Many Torontonians would agree that the most happenin’ Asian takeout place in everyone’s lips these days is Banh Mi Boys.I first had my curiosity piqued after hearing everyone talk about this hot new place on the Twitterverse (does anyone still call it that?). Skip forward a few weeks later, I caught the tail end of Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here which featured, surprise surprise, this restaurant. It was as if the food gods were giving me the biggest HEY YOU LOOK HERE sign ever and I knew at that moment that I have to check this place out. So once again, following the footsteps of my Italian brother from another mother (long story) John Catucci, I ventured forth into this restaurant, giddy with anticipation.
For those who don’t know, banh mi is a general catch-all term that the Vietnamese use for bread. And the Vietnamese really love their sandwiches. As the country is a former French colony, almost all of the classic Vietnamese sandwiches are offered on French baguette-style bread, and you will find practically none of the usual triangle-shaped variety that comes to mind to most North Americans when the term “sandwich” is brought up.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the traditional Vietnamese banh mi. On one hand, it’s usually so delightfully light compared to its heavy and meat-laden Western counterparts. I particularly love the freshness and the bite you get from the vegetables inside the sandwich. On the other hand, the banh mis I’ve tasted usually are drizzled with that sticky clear-like sweet and sour vinegar that you get in almost all Vietnamese restaurant. And there’s usually a LOT of pickled vegetables inside it. As anyone who knows me can tell you: I really do NOT like vinegar, or sour things in general.
However, Banh Mi Boys has been touted for being different, by providing a modern and fusion-esque take on this dish. As such, I was curious to see how the end product will be. I’ve heard all about the lineups and the lack of space but it was a beautiful May afternoon and I couldn’t resist not going there with a few of my coworkers. So with a lot of anticipation and a smidge of trepidation, I entered the world of Banh Mi Boys….
BOY was it busy. We came around 12:30 pm and basically saw nothing but the backs of around two dozen office workers and students who are all waiting to pick up their order. There’s a lineup for those waiting for their food, and there’s a lineup for those waiting to order, hell there was probably a lineup to line up, what do I know. Even considering the fact I am without a doubt one of the slimmest person alive (I wear EXTRA SMALL on my Express dress shirts, bitchplease), there was barely any room to move. After what felt like half an hour of waiting, ordering, and waiting again, we finally got our food and quickly sat down at the table. Let me tell you though, getting a seat was a miracle in itself as the place really only had about 3-4 tables, so we owed this fact to a combination of luck (there was a group leaving just as we came in) and Beffy (who was the brains behind the idea of going here on this lovely day).
Among the things I sampled (and ordered) were the tofu fries and the duck confit banh mi. I’ve heard great things about the duck banh mi and, seeing that I love Peking duck, roast duck, and a whole smorgasbord of other duck dishes more than any man should, it was the natural first choice on my list of things to try. The moment I bit into that soft bun, I was instantly hooked. The duck was tender and flavourful, with hints of sweetness coming in between the richness of the meat. Coupled with the fresh and slightly acidic pickled vegetables, this was a treat. It wasn’t overwhelmingly sour, I’m glad to report, but it just has the right amount of tart to complement the lovely caresses of meaty flavour that permeates your taste buds. Served with a side of buttery-smooth house mayo which I couldn’t get enough of, this dish was truly deserving of the many plaudits lauded upon it.
We also shared a rather large-looking portion of tofu fries. These are essentially the same as the crazily popular kimchi fries (notwithstanding the fact that kimchi ≠ Vietnamese), but they substituted the pork with tofu. A healthier option, and the same amount of deliciousness, so why not? And be prepared, as your first bite of this dish will be an assault on your taste buds like you won’t every believe–in a fantastically good way. Even those who are usually not big fans of kimchi would love it. I would go on a limb and say that the flavours aren’t completely true to its namesake (kimchi, not tofu obviously), but rather more akin to seasoned fries on a whole ‘nother level. Like a level of complexity similar to stage 200 of Candy Crush Saga. There is sweet, tart, salty, and spicy all mixed in one. And while I originally thought fries in kimchi sauce would end up soggy, that ended up not really being the case. While it wasn’t crunchy like McDonald’s fries, it still had quite a bit of life to it and wasn’t at all limp as I first feared. Definitely a must have as a side dish in ANY of your Banh Mi Boys meals.
So there you have it. A fast food restaurant with a twist in downtown Toronto which is consistently packed but definitely delicious. Friendly and efficient service, with piles of unique drinks that you can order from the fridge (Cherry Coke? Vanilla Coke? Sweetened Asian iced coffee? EVERYTHING ALSO GOT!) All for comfortably under 10 bucks per person after taxes. The only caveat: those who don’t like 90’s old school hip hop/top 40 music should just ask someone to line up for you. But overall, you GOTTA EAT HERE.
Did anybody get that? 😛
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
Banh Mi Boys
392 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5V 2A9