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COVER STORY

Banh voyage

A cruise through Colonialtown in search of Orlando’s best banh mi

Photo: Shan Stumpf, License: N/A

Shan Stumpf


Banh Mi Dac Biet (combination)
Ba Le
1229 N. Mills Ave.
407-898-8011
score: 2.4
This sandwich, the first one we tasted, got props for the pressed bread – one of us dubbed it a “Viet-Cuban.” Aside from being “chockfull” of “garlicky pâté,” though, Ba Le’s combination banh mi earned three “bland”s, three “weak”s, two “ho-hum”s and a “boring,” with a frustrating lack of cilantro.

Banh Mi Xiu Mai (“chopped meatballs”)
Pho 88
730 N. Mills Ave.
407-897-3488
score: 2.2
Pho 88’s meatball sub, hotly anticipated, was a bit of a letdown. Across the board, the verdict was a resounding “greasy.” Tasters called the meatballs variously “soggy,“ “mushy,” “fatty” and “greasy,” but as ever, some enjoyed what others disliked. “Good squish factor” and “not too dry” pointed to a preference for a moist sandwich, while one taster, not a fan, “could feel the fat.” Two thought “more acid,” “more daikon” or “more herbs” would have balanced the flavors.

Banh Mi Xa Xiu (sliced barbecued pork)
Pho 88
730 N. Mills Ave.
407-897-3488
score: 2.1
Cha siu (or xa xiu), sliced barbecued pork, held out tantalizing promise, especially for those of us who love the red-lacquered Chinese version. Neither of the banh mi cha siu we tasted fared well in this test, unfortunately. “Meat was beautifully colored but relatively flavorless. Disappointing,” wrote one taster. “Blank taste, no seasoning,” “flavorless pickled veggies” and “boring bread” sealed the deal, though one diplomatic taster praised the “nice cilantro flavor.”

Cha Siu Banh Mi (sliced barbecued pork)
Tien Hung Market
1110 E. Colonial Drive
407-422-0067
score: 1.9
“Bread tastes processed,” “bread hard to chew,” “bread is gross”: Ignore the housing of your sandwich at your peril, banh mi chefs. This, our second banh mi cha siu, also failed to please, with meat described variously as “bland,” “briny” or “sweet.” Two tasters wrote that the sandwich tasted “like pork fried rice” – starchy and dull.

Combo Banh Mi
Tien Hung Market
1110 E. Colonial Drive
407-422-0067
score: 1.8
Our lowest scorer aroused confusion more than actual disgust. All agreed that it was oddly “sweet,” with meat that tasted “too processed” and bread with a “springy,” “strange texture.” Points were given for “good cilantro flavor” and “nice cucumber flavor,” but in the end, one comment summed it up: “Tastes like an Asian supermarket smells.” Fair enough, since Tien Hung is in fact a market; perhaps the unique odor of a nearby durian fruit managed to sabotage this sandwich by exuding its pungent aroma into the bread.

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