They may serve downtown’s cheapest lunch, but bánh mì joints — Vietnamese sub-sandwich counters — offer the simplest, most unimpeachable sandwich you can buy on the fly. A cultural leftover from Vietnam’s French colonial days, Bánh mì is a airy baguette with a paper-thin crust made from a mixture of rice and wheat flour. ’Dwiched between these crunchy clouds of bread is any combination of things: traditional pork-liver pâtés, cold-cut or flossed chicken or pork, julienned cucumbers, pickled daikon and carrots, fresh cilantro and grilled tofu. We suggest trying two sandwiches at a time — they’re snack-sized and, again, cheap.
Rose’s Vietnamese Sandwiches
Last summer, Rose Café found new digs for its East-Chinatown counter. Moving around the corner and renaming the spot Rose’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, always-friendly Rose continues to crank out bánh mì with the freshest ingredients. Try the ga cha bong, a chicken salad sub with all the best fixings. Sandwiches $2. 601 Gerrard St. E., 416-406-9906
Bahn Mi & Che Cali
A range of snacks is available, as are bowls of pho. But if you can’t find one of a few tables, belly up to the sandwich counter by the door and take a look at the mise en place. Point at something you like (chicken, pork, cold cuts, etc.) and politely order. Everything is good here, even the vegetarian choices. BBQ pork sandwich $2.25, otherwise sandwiches $2. 318 Spadina Ave, 416-599-8948
Nguyen Huong Vietnamese Sandwiches
Though they offer deli meats, meals-to-go, desserts and snacks, Nguyen Huong’s stock in trade is bánh mì. Garlic honey or lemongrass sausage bánh mì, flossed chicken or beef bánh mì, pork belly and pig ear bánh mì, sardine bánh mì. At $2 for a small and $2.50 for a large, your best strategy (as we said before) is to whittle your choices by ordering two. 322 Spadina Ave., 416-599-4625
Banh Mi Ba Le
Here, the most expensive sandwiches on this list — they top out at $2.90, alert the press! Ba Le is one of the rarer spots, in that it has tables and chairs where you can sit and enjoy your sub. There are two numbered menus, one Vietnamese, one English. The latter version lacks options on the former and they are not to be missed. Ask for a number 9, bi shredded pork, and a number 10, bate cha pork-liver pâté. 538 Dundas St. W., 416-977-2168
Image courtesy of J.W. Hamner.