Bite of the Week is a weekly feature showcasing an exceptional meal or dish, curated by The Growler.
Ask any group of serious Minnesotan eaters where to find the best banh mi, and a host of different answers will come in. iPho by Saigon, for sure; Trieu Chau, quite likely, maybe even Lu’s Sandwiches if you’re particularly new-school. But our go-to, for years, has been the cheap, gorgeous, savory BBQ pork sandwich at the venerable Ha Tien Market on University Avenue in St. Paul.
Except that Ha Tien has decamped for a different part of St. Paul—White Bear Avenue at I-94—and its old store has changed hands, becoming Little Saigon Supermarket.
The critical question for all University Avenue banh mi people is, of course, whether the new place has made any major changes. The answer is: yes, but not in a bad way. The Little Saigon banh mi tastes distinctly more meaty, with a particularly assertive finish of creamy pork pate, than its Ha Tien predecessor. Cilantro and jalapeño peppers are present but toned down, and the meat runs the show. The bread is still great: crackly, tender, chewy, supporting its ingredients without overwhelming them.
We returned to the newly relocated Ha Tien for a comparison bite and found that their BBQ pork banh mi had seemingly picked up a creamier dressing element and was more cilantro-forward, with its bread-to-filling ratio tipped in favor of bread. Overall: Less pate, more chopped-pork forward, creamier tasting. Just as tasty as Little Saigon’s, or tastier, depending on how you feel about pate. Both are $5.25, so no advantage to be gained or lost there.
What’s indisputable is that between Little Saigon and Ha Tien you can get two of the best banh mis in the region.
The Dish: BBQ Pork Banh Mi, $5.25
The Place: Little Saigon Supermarket, 353 University Ave. W., St. Paul
The Reason: The shop may have changed hands and names, but this is still one of the great Minnesota sandwiches.