I’m pretty sure John Keats wrote in one ode or another that “a new banh mi shop in the Tenderloin is a joy forever.” Newly open at 520 Leavenworth is Mom’s Bun Mi, a small sandwich shop that splits the difference between the banh mi strategies of San Francisco's best places.
[jump] By the name alone, it sounds like half of a mom-and-pop operation, and there’s very little beyond the sandwiches themselves: a fridge half-full of soda, Vietnamese coffee, and a single tray of chips. (I know they’re terrible, but I do love the shrimp chips that you can get at Saigon Sandwich, especially the hard-to-find garlic flavor that tastes vaguely like low tide.) However, there are three tables, which is three times as many as Saigon has.
The sign behind the counter says that each sandwich includes “pâté, spread cucumber, carrot, cilantro, jalapeño, and white onion.” Misreading “pâté, spread” as “pâté spread,” I asked about mayo and learned that Mom’s effectively makes its own egg-and-oil condiment in-house, and applies it to the bread with a light touch. As with another terrific banh mi joint, Café Bunn Mi in the Inner Richmond, you can add an egg to your sandwich, too. When the most expensive item on a menu is a mere $6, it’s basically mandatory to treat yourself, so I went with the lemongrass beef (although Chinese BBQ pork and a curry rub chicken sound pretty good, too).
It’s pretty terrific. The vegetables are crisp, the baguette is fresh, the jalapeños are plentiful, and the beef has exactly the right amount of sauce to soften the bun without soaking through it. It’s by no means the choicest cut, but it wasn’t the last bit stringy. Some banh mi can be excessively meaty, but this has a nice harmony. I’m always going to be a Saigon Sandwich fan, but it’s nice to know there’s someone nearby doing something slightly different, for only a little more money, and with skill.
Mom’s Bun Mi, 520 Leavenworth, 415-829-8138.