Co Ba in Chelsea: Finally a Banh Mi Source Near SE Headquarters
The Serious Eats office was craving banh mi recently, real bad, and then it clicked: that Vietnamese restaurant Co Ba just opened recently and isn't that far from us! Co ba is the common nickname for the woman running a food stall in Vietnam, points out Sarah DiGregio in her Village Voice review. "And because these restaurants often don't have formal names, each ends up labeled with that same moniker—as in, 'Let's go to Co Ba's.' "
Well, we technically didn't go to Co Ba (woo, delivery!), but we ordered just about the entire banh mi menu.
Our favorite was the Banh Mi Thit ($7.50). The grilled honey plum-glazed pork had just the right sweet-savory balance; it was tender, and not gristly. It's layered with soft sheets of pate, as well as the necessary crunchies: carrots and daikon (that are crinkle-cut!) and cilantro. Jalapeños come on the side, and all of the sandwiches get a swipe of mayo, but nothing too goopy or noticeable, really.
Another chance to get your pork fill: the Banh Mi Thit Kho ($7.50). We saw "pork belly" and, well, that was that. The meat-cum-fat is braised in coconut juice and topped with some more of that house-pickled crunch. Our only complaint: the meat wasn't well-distributed. One bite would be perfectly porcine; the next, a big mouthful of chewy baguette. The bread has a crunchy top shell and soft insides, but sometimes it felt like it was too intense of a chew job.
The Banh Mi Cha Ca ($7.50) piles on "Hanoi-style fish"—thick, white, flaky, and spiked with a small garden's worth of dill. It's a lot of dill, and not something you probably expect to have on a banh mi, but it works. My Vietnamese roommate said it reminded her of the fish-dill overlap in a dish called cha ca thang long.
And finally, the tofu option. Considering there was no meat involved, the Banh Mi Chay ($6.50) was pretty darn meaty. The soy-lemongrass-marinated tofu was fresh and filling, especially with the hunks of shiitake mushrooms. No offense, Banh Mi Chay, but we went into you with low expectations—and were very impressed!
When the banh mi mood strikes again at SE HQ, we finally have a place to call. And we'd gladly order any of these again.
110 9th Ave, New York NY 10011 (map)