Before moving to Toronto, I did some research and reached out to you guys about what I should eat. The one place that was consistently brought to my attention, deservingly earning the #1 spot on my to-try list is Banh Mi Boys. But it wasn’t the first restaurant I went to – that honor, or mistake rather, goes to Mother's Dumplings. Why? The immeasurable buzz surrounding Banh Mi Boys scared me into thinking that it would fall short of my expectations, like so many overhyped restaurants do.
A month has passed since I’ve been in Toronto, and I just couldn’t ignore Banh Mi Boys any longer because, well, even locals don’t seem to rave a lot about what’s available here.
They do, however, show a lot of support for this popular Vietnamese sandwich shop - so much in fact that Banh Mi Boys launched a second branch to meet the demands on the corner of Yonge Street and Gerrard, in a busy district dominated by fast food and chain restaurants. They fit right in given that people identify them with fast food, but know that the quality of the goods they dish out puts even non-fast food restaurants to shame.
Ordering is a simple and efficient process: line up at the register, pick what you want from the overhead menu, leave your name with the cashier and pay on the spot. Take a seat or stay close and admire the colorful mural while you wait for one of the guys behind the counter to call your name, confirm your order, ask you if you want it spicy (sriracha) and if you want it for here or to go.
First order of business: the Five Spice Pork Belly Banh Mi ($5.99). Spilling out of a lightly-toasted baguette to warm the soft but sturdy crumb and give the crust a crackle were the sweet, sour and crunchy stylings of pickled carrots and daikon, crisp cucumber, bright notes of cilantro and braised pork belly tied together with mayo and sriracha for a spicy kick. While the five-spice flavor was subtle, each thick, salty slice of pork marbled with melt-in-your-mouth-fat won me over. Huge but well-proportioned and nicely-balanced, this beast gets all the credit for sparking my new affair with Banh Mi Boys.
I can’t say the Braised Beef Cheek Banh Mi ($5.99) came close, even if the saucy beef was fall-apart tender after hours of slow cooking. You’re going to think I’ve gone mad, but the issue was that it had too much meat. Like, you could do bicep curls with the sub thanks to all the beef weighing it down. The fact that it was beyond salty didn’t help its cause. Vietnamese subs are all about the balance between bread, meat and vegetables. Every element should be discernable, and together, they should complete each other. So, when I can’t taste any pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro or bread as promised because all there is, is close to unbearably-salty beef, there’s a problem.
I can’t tell you how many people urged me to get physical with the Kimchi Fries ($5.99). Sweet mother of God, it wasn’t hard to understand why. It featured a heaping pile of greasy, crispy fries cooked in dirty oil, tender and juicy strings of pulled pork with a sweet BBQ profile akin to the seasoning used on BBQ chips, mildly-sour-and-not-even-close-to-pungent napa kimchi, green onions and creamy mayo. Don’t be weirded out by the combination of ingredients – it’ll make perfect sense in your mouth. Make yourself uncomfortably full by ordering some on the side, and DON'T EvEN THINK about sharing.
Overhyped restaurants rarely live up to my expectations, but Banh Mi Boys is an exception. Many restaurants are lined up on Yonge Street, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want anything but a Vietnamese sub busting with fresh ingredients that's assembled to order and some kimchi fries – especially when prices are ridiculously cheap for the quantity and quality you’re paying for. You feel me?
Banh Mi Boys
399 Yonge Street | map