Burgers and Banh Mi

I’m having a philosophical problem: is a burger a sandwich? On the face of it, the answer is obviously yes. Meat and produce between two halves of a bun. That’s as sandwich as it gets. But I don’t want to include burgers in my quest for the perfect sandwich. I don’t know why. I asked Kim about it, and she felt the same way. So I asked her why a burger isn’t a sandwich, and she couldn’t come up with a good reason either. Maybe it’s because a burger is already the perfect sandwich. Maybe it’s because burgers are an art form to themselves, and it would take a year just to find Portland’s best burger. I don’t know why, but I’m not including burgers in my quest. And besides, I need a resolution for next year.

Speaking of niche sandwiches, let’s talk Banh Mi. I discovered this Vietnamese masterpiece about ten years ago, and I’ve been smitten ever since. Here in Portland, we’re blessed with many great options, and (of course) some fascinating takes on the original form. If you’re after a classic, most people will send you to An Xuyen on Southeast Foster. They’re damn good, but I prefer Binh Minh on Southeast Powell. The sandwiches are superb, and as a bonus treat, they do a magnificent curry puff. Definitely my favorite PDX Banh Mi joint.

That being said, no matter how good a regular Banh Mi is, it will never be a perfect sandwich. So let’s talk about some places that riff on the theme. Coming in on the down and dirty side, there’s Huong’s Vietnamese food cart, downtown at 10th and Ankeny. Their take on the classic has plenty of seasoned meat (pork or chicken – go for the chicken), and an excellent Sriracha mayo. It’s a guilty pleasure that ticks all the right boxes, especially with the crispy, light baguette. A solid 7 out of 10.

Rua sits right in the middle. They’ve set up shop in the relatively new Zipper complex at Northeast 28th and Sandy. They tart their Banh Mi up with thick slices of pork belly, but it’s not all good news. The sauce is a bit too sweet, and the bun is too soft. 6.5 out of 10.

Meanwhile, the good folks at Double Dragon are trying to take Banh Mi all the way to the top. They have a range of fancy options, including their own take on pork belly, but the best choice there is the pulled pork. Fatty pig along with crisp acid flavors from the pickled vegetables, all wrapped in a toasted, crunchy roll. It’s excellent, and gets a deserved 8 out of 10.

So still no perfect sandwich, bit a growing list of damn good ones. I’m enjoying this resolution. I’ll end with a note of caution: be careful when texting others about your Vietnamese lunch. I did that recently, and autocorrect changed “Banh Mi” to “bang me.”

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