The city of Hoi An in central Vietnam is famous for its food and countless tailor shops. When we were in Phong Nha, I overheard our jungle trekking guide Mats saying how delicious is the food in Hoi An. Therefore, as a foodie myself, I was quite looking forward to visiting Hoi An. And little did we know, the banh mi in Hoi An seems to have quite a reputation.
Jim looked up some recommendations on Tripadvisor and found out that Banh Mi Phuong has a very high rating on their banh mi. Moreover, Anthony Bourdain, the famous food/travel tv host for “Parts Unknown,” ate there. I love the show, and I always wanted to eat at a place he recommended, so we decided it was a must try. However, we also read about Banh Mi Queen, the other banh mi place some of the travellers preferred. Therefore, we decided to go in a tasting contest between the two banh mi places.
Pin It, Save It, Read It Anytime!
What’s A Bánh Mì?
In case if you don’t know what a banh mi is – Bánh mì is the Vietnamese word for bread, or more specifically, baguette. The French brought the baguette to Vietnam during the colonial time. Today, when we say Bánh mì, it is talking about the Vietnamese sandwich, which usually consists different types of meat or tofu and assorted vegetables such as pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro. Sometimes it accompanies with fried eggs, and the standard condiments include chilli and mayo sauces.
My very first banh mi experiences go all the way back to the time when I lived in New York City. I had banh mi from a Vietnamese eatery in China Town and a duck banh mi at Saigon Shack, which is a small restaurant near Washington Square Park. They were both delicious, but of course pricey in comparison to having it in Vietnam since it needs to accommodate the expensive rent in NYC. (But I considered it affordable eats back in the city. Haha.)
Before we went to our first banh mi place, we asked the opinion of our tailor shop owner, John. He said Banh Mi Phuong has become very popular because of Anthony Bourdain’s show, but the locals prefer Banh Mi Queen. I was even more curious and couldn’t wait to try the two highly praised banh mi places.
Banh Mi Queen
We first went to Banh Mi Queen and ordered a pork banh mi with chilli to share. Banh Mi Queen’s banh mi is the family recipe from an old lady. Her pictures were on the wall, but we didn’t see her. A random woman pointed at her picture and said “dead” to us (How rude!), which was kind of weird, so we weren’t sure if she is still alive. The baguette was slightly toasted which leaves the surface of the bread a bit crunchy. It’s exactly how I like it. Different from the banh mi I had in Hanoi, the Queen added a perfectly cooked egg omelette as a part of the ingredients. The pork belly is tender, and the chilli sauce gives a good kick to the flavour.
We LOVED Banh Mi Queen and were very attempted to have another one because half of that sandwich just couldn’t satisfy us. It was too good! But we had a mission. We still needed to go to Banh Mi Phuong, so we suppressed our urges and walked over to Banh Mi Phuong.
Banh Mi Phuong
When we reached the shop front of Phuong’s, I could immediately see the differences from Queen’s. It was super crowded. A sign told us where to order and pay, but nobody was paying attention to us. There were around five workers inside the open kitchen making banh mi, but we had no idea who to talk to. No one even took a look at us. We politely asked the guy who was taking care of the bills who we should order from, but he responded very distractedly and said “2 minutes, 2 minutes.” We were the first in line, but a banh mi maker already began to take orders from the locals who came after us. We tried to get someone’s attention, but they again ignored us. Of course, we were furious and annoyed as hell.
We ended up not having Banh Mi Phuong, and we left the eatery after waiting “FIRST” in line for God knows how long. This isn’t how customers are supposed to be treated. I understood that they got famous. They probably didn’t care whether we buy a 20,000VND banh mi from them because they now have endless customers.
While at the Queen’s, although it also took a while for them to bring us our order, they were attentive. We were also able to go into the shop and took a seat first. It was apparent that Banh Mi Queen is running by a family that cares about their customers. After we left Banh Mi Phuong, we went back to the Queen’s directly to share another banh mi with chicken. It was also very delicious, but Jim and I both preferred chilli pork.
I’d Choose the Queen’s Over the Phuong’s Any Day.
Before we left Hoi An, we went back to Banh Mi Queen again. This time, we both ordered a chilli pork banh mi, and we were lucky to have THE QUEEN to make our banh mi for us. She’s alive and well! She’s about 76 years old now. The young woman who took our orders the day before recognised us and smiled. It made me like this place over the Phuong’s even more.
Although I can never tell you who makes better banh mi, I believe customer service is also an important part of a food experience. If a restaurant becomes rude to its customers, then I could care less about how delicious their food is. Besides, Banh Mi Queen seriously has the best banh mi I’ve ever had so far. I can go back to central Vietnam just for the banh mi in Hoi An. The warm hospitality and comfortable eating environment were also why I would choose the Queen over the Phuong’s any day. If you plan to visit the city, don’t miss out the banh mi in Hoi An. Put Banh Mi Queen on your radar!
Long live Banh Mi Queen!
Address: 115 Trần Cao Vân, Sơn Phong, Tp. Hội An.
Opening Hours: 07/08.00-19.00
Read about my other adventures in Vietnam:
Also published on Medium.