Sure, it's easy to walk right past New Saigon Sandwich — its unassuming storefront is nestled between some of Chinatown's flashier Dim Sum staples. But once you've tried their delicious, authentic, and obscenely affordable Vietnamese lunch specials, it's even easier to ignore its ostentatious competition.
When I walked in, the place was completely empty. There's no seating, just a cramped space for standing in line and a few fridges stocked with sports drinks. But it was early — in a few moments it'd be lunchtime, and the inevitable hoards of business-types would wander out of their downtown office buildings, hungry and in search of instant gratification. When that happens, the line at New Saigon often spills out the door and onto the crowded Washington Street sidewalk.
A stack of egg rolls ($1/each) was literally steaming on the counter, so I ordered one of those first. It was packed with shrimp, pork, veggies, and taro, giving it a super-fresh, kind of nutty taste. The main attraction, though, is the bánh mì: an inexpensive, cold sandwich filled with your pick of protein — typical Vietnamese street fare. They've got barbecue beef, tofu, curry chicken, something called "Vietnamese cold cuts," and a ton of other fillings to choose from. I went with the shredded pork ($3.25). It's served on fresh, flaky French bread slathered in a buttery mayo, and stuffed with carrots, chili peppers, pickled onions, and cucumber, and topped off with cilantro. If the chilies aren't cutting it, ask for "extra spicy," and they'll douse the whole thing in a tangy hot-pepper sauce. It adds a definite kick, but it's worth it, especially paired with the sweeter fish sauce in which the shredded pork is soaked.
There are tasty non-sandwich options, too, like a selection of freshly pre-made "box meals." I tried the barbecue chicken box ($3.75) based on the recommendation of an employee, though the tofu spring rolls ($3.75) were equally alluring. The box included chewy chunks of charred meat on top of lettuce and sticky, yellow noodles. Its subtle, hoisin-esque flavoring was so good, it didn't even bother me that it was served at room temperature. I tried a jackfruit bubble-tea shake ($3) for an icy post-meal treat, even though I had no idea WTF a jackfruit was. The verdict? The perfect tropical finish to a satisfying lunch.
NEW SAIGON SANDWICH, located at 696 Washington Street, Boston (Chinatown), is open daily, 8:30 am–6:30 pm. Call 617.542.6296.