Deliciously Cheap: Banh Mi Edition


Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

In Pittsburgh, fond of its pierogies and halusky, the banh mi not exactly a well-known dish. That does not, however, mean it is not a worthy delicacy. Born from the fertile soil of the Mekong delta during the French colonization of Vietnam, its base ingredients are a traditional French baguette, some type of meat (usually a pork cut), and various vegetables. For most of Pittsburgh’s history, the best banh mi have come from Lucy Sheets, a 70-something grandmother who moved from Vietnam to Pittsburgh with her soldier husband decades ago, opened a restaurant, and, when she closed the restaurant, decided to keep selling her specialty during the summer months in a little stand in the Strip District. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes a little hard to make that run down to the Strip just for a banh mi, especially when Lucy closes shop before your school does. But don’t concern yourselves just yet- there is a solution. Over the past couple years, Lawrenceville has suddenly found itself home to not one, but two Vietnamese cafes of good standing. So, comrade-in-arms in tow, I embarked on a quest to discover the best banh mi in Lawrenceville.

Banh Mi and Ti, located along Lawrenceville’s main drag, is a tidy little cafe that serves up bubble tea, coffee, rice bowls, and, of course, banh mi. We decided to split a pork n’ roll banh mi, consisting of baguette, maple syrup-draped pork shoulder, cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapeños (optional), and mayo. The savory mixture was fresh and crunchy, but the “meat” of the sandwich didn’t really stand out. The rest of our meal, which consisted of bubble tea, bubble tea, and bubble tea, was refreshing as well, but the banh mi was the real star. 

Our second stop was at Ineffable Ca Phe, which, despite its pretentious title, is a welcoming, well-designed stop (literally- there’s a descended streetlight at the entrance) for coffee, tea, and banh mi. My traveling companion -at this point relatively full because they ate beforehand, despite my advice- was content to just get some honey bubble tea, but I endeavored in packing on the pounds by getting a banh mi thit kho, made with braised pork belly, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cucumber, jalapeños, cilantro, and butter. I found this iteration of the classic to be the superior version, boasting a tender, saucy pork that melted in my mouth and flavorfully seeped into the baguette. The vegetables harmonized with the meat, making the sandwich finger-licking good. 

Despite handing victory in this bout Ineffable Ca Phe (for now), any of these three stops is a worthwhile visit for you if you’re interested in Asian or Vietnamese cuisine, especially during May, which is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. On another note, this is probably the last Deliciously Cheap of the 2018-2019 school year. Not to worry, though- I will be back. At some point. Stay hungry, my friends.