Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bun Mee Vietnamese Sandwich Eatery in San Francisco

Dressing Up the Classic Vietnamese Street Food
2015 Fillmore St., San Francisco
Pacific Heights neighborhood
PH: 415.800.7696
Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted

One of my favorite lunch options is the banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich made with meat and served with pickled vegetables all in a crusty French roll. And one of the great things about these things, often sold on the streets in Vietnam, is that you can find them often for less than $3 around the Bay Area.

So will they be as exciting when they're, let's say, from $5.95 to $7.95? That was the question when I visited the fairly new Bun Mee eatery in the ritzy Pacific Heights area.

To be helpful, the owners of this cute and classy casual dining spot named the place after how banh mi should be pronounced. And of course, the menu lists about nine different types of banh mi, some with unusual twists to the typical sandwich with names like "Sloppy Bun" (a type of Sloppy Joe version), "Smokey Eggplant," and "Juicy Steak."

On my first visit, I ordered the Belly Bun ($6.25), a banh mi with braised pork belly and embellished with salted radish relish and shaved onions, along with the traditional garnishes of pickled carrot, daikon, cucumber, jalapenos, and cilantro. With my sandwich, I ordered a side salad portion of the Mango sesame salad ($3.25)

I sat at the counter along the back, where you get a front row seat of the workers putting together sandwich. I was right by the guy handling the deep-frying station as he prepared sweet potato fries.

As I waited, I sipped on my Strawberry Lychee Agua Fresca ($2.50), which was refreshing but a little on the sweet side, probably because of the lychee.

When my plate arrived, everything looked fresh and colorful. The salad was primarily Napa cabbage shreds with just a few pieces of fresh mango. It was light and healthy, but some how didn't blow me away like when I'd eat a green papaya salad and the dressing is just the nice mix of flavors.

My pork belly banh mi was like a typical banh mi I'd get in Chinatown except you can barely see the pork belly in the photo since it's topped with so many of the fancy ingredients. Still, the pork belly inside was very tender and so easy to eat.

I returned another time because I wanted to try one of their two rice bowls on the menu, which is the other major items other than the banh mi. There's only a Caramel Citrus Rice Bowl ($11.95) and a Saigon Peanut Rice Bowl (also $11.95), and I got the citrus bowl just because I love the idea of caramel and citrus. You have a choice of pork, grilled chicken, tofu, grilled steak or prawns to go with your bowl, and I went with chicken.

Before my rice bowl, I ordered Bun Mee's Green Papaya Salad ($3.50), the classic Vietnamese salad made with shredded unripen papaya. This tangy salad is one of my favorites, and Bun Mee's version was a nice serving size with the added vermicelli noodles and topped with crispy shallots. I liked how all the ingredients were fresh, but somehow I felt the dressing was a little too much.

My rice bowl arrived and it was a colorful array of ingredients such as avocado, grapefruit and orange segments, and pickled papaya and daikon sprouts. I thought my chicken would be like how the Vietnamese make caramel fish, with the nice thick sauce, but instead it was just grilled chicken, which was good but nothing amazing. Even though the bowl had all of my favorite ingredients like avocado and citrus, for some reason all the ingredients didn't seem to blend well. Maybe it was because the lime vinaigrette sauce didn't seem to tie everything together and I really didn't get why it was called a caramel bowl.

Bun Mee is an upscale version of the banh mi shops in Chinatown or the Tenderloin, and you pay for it. I enjoy the creative options and I appreciate the fresh ingredients, but somehow it seems like it's missing something to bring it all home. Still, it's a place I would drop in for a nice quality lunch in the neighborhood, but it won't drag me away from my favorite banh mi shops elsewhere.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (Gourmet sandwiches)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Bun Mee on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Jess said...

Great post! I think you'd enjoy reading our new Bun Mee restaurant review from San Francisco Magazine.

Happy reading!