Pho Cyclo's pork banh mi
It's widely known that Seattle has its own little banh mi heaven. When French baguettes and pickled daikon radishes cross paths anywhere near the corner of 12th and Jackson, delicious things happen. Who knew colonialism could produce something so tasy and budget friendly? Outside of Little Saigon, though, there's a relative dearth of these Vietnamese sandwiches. But as the popularity of banh mi grows, it appears the sandwiches are making their way into more and more neighborhoods.
Pho Cyclo's pork banh mi
For years, Capitol Hill's most reliable (well, only) banh mi could be found at Pho Cyclo on Broadway. Recently, though, neighborhood stalwart Ballet Restaurant hoisted up a banner declaring that it's "Now Serving Banh Mi." What happens when these two go-to neighborhood joints meet on the pork banh mi battlefield? That's exactly what Versus set out to discover.
The pork banh mi at Pho Cyclo will set you back just $3.00 and will leave you wondering what you ever did to deserve such a bargain. Pho Cyclo's baguette is ideal: an astonishingly crispy crust that shatters with each bite, sending out a squall of crumbs. (Keep the sandwich as far away from the chest as you eat, especially you ladies, unless you like bread shards in your bra.) The interior of the bread is airy, soft, and pleasantly chewy. The sandwich is stuffed with a generous amount of wide, flat slices of pork, hot and fresh off the grill: They're slightly sweet and slightly smoky and bear the unmistakable tang and scent of lemongrass. Thin strips of pickled daikon and carrot are appropriately sour. And while softened by the brine, they still hold a delightful snap when you bite into them. Fresh sprigs of cilantro (not so much as to overwhelm), cucumber spears, and three bracingly hot slices of jalapeño complete the filling, and the sandwich is held nicely together with two thin slathers of sweet mayonnaise.
Everything on the menu at Ballet is reasonably priced, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that a grilled pork banhi mi costs $4.95. That baguette here is more of the soft and chewy variety -- very little crackle to the crust, though the bread itself has a sweet, almost buttery quality to it. Ballet's pork is sliced into thin strips, a hefty pile of which is laid inside the baguette. The meat bears beautiful grill marks, and it's smoky with the occasional wonderful bite of crispy caramelized fat. However, the sugary soy glaze is a bit cloying, especially coupled with the excessive amounts of gloppy mayonnaise lining the baguette. The pickled daikon and carrots and the fresh cilantro are fine, but there's not nearly enough of them to effectively contrast the teriyaki-like pork. When you bite into a thick slice of fresh jalapeno and feel the burn of its seeds and membrane, the pain is a little more welcome than it should be.
Ballet's pork banh mi
Verdict: Ballet is relatively new to the banh mi game, so it could improve its sandwich. A better baguette and more flavorful meat would go a long way here, especially since the place is charging $5 a sandwich. For now, the first on the scene remains the best.
Pho Cyclo for the win.