A Sandwich a Day: Banh Mi from Pho Lang Thang in Cincinnati
In this great country of ours, one could eat a different sandwich every day of the year—so that's what we'll do. Here's A Sandwich a Day, our daily look at sandwiches around the country. Got a sandwich we should check out? Let us know. —The Mgmt.
You may recognize this one from our best-in-the-US sandwich roundup recently. But frankly, if someone had asked me to name a city where you could get a great banh mi sandwich, Cincinnati wouldn't come to mind first. This cold cut version at Pho Lang Thang just outside Findlay Market is pretty stellar.
You wouldn't think it walking in. The waitstaff and cooks are almost all young, white, hipsterish-looking types who haven't learned even the most basic rules of good service,* and you might even be excused for turning around and walking out before you even place your order, but you'd be missing out.
*E.G. "Don't roll your eyes at the customer when you take their order," or "It's your job to serve people, you are not doing them a favor by taking their order."
It mostly had to do with the quality of their cold cuts, which showed a freshness and bright flavor you'd be hard pressed to find in any of the banh mi shops in New York. Banh mi are all about this freshness, and Pho Lang Thang's has it in spades.
Bright pink ham, slices of head cheese that are almost crunchy in texture, pale white Viet bologna, and a spread of not-too-gamey paté. They're not shy with the Maggi seasoning (the secret weapon of a good banh mi shop), nor are they shy with fresh sliced jalapeño peppers if you ask for your sandwich hot.
Crunchy pickles and plenty of cilantro add brightness to the mix. If I could make one change, it'd be that the cucumbers were sliced into a long stick instead of the thin slices that quickly lose their crunch, but it's a minor quibble.
My server refused to divulge the provenance of the bread other than to say "it's custom baked for us with rice and wheat flour," but either way, it's really good. Crisp on the outside, fluffy and tender inside like a good banh mi bun should be.
Special thanks to our friend the Cincinnati Nomerati for showing us around Cincinnati!
Pho Lang Thang
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.