GRILLED PORK SANDWICH $3, Pho Viet's
The quintessential banh mi. Unlike the other shops, this kitchen's charred and tender pork, sweet-and-savory beef, caramelized chicken, and marinated tofu fillings are served piping hot instead of lukewarm. The pickles, cucumbers, and jalapenos are cut into beautiful sandwich-length batons, so each bite contains a perfect balance of sweet and sour, salty and hot. Add in a splash of soy sauce and pungent fresh cracked white pepper, and you may never eat a hamburger again. Bottom line Fifty cents more than its competitors buys you consistent excellence.
COLD-CUTS SANDWICH $2.50, Mei Sum Inc.
High-quality Vietnamese-style pork bologna and headcheese distinguish Mei Sum's cold subs from the rest. They cut their sweet homemade mayo with butter, adding to the sandwich's already rich locally made pate. With authentic Thai bird chilies, this sandwich packs a blistering punch as you work your way through the crisp and crumbly baguette. A bonus: You won't find a single English word on Mei Sum's signs, which might make you feel like part of a secret club after you've found it. Bottom line Ask for it "extra spicy," if you can handle the heat.
MEATBALL SANDWICH $2.50, Lu's Sandwich Shop
Run by a grandmother-granddaughter pair with nothing more than a low-boy refrigerator and a toaster oven, the pickles in Lu's sandwich are flavored with cinnamon, adding a warm spice to the savory meatball filling. The pork, chicken, and barbecue beef are good enough, but farther down the menu are unique fillings like sour nem chua (Vietnamese-style sausage) or ground pork and jicama balls in a sweet and sour sauce. Both are a lighter, fresher, Vietnamese cousin to an Italian sausage or meatball sub. Bottom line Though the standard cold-cut and barbecue sandwiches are better elsewhere, the sour sausage and meatballs make it worth the trip.
Pho Viets in the 88 Food Connection, 1095 Commonwealth Avenue, Allston, 617-562-8828
Mei Sum Inc. 40 Beach Street, Chinatown, 617-357-4050
Lus Sandwich Shop 2 Knapp Street, Chinatown
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