Here, Eat This

Houston's Best Sandwiches: Barbecue Pork Bánh Mì at Cali Sandwich

The bánh mì may as well be the official sandwich of Houston and the barbecue pork at Cali Sandwich is one of the best.
The bánh mì may as well be the official sandwich of Houston and the barbecue pork at Cali Sandwich is one of the best. Photo by Jeff Balke
We are in search of Houston's best sandwiches because we love sandwiches and we love Houston!

In February, I wrote an ode to the lady at Cali Sandwich. Today, I offer praise to the very sandwich I mentioned in that story (and the one that started the ball rolling on this whole series of posts), the barbecue pork bánh mì.

It's interesting that, had you asked maybe 20 or 30 years ago what the official sandwich of Houston was, most would probably answer a burger or a barbecue brisket sandwich. It could be argued that the Antone's Original has been the most recognizable (maybe still is). Today, however, it is hard to argue the right answer to that question is the bánh mì. Along with a great burger and a killer taco, they are probably the food staples Houstonians most recognize as their own.

It's no surprise then that since I began paying tribute to great sandwiches in this space, the suggestion that comes most often is the Vietnamese sub so beloved by people all over town. Everyone has a favorite and other versions will undoubtedly make an appearance on this list eventually, but for today, it is the ridiculous grilled barbecue pork version at Cali Sandwich in Midtown.

First, it should be noted that there are two barbecue pork sandwiches (both under $4). One is sliced and steamed and, don't get me wrong, it's delicious. But the grilled version (number 84 on the menu) is my favorite. The smokey flavor of the grilled meat balances perfectly with the other traditional accoutrements found on the typical bánh mì: mayonnaise, pickled carrot, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeño. Admittedly, I omit the pepper because eating a raw jalapeño makes me want to place my head in a vat of nearly-frozen milk. But, if spicy is your thing, more power to you.

Like most great sandwiches, the bread makes it and Cali's toasted baguettes are damn near perfect, crunchy but not like slice-your-gums-open crisp on the outside with still pillowy soft inside. And I could eat a bowl of those pickled carrots by themselves.

But, ultimately, it is the char on the grilled pork that sets this apart and puts it above the rest including the Cali Combination, which packs more into a bánh mì than probably should be allowed by law. The first time I tried the barbecue pork, it was on a lark. I have virtually never strayed from it since, even if I sampled a friend's inferior sandwich on an occasional trip.

If you're lucky, the sandwich lady will remember you. If not, just enjoy this Houston institution that the sandwich we all can claim as our own.

If you have a sandwich you think is one of the best in town, hit us up. We're always looking for new options.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke