Photo by Kingfox/Flickr CC
As it should be, New York's allegiance to the crisp, porky, pickle-laden pleasures of the banh mi is huge--so any discussion of where to find the city's best Vietnamese sandwich inspires clannish warfare. I was reminded of this after reading Sam Sifton's praise of Baoguette in yesterday's New York Times, in which he cites the sandwich shop's "classic banh mi" as one of the 11 most memorable dishes he tasted in 2009. If Sifton is a banh mi Crip, I am a Blood.
More accurately, he is a banh mi Revolutionary to my Loyalist. The source of the feud between rival camps has been a major shift in the New York banh mi landscape. In recent months, Michael Huynh--who has created what is, after the Momofuku behemoth, New York's most famous mini-empire of Asian-themed restaurants--has opened not only a Vietnamese beer garden, a fashionable dessert bar, and a noodle shop, but also three locations of Sifton's beloved Baoguette, and three more are in the works. Whereas banh mi outposts have typically been dirt-cheap, mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall affairs native to Chinatown and certain parts of Queens, the Baoguette chain, with its more upscale East Village, West Village, and Murray Hill pedigrees, represents a first for New York: what Ed Levine of Serious Eats calls a "chef-driven banh mi shop."