quick bite: Banh Mi at Banh Mi Oi

February 6, 2021

Normally, I try a few new restaurants a month, but with the pandemic still altering daily life, I’m lucky if I try one. One restaurant I was certainly lucky to try was Banh Mi Oi. It is located in a small store front on Centre Street in West Roxbury and serves the most heavenly banh mis. (I’ll be honest here. I have no idea what the plural of banh mi should be.) From my first visit on November 13, when I tried the classic banh mi, it has quickly become my favorite lunch spot.

If you haven’t had a banh mi before, the name comes from the Vietnamese word for bread. But in America it almost always refers to a traditional Vietnamese sandwich. A version of the banh mi is also found in Cambodian cuisine. There it is called num pang. I was fortunate to eat one when I visited Phnom Penh, where they made me assemble it myself.

num pang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The classic banh mi at Banh Mi Oi starts with an outstanding baguette. It is crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. The bread is filled with Vietnamese pork bologna, ham, and pâte. There’s also house made aioli, picked vegetables, cucumber, jalapeño, and cilantro. It is a rich but balanced sandwich, not overwhelming, but big enough to fill you up. This is where you should begin, but once you have had one, then start trying more.

Right now I’m visiting Banh Mi Oi about once a month. I pick up sandwiches for three of my coworkers. None of them had ever had a banh mi before, but they love the BBQ chicken and the BBQ pork banh mis. They rave about the bread, the aioli, and the pickled vegetables. I, on the other hand, am working my way through the menu. I happily devoured the crispy fried fish, made with fried cod and tomato sauce. I enjoyed the flavor of the lemongrass steak. And best of all was the Lunar New Year special banh mi. It is pork that is slowly braised in coconut juice, tender and sweet, but only available now. I hope it becomes a permanent part of the menu, but if it doesn’t it is worth waiting a year for.

There’s much more on the menu than banh mi, but I still have a few more sandwiches to try before I get to the pho or the vermicelli. Both the crispy shrimp and grilled prawn banh mis are calling my name. Then there’s the tomato and sardine banh mi, which sounds a little wild, but is probably going to be the next one I try. I’ve also had my eye on the mini crispy rolls which sounds like the perfect side dish once I’ve given up on my New Year’s resolution.

The Verdict: Banh Mi Oi is a must try. In addition to great sandwiches, the people there are exceptionally friendly. They genuinely appreciate their customers and it’s a pleasure just picking up your food. While the classic is the natural place to start, if you can get there while they still have it make sure you order the braised pork in coconut juice. If you have one banh mi, you are sure to go back for more.

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