BY ELENA MANCINI
East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.
Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass, sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.
Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further, both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!
With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the friendly service can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.