There are Vietnamese restaurants that serve banh mi and then there is Obanhmi, a restaurant that focuses on their name sake. A different kind of sandwich shop, making classic and creative twists to the popular street snack. And lucky me, I got to try most of what they have on menu, as one of the judges for this year’s Vancouver Foodster best banh mi challenge.
The competition pits restaurants against one another in order to find the best banh mi of them all. My job, to try each one and crown a champion. And for those who aren’t judging, you can take part in the fun by trying them all too, then voting for your favourite as the people’s choice winner.
Today, my judgely duties brought me to the counter of Obanhmi for pick up. They have 3 locations total, however, I choose the one in Vancouver over Surrey and/or Langley for proximity reasons. I ordered online and the intuitive app gave me an accurate time as to when to pick up my carefully wrapped goodies. I would try majority of their menu in order to provide this comprehensive review for you today.
First, starting with the challenge contender, this is Obanhmi’s vegetarian sandwich, which you can easily make vegan by opting to have it without their house mayo. Tofu, avocado, carrot, daikon, cucumber, cilantro, and their “secret recipe” filling; this was not like any other banh mi I have had. It is also the best meatless rendition I have had to date. There was a lot of different textures to sort through, and even more tastes to discern. It covered sweet with the mayo, creamy with the avocado, and nutty from what I guess is the special filling mix. This was well balanced and left me not missing meat, with the addition of tofu to gently maw on. I suggest ordering the meat-full sub you came in for, and treating yourself to this as an add on you can’t go wrong with.
The rest of the banh mi are in the order of what I enjoyed the most to the least. Obanhmi offers a regular and a deluxe version of their cold cut sandwich. As their online ordering menu doesn’t offer much description, I can only assume the deluxe cold cut edition I got had double the amount of thinly sliced meats. Such is my go to whenever I order banh mi (anywhere), and this take did not disappoint. Despite all the ham, it wasn’t too salty; just a great ratio of meat to vegetable and bun.
This was my first time trying Viet Xiu Mai. It looked like luncheon meat, but less dense and salty. I would later learn that this is a type of Vietnamese meatball, cooked in a sweet tangy tomato sauce. It was sliced into cubes and sandwiched with the classic vegetable and mayonnaise combination. In actuality this was nothing like the spam I thought it resembled. The meat loaf was more like a paste, offering a texture best described as a chunkier pate. It otherwise tasted like pork and was a different and tasty choice.
The Beef sate is another fun variation on the classic Vietnamese sub. Slices of beef cooked until just slightly pink with a nice char. They were generously layered between the fresh baguette, offering a chewy contrast to the crispy shell. Interesting, but not the one you go to immediately. I just wished for more sauce on this, maybe a nice peanut butter sauce one to match with the sate expectations. They already have some available in a sauce for the garden rolls below, (More on that later).
As for the last three, seeing as they were all chicken, prepared in a similar crumble, it was hard to tell one apart from another. I did like how they catered to those with dietary restrictions and added a halal option. As per Wikipedia, “Halal food is that which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Koran. The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry, dhabiha, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe. Animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter and all blood is drained from the carcass.” As for how it tasted, I only made out a mild pepperiness with the addition of red onion, the latter unique to this sandwich alone.
I was disappointed by the lemongrass chicken. I half expected chunks of dark meat chicken or thigh with heavy grill marks, much like you would get from a Vietnamese platter. But instead I got more chicken crumble, and I was missing a smokey flavour to play off the hardly there zest of the lemon grass.
In the same way, the lemongrass reminded me of the honey garlic chicken. They looked and tasted the same. In hindsight I should have gotten this in pork, but that option missed me in the moment. The sandwich was only mildly sweet, no garlic flavour to note. I would have liked this drizzled in a sticky honey garlic sauce, like one you would coat wings with. Instead, it was more ground chicken. It tasted so similar to the other two, that it might be worth reaching out to the staff at Obanhmi and confirming that my order was indeed correct.
Not just banh mi, Obanhmi also offers sides like rolls and fries. Although, the latter was more like the former. Reading the name with nothing in addition, I had to give their Nem Fries a try. They looked like deep fried skinny spring rolls, rolled to a point at either end. Stuffed with more Viet Xiu Mai, it was a nice way to have the Vietnamese meat balls. Flavourful as is or given some zip with a dip in some spicy mayo.
Similarly, I also liked the Viet Xiu Mai in their fresh garden rolls. Sliced in a lengthy slab and packed along with noodles and vegetables. But as is the case with all garden rolls, the peanut butter based dip is what makes it memorable.
For the purists they also have the classic pork and vegetable spring rolls, paired with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.
And with all this food, you will want to enjoy it with some drinks. Something refreshing to break bites apart with, and to help wash everything down in. And in this case, their smoothies are definitely the way to go. I wasn’t expecting how much I would like them, and would now recommend them as a spot to grab a drink to-go from. Especially on a hot day and if you are thirsty and in need of a cooling beverage. The avocado drank like a dessert. They used quality fruit that tasted fresh, and drank thick like a heavy foam. The coconut was the best to pair with the banh mi. Went in half thinking it would be bland, only to be more than happy to be wrong. The mango was pronounced. A sweet fruit that stood between the two other smoothies as a drink and dessert. But for a better pick me up, Obanhmi also offers the classic Vietnamese coffee. Coffee available by the cup or easy to take out in premade poured and sealed bottles. A delicious way to get your caffeine fix.
In conclusion, Obanhmi is a safe spot for delicious Vietnamese sandwiches. Get your fix with the classics and then try something different with their more creative options.
Obanhmi Vancouver (Kingsway)
2250 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5N 2T7