurant's matriarch. She used to run Mekong River once located a few blocks south of this iconic location - the former location of Tony's Deli. After taking the last decade to raise her kids she is back with what promises to be one of the best budget-friendly restaurants on the Drive. The lunchtime crowd is a diverse mix of area residents and students from the nearby Britannia High School. The grilled meat banh mi (banh mi thit nuong) are excellent - the meat fillings (beef, pork, or chicken) tastes of flame and delicious char. The soups are very good as are the worthy array of house-made gelato.
1046 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
BC V6V 2V8, Canada

8. Mr. Red Cafe

2234 E Hastings St, Vancouver, BC, Canada
This new Vietnamese restaurant situated in the diverse Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood is notable for being the only place that serves Northern Vietnamese food in the city. This cuisine is typically lighter and more subtle than the robust food from the south. The unusual northern-style pate banh mi, stuffed with their house-made liver and ground pork spread; topped with shaved pork floss is the one to get. And while you are there, make sure to check out the northern dishes such as bun cha Hanoi (grilled meat in a dipping sauce made using fish sauce), and Xoi (sticky rice).
2234 E Hastings St, Vancouver
BC, Canada

9. DD Mau

1239 Pacific Blvd., Vancouver, BC V6Z 2R6, Canada
DD Mau's banh mi, though modernised to cater to the Yaletown crowd, does not stray too far from tradition. Their amply-stuffed duck banh mi and beef short rib banh mi are some of the tastiest sandwiches this city. Their roast pork banh mi - made with a good Chinese style roast pig belly with crackling to match - is Yaletown's answer to Meat + Bread's more famous porchetta.
1239 Pacific Blvd., Vancouver
BC V6Z 2R6, Canada

10. Viet Sub

520 Robson St., Vancouver, BC V6B 2B7, Canada
If you are downtown and you have a hankering for banh mi, the friendly staff at Viet Sub will make a perfectly tasty, fresh sandwich for you with hardly a compromise. And at this $4-$5 price point, it could be one of the most budget friendly lunches you can buy on Robson Street.
520 Robson St., Vancouver
BC V6B 2B7, Canada