In the dark ages of bánh mì, there was no place in Queens to get a decent Vietnamese sandwich. Then came JoJu, which continues to turn out some amazing bánh mì. Now Astoria has its very own Vietnamese sandwich shop, Saigon Café. In the grand New York City tradition of bánh mì, shops popping up in improbable locations—jewelry stores, under bridges, etc.—the three-month old joint is situated on a residential side street adjacent to a realtor.
Listed on the menu as a Saigon Sandwich ($5), the bánh mì here is probably the best in Astoria, but only because there’s no competition. Packed with roast pork it’s tasty, but a garnish of red pepper and onion renders it more Italian than Vietnamese. It’s almost as if the owner was leery of using bold, frankly funky Vietnamese flavors.
As I chatted with the owner I learned that this is indeed the case. “Some people don’t like,” she said. Halfway through my Hanoi hoagie she took pity on me and broke out some killer hot sauce and doctored up the other half with a goodly schmear of pork liver pâté. She promised to make a more Vietnamese inflected bánh mì the next time I visit.
She didn’t pull any punches with her iced coffee though. It was magnificent. As I sipped the sweet, strong, icy brew an older Vietnamese gent walked in. “Let me have a Ho Chi Minh sandwich,” he said. I can only hope that his sandwich fell more within the classic bánh mì profile. I really hope the owner takes my advice about giving her sandwiches more of a Vietnamese accent. Astorians deserve a good Ho Chi Minh sandwich.
Saigon Café, 25-90 41st St., Astoria, 347-617-1207