100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 63, Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich & Cafe
I forgot to take a photo until I'd already eaten half. Sorry.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.
Houston has an incredible wealth of Vietnamese food, particularly in Midtown, which I understand was often referred to as Little Saigon (and sometimes still is) before a mass exodus of many of the old Vietnamese shops and restaurants. Though the cultural artifacts have been replaced by the likes of Starbucks and Chipotle, the area has been experiencing a slow renaissance. Then, of course, there are the Vietnamese spots out on Long Point Road and in Chinatown, and the delicious little spot that is Café TH in East Downtown.
As such, most Houstonians have a favorite spot to get one of Vietnamese cuisine's quintessential dishes: Bánh mì.
Though bánh mì literally means "bread" (usually a baguette), the name has become synonymous with a certain style of Vietnamese sandwich on French bread. The hefty but inexpensive 'wich is usually stuffed with a protein, cucumber, shredded carrots, cilantro, fish sauce and jalapeños or other spicy peppers.
The bánh mì at Les Givral is one of my favorites.
The chargrilled pork and paté variety is sweet and smoky.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
To make a great bánh mì, a restaurant must have great bread, and Les Givral's, once a bakery in Paris and Saigon, certainly does. It has a thin, crispy crust and a soft inside that soaks up the juice from the meat, cucumber and sauces.
The veggies are also an important component, though they differ slightly from place to place. Some restaurants pickle carrots to sprinkle on top, while others add onions or shredded daikon. Les Givral's keeps it simple: carrots, cucumber, half a fresh jalapeño and a whole heckuva lot of cilantro.
Les Givral's offers about a dozen different protein options on the bánh mì, which is why this favorite dish is described simply as bánh mì. I couldn't pick just one favorite. Arguably the best options come from the pig, though, as the cooks at Les Givral's know their way around some pork.
The thit nuong paté is loaded with chargrilled pork -- a Vietnamese specialty -- and a bit of paté, which adds a creamy element to the spicy, crunchy sandwich. The thit (roast pork) is also delicious, but more nuanced and more photogenic. The bright pink edges of the roasted pork -- served cold, as opposed to the warm chargrilled pork -- make for a beautiful contrast against the green and orange vegetables.
So, sorry, folks. I cannot pick just one. And you don't have to, either. At $2.50 each, these sandwiches are so cheap, you can afford to eat two. Or five. I won't judge.
The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood
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