A Vietnamese banh mi seems simple enough. It's a sandwich of meat (or tofu), mayonnaise, pickled veggies and fresh herbs on a French baguette. But ask any fan of this handheld fusion of French and Southeast Asian culinary traditions, and they'll tell you: Not all banh mi are created equal.
Below, find the seven spots in Philly that get the sandwich just right, whether due to a tantalizing marinade, a just-right balance between heat and sweet, or a warm baguette that's equal parts chewy and crispy.
Q.T. Vietnamese Sandwich
With orange paint adorning the walls and just a couple tables inside, this Chinatown hole-in-the-wall is best known for its soft and fluffy bread. Toasty-warm with just the right amount of crunch, it's the perfect vehicle for barbecue pork or lemongrass tofu, both crowd favorites here.
Freshly made waffles serves as the foundation of this food truck's menu of 10 gourmet sandwiches, three of which take inspiration from the banh mi. Spiced with black pepper and coriander, pork belly steals the show in the aptly named pork belly banh mi waffle, arguably the mobile eatery's most popular offering
Various curbside locations throughout Philadelphia; see website for vending schedule
One of several vegan eats on the menu, the banh mi at this hipster haunt tops grilled sweet potato with Bibb lettuce, carrots, jícama, jalapenos and pickled daikon radishes. A slathering of cilantro aioli stands in for the expected mayo and cilantro.
Fu Wah Mini Market
This mini mart in Cedar Park might just be home to the city's best vegetarian banh mi, a crowd-pleasing combo of soft marinated tofu and crunchy pickled veggies within a chewy roll. (Tip: Ask for extra jalapenos.)
Pho & Cafe Viet Huong Restaurant
One of a few Vietnamese restaurants nestled within Washington Avenue's Wing Phat Plaza, this dining hall-style spot serves a lengthy menu of order-by-number eats. Prices are easy on the wallet, but regulars say they'd gladly pay more for Pho & Cafe Viet Huong's head cheese banh mi.
This snug sliver of a to-go-only cafe and bakery has been a Bella Vista staple since 1998. Ba Le's longevity is likely due to its impressive selection of prepared foods, its freshly baked pastries (don't skip the sesame balls), and, of course, its banh mi, which are served on just-out-of-the-oven baguettes. Pair yours with a bubble tea or a Vietnamese iced coffee.
There are a couple things the uninitiated should know about Kung Fu Hoagies: First, it's a food cart that's only "open" on weekends. Second, it's 100 percent vegetarian, serving a limited menu that lists sides (Vietnamese-style fried rice, vegetable pho, more) and three takes on the banh mi. Each sandwich receives high praise, but regulars say the banh mi achieve next-level status with a squirt of Sriracha.