By Regan Elyse Murray
The flank steak banh mi from Saiguette is a stunning sandwich. Vietnam’s answer to an Italian sub, a banh mi packs pickled carrots, fresh cucumber spears, cilantro, and a featured protein into a fluffy, crusty roll swiped lightly with mayo. These proteins vary widely and can include everything from pate to tofu, but Saiguette, a takeout-only restaurant on the corner of Columbus and 106th, focuses on fried seafood and grilled meats.
When I moved to the UWS in August 2020, numerous locals regaled me with tales of the toy-box-sized spot. They told of platters of succulent roast pork. Of girthy summer rolls filled with plump shrimp. But mostly, they talked about the banh mi. Described as massive, cheap, assembled at speeds that would make a cheetah self-conscious and, most importantly, delicious, these sandwiches quickly rose to the top of my must-try list.
But there was a problem. Saiguette had closed when the pandemic first hit and the owners remained silent on the question of reopening. Rumors of a December 2020 revival came to nothing, leading everyone to assume that it had shuttered for good. For those locals, speaking to me was part of their grieving process, a way of making sense of the gaping, hoagie-sized hole in their hearts. I found myself mourning with them. Saiguette came to embody all the joys of pre-pandemic life on the UWS that I feared I might never experience. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I walked by this summer and saw the metal shutters raised and patrons picking up orders. In those exposed, gleaming windows, I saw the possibility not only of a delectable meal but also a greater sense of connection with my chosen home, the UWS.
Saiguette’s takeout-only menu offers several alluring banh mi options but the steak version was my midday pick-me-up of choice. If the prospect of experiencing all the best qualities of a burger blackened over an open flame, a jus-soaked French dip, and a side of tangy coleslaw distilled into a single sandwich causes your mouth to water, this iteration could also be your go-to. Bathed in a salty-sweet marinade prior to cooking, the pieces of tender meat emerge from the grill caramelized and charred, suffused with the smokiness of a slow-cooked brisket. They exude beefy juices that meld with the mayo, soak into the bread, and will drip down your arms if you are not careful.
The classic bread for a banh mi, and the one Saiguette uses, is a softer, airier Vietnamese adaptation of the baguettes introduced to the country by French colonizers in the mid-19th century. More tender than its European ancestor and exhibiting a thinner crust, it allows for easy eating and allows the fillings to shine. Beneath the meat lies an ample layer of those signature shredded and pickled carrots. The first thing to hit your tongue with each bite, the vegetables introduce crunch and tang that make this sandwich practically refreshing. Cilantro, hot sauce and another kind of pickle, this time jalapeños, round out the dish, adding additional brightness and spice. One bite was all I needed to understand why these banh mis are buzzworthy.
935 Columbus Avenue (106th)
Hours: 12:00 pm – 8:30 pm every day
Featured dish: Flank steak banh mi ($14 after 5 pm Mon-Fri and on weekends; $12.60 before 5 pm Mon-Fri)
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