This sister-run Vietnamese cafe is one of those perfect, hidden gems in Austin that has lasted not because of its location (in a small strip mall), but because of its devoted and very loyal following. House specials here include the banh mi (try the tangy beef lemongrass) and Vietnamese cream puffs.
Another HUGE banh mi, Lily's version is nearly a foot long -- and only $3.75 -- so you can imagine the wait at lunchtime. But the line is well worth it, since they bake the bread that morning, and it's hot when you bite into it. The savory BBQ Pork variety has caused my eyes to roll back in my head more than once.
Years ago, I completed an (ill advised) food trailer tour, tasting approximately 40 tasty dishes in under 3 hours. While my stomach suffered, by mouth rang out for Lulu B's, my favorite stop on the tour. Texturized soy protein isn't for everybody, but their lemongrass tofu banh mi made believers out of carnivores that day.
Sometimes, banh mi joints gets the protein/vegetable proportions slightly off, filling their sandwich with just a few meager slivers of chicken or pork, and compensating with bushels of cilantro. Not at Pho Van -- the grilled shrimp banh mi is a crispy roll stuffed with fat, halved crustaceans. It's a steal at $4.
The secret of Baguette House's famous banh mi is their baked in-house bread which, unlike the hard, door-stop like consistency of bread you see on some banh mi, provides a nice, warm, soft pocket for the fillings inside (I like the grilled pork especially).
The Liberty Bar stop of Eastside King sells several sandwich/wrap type things that are almost banh mi, but not quite -- and these riffs are outstanding. My favorite is the Curry Bun, which starts with a deep-fried bun (!), stuffed with homemade peanut butter curry, basil, cilantro, mint, and magic.
Sour, rich, astringent and delicious, the Keffir Lime Fried Chicken bahn mi is among the showier version of the sandwich I've seen. Sometimes banh mi can be too dry, but this one yields a pleasingly juicy bite.
Thick, crusty bread makes Pho Oanh's banh mi a standout here, with moist grilled pork and tons of bright veggies spilling out the side. Note that this is a rather large sandwich, so if you split it with a friend, you could both eat (tip included) for pennies -- well, almost. We're talking $3 a person. Remember this during tax season.
The atmosphere at Phonatic is a touch chainy, but the banh mi sliders -- served on a soft, steamed Peking bun rather than a traditional hunk of crusty baguette -- are totally divine, and come in sharable, petite little packages.