Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Mei Sum Viet Bakery (Banh Mi in Boston)

On an early autumn Saturday that would conclude with the astonishing pizza at Santarpio's in East Boston (review HERE), FEEP Jr. (Fellow Enthusiast for Eating Pizza) and I went to Yelp online to ferret out the best spots for banh mi sandwiches (Vietnamese hoagies) in Boston.
Click any pic to enlarge

We settled on Mei Sum, located in the crowded, small, busy Chinatown section anchored by Beach Street. Parking was impossible, so we paid $10 to stick our car in an ancient, rickety, scary, steep parking garage undergoing renovation. We entered the street and walked under scaffolding as we tried to locate Mei Sum. As it turns out, Mei Sum was under the scaffolding, occupying a tiny storefront space on the first floor of that ratty garage.

The interior held about 3 plain tables with basic chairs, most occupied by a handful of old men socializing. They eyed us curiously as we went to the counter to order. There is a large display case of wonderfully attractive Viet pastries, but we came for the sandwiches. There is no "menu" but the counter ladies spoke excellent English and we each ordered the "cold cut" banh mi. Other sandwich offerings included tofu, chicken, and BBQ beef, but in my experience they always come up short to the classic banh mi using pork-based cold cuts and pate.

After we placed the order, I was a bit dismayed to see our sandwich maker remove rolls from a plastic bag. The best banh mi places bake their own French bread every day. Rolls from a bag? No matter how good they were when first baked, the texture is destroyed by time and travel in a plastic bag.

These rolls were from Quinzani's bakery, which enjoys an excellent reputation in South Boston. Nope, not French bread nor fresh-baked bread, but bagged Italian bread. What saved it, though, is that as she began to gather the sandwich fixings, she put the rolls into what looked like a very big toaster oven.

The banh mi contained pork/ham cold cuts, some white pork pate, fish sauce, lots of fresh cilantro, and pickled carrot. I asked for mine "spicy" and expected sliced jalapeno, but instead I got small fragments of a very hot narrow red pepper. Caliente!

The bread turned out to be excellent, soft and chewy inside, delicately crispy outside. As with any good banh mi, the savory cold cuts and sauces played in harmony with the crunchy pickled vegetables, and the cilantro added a freshness that you never get from the iceberg lettuce found on a traditional hoagie.

This was an excellent sandwich and a great value. We did return to the counter for some of those baked goods, and they were exotically decadent. This sandwich earns an 8.5. Excellent fare that merits frequent return visits, but not quite as amazing as the banh mi at the standard-setting QT Sandwich shop (best sandwich on earth) in Philadelphia, reviewed HERE.

Mei Sum on Urbanspoon

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