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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Best Banh Mi in Town

The Best Banh Mi in Town

Chef Tim McKee might have had the best sandwich of his life this weekend.

He sang the praises of a barbeque pork banh mi sandwich from Ha Tien Market—a small grocer in what is now branded the Little Mekong District of St. Paul’s University Avenue—via a tweet, calling it “ridiculously good.”

That's high praise from a very high source: Chef McKee is a current James Beard Outstanding Chef Semi-Finalist (PDF) and past Best Chef Midwest winner, and an obvious tastemaker who has influenced many of the best chefs and restaurants in town.

What made it so good? Well, a traditionally great banh mi sandwich relies on multiple facets: a crusty yet chewy baguette with a light, airy center, fresh herbs, pickled daikon and carrots for a bit of twang, mayonnaise and pate for richness, and in this case, red barbequed pork, salty and meaty, as the star of the show. It’s a complex sandwich that has become popular across the country, with some excellent local examples—St. Paul’s iPho and Trung Nam French Bakery usually garnering most of the foodie accolades.

The first thing one notices about the Ha Tien banh mi is heft. This is a large sandwich with impressive amounts of barbequed char siu pork, glistening red, and charred crisp. Beyond that, the sandwich resembles other quality banh mis with one distinct exception—the “juice.” Ha Tien offers its customers a wet sandwich ladled with a soy-based pork sauce, thin and flecked with bits of ground pork. The sauce adds richness and flavor and makes for a sloppy and ultimately satisfying meal. Is this the best banh mi in town? It certainly could be.

Two potential axioms we can take away from this: When top chefs who nearly never tweet adoringly mention local sandwiches, make haste! And in life, when asked if you want “the juice,” the answer is always yes.

banh mi sandwich

Ha Tien
353 University Ave W, St. Paul

Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 in Permalink

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Mar 16, 2013 10:19 am
 Posted by  skb

Ha Tien has been my favorite Asian market for the past 15 years. It's like a trip to SE Asia without leaving the twin cities.

4 years ago - After having numerous Bahn Mi sandwiches - I asked the counter guy if I could have some bbq pork in my Bahn Mi instead of the traditional loaf meats. He looked at me with a rather puzzled look & said sure - you may have to pay a little extra. A little extra on top of $2.75 was indeed the best deal and sandwich in town. I prefer mine with a drizzle of Nuoc Cham- be sure to ask for a small container of it. I have been bringing my friends here & now I guess the word is getting out.

The owners of Ha Tien have embraced the light rail along University Avenue & are now on the finishing touches of a major renovation with new deli, all new fridges & freezers and an expanded fresh veggie section. The owners and adult children are very friendly and great shop keepers.

I have been suggesting for nearly a year- if they could prepare Ga Kho Xa Ot (Vietnamese- spicy lemon grass chicken) for their sandwiches? Perhaps readers could help me out by requesting? (grin)

I'm so happy for this authentic grocery & deli...

Sheldon in Mpls.

Mar 24, 2013 01:20 pm
 Posted by  JasonRoss

Sheldon in Mpls., Thanks so much for your comment and for maybe inventing a great sandwich, the Char Sui Banh Mi (now to be known as “The Sheldon”). Count me in on your latest chicken sandwich request (Ga Kho Xa Ot).

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TC Taste answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally bring the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Minnesota Monthly editor-in-chief Rachel Hutton, Sustainable Food Correspondent Marie Flanagan, Chef Jason Ross, Food Writer Joy Summers, and Drinks & Real Food Senior Editor Mary Subialka. Learn more about the TC Taste bloggers.

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