As the journalism business flounders, the banh mi trade booms–no one knows this better than Tai Dang, who was reportedly laid off from his job as a photographer for Newsweek, and decided to return to his native Saigon to learn to cook, then come back to the East Village to open a banh mi shop. The result of this career change is Banh Mi Zon (“zon” means “crisp and delicious”), a small storefront decorated with Dang’s photos of Vietnam, serving six different kinds of banh mi, along with simple rice plates, salads, and summer rolls.
As usual, the first banh mi on the menu is the classic–pork roll, pate, shredded pork, and the standard accompaniments of pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, and cilantro. The baguette has a light, airy crumb and a crunchy crust. Everything tastes very fresh; it’s a streamlined, refined banh mi, judiciously sized and tidy. Unlike the hulking flavor-bombs of Chinatown, these sandwiches are probably aimed at a non-Vietnamese audience, and lack fish sauce, as well as jalapenos. Instead, spoon on the Sriracha that sits on every table. At $5, it’s a good deal for the neighborhood, but not in the larger banh mi universe.
This banh mi ($5.50) is filled with deliciously oily sardine fillets, plus the same pork roll, pate, and fixings as the number one.
Fresh, pliant summer rolls ($4.50) with shrimp are made to order, rather than being pulled from a refrigerator.
The lotus stems in this tart salad ($6) have a pleasantly crunchy, stringy texture. They’re tossed in a fish sauce-lime juice dressing with pickled daikon, carrot, and small, white leek bulbs, cold poached shrimp, mint, and peanuts.
443 East 6th Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 23, 2009