The Sáu Voi Corp has been a fixture in Chinatown for years--making and selling Vietnamese bánh mì alongside stacks of top-40 Vietnamese tapes and CDs, all in a space of about 200 square feet behind the facade of what, at first glance, could be that of an average corner bodega. Bánh mì seem easy to come by these days, with mainstream spots like Baoguette making the classic Vietnamese sub a household name; but funky little shops that sell them for $4 beside packs of cigarettes and lotto tickets are still a rare gem.
A Western egg-on-a-roll it's not, but a Bánh mì is a perfectly acceptable breakfast in Saigon, and so it is here. A highly satisfying breakfast, in fact.
We asked the two ladies behind the counter for their top three sandwiches, and had an enthusiastic reply for "number one," the classic Bánh mì Dac Biet ($4). The house special combines ham, pâté, and slices of pork roll with cucumber, carrots, cilantro, Sriracha, and mayo on a crunchy baguette that comes freshly crisped from a toaster oven hovering near the menu board. The fresh fillings tasted bright, and while I thought there could have been more filling to balance with the crunchy loaf, it was a standout rendition.
For the next pick, we were encouraged to get another "number one," but with more pressing were steered toward Bánh mì Saigon ($4). This was actually my favorite: the pork roll is paired with barbeque minced meat instead of ham and pâté, and the result was a more robust, seasoned sandwich while still featuring the brightness of crisp vegetables.
Bánh mì Thit Nuong ($4.20) features all of the same veggies, but with barbeque slices of pork. The pork was juicy and added a sweetness to the mix. I would have liked a bit more spice, but as the heat is coming from Sriracha it would be possible to add more.
There are 18 Bánh mì to choose from (though unfortunately a curious one featuring Coconut Jam was unavailable when we stopped by), as well as a host of appetizer dishes and desserts. Strong and sweet Vietnamese Coffee ($2-2.75)—along with Ovaltine, Thai Iced Tea, or regular coffee—rounds out a tasty morning stop.
Sáu Voi Corp
101-105 Lafayette Street, New York NY 10013 (map) 212-226-8184