Restaurant: Banh Mi Boys
Last Visited: February 28, 2013
Location: Toronto, ON (King West)
Address: 392 Queen St. West
Transit: Queen St West at Spadina Ave
Phone: (416) 363-0588
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Service: (Pay at cashier)
- Since December 2011
- Local favourite
- Line ups/busy at peak hours
- Pay at cashier
- Budget friendly/cheap eats
- Vegetarian options
- Family friendly
- Limited seating
- Eat in/Take out
- Accepts credit card/cash/Interac
- Monday to Friday 11am to 10pm
- Saturday: 11am to 9pm
- Sunday: 12pm to 7pm
**Recommendations: Fice Spice Pork Belly, Braised Beef Cheek, Pulled Pork (all offered in Banh Mi or Steamed Bao), Kimchi Fries
What?! Aren’t you from Vancouver?! Yes. Yes, I am. And you came all the way from Vancouver to try a banh mi in Toronto?! Aren’t there a million places in Vancouver offering awesome banh mi at dirt cheap prices?! Why on earth would you waste a precious Follow Me Foodie to Toronto meal on a Vietnamese sub?! These were all questions I asked myself before finally deciding to try Banh Mi Boys.
This was not on my original dining itinerary, but I added it after it came up in a few conversations with locals. I stated several times “I’m from Vancouver”, but Torontonians still insisted I try it. I got the sense of a cult like following and it seemed to be all the rave.
I’m all up for cheap eats and hole in the walls, but I can get tons of fantastic banh mi in Vancouver. Asian food is what we excel at! That’s what we have over Toronto’s food scene, so why should I be so interested to try it here? Well for starters, this wasn’t any old banh mi shop. And Of course it wasn’t! That would have been a wasted opportunity, but this was the “new burger” for Toronto.
I mentioned in My Top 10 Food Trends in 2012 that Vietnamese was the new Thai, and over the last years we’ve seen an invested interest in Vietnamese food, and particularly the re-found love for the banh mi. From industry as well as the general public, the banh mi is being championed across major North American food cities with a love for international cuisine. It seems to be the next biggest thing in Asian food since steamed baos and ramen, but much easier to make and mass market.
Banh Mi Boys is the revelation of fast food joints and their reinventing the banh mi. It is almost the “McDonald’s” of the next generation, which takes interest in diverse cuisine. I think it is great if they can commercialize Asian food and get people trying new things. The only thing that prevents me from calling them the leaders of future “fast food” is because I don’t know where their meats are sourced and it’s not necessarily healthy. It is healthier than most American fast food chains out there though. Anyway, I do believe eating local and the sourcing of ingredients are growing concerns, so that is something Banh Mi Boys could enforce if they aren’t already.
It is started by David, Philip and Peter Chau, brothers who used to work at their parents’ Vietnamese sub shops. Apparently the family business also involved supplying many other Vietnamese sub shops in Toronto with their baguettes, but now the brothers have taken things in their own hands and to the next level.
The name seemed inspired by Toronto chain restaurant Burrito Boyz specializing in fine Mexican burritos, but Banh Mi Boys specializes in modern banh mi sandwiches, steamed baos, and Asian inspired tacos. The banh mi are not really comparable to the authentic Vietnamese subs, but are very good in their own right. The Boys made the banh mi even more approachable by replacing the traditional Vietnamese cold cuts and pâtés with familiar American meats and various Asian sauces and fillings.
With the prices undercutting McDonald’s (literally a couple stores down from this location) and the set up of the menu, I could easily see this as an upcoming chain and/or franchise. It would suit being in Vancouver even with our endless options for stellar banh mi. After only a year it is already opening a second location in downtown Toronto and I predict seeing many more in the near future.
On the table:
- Braised pork belly, pickled radish. Sandwiches are served on a baguette with house mayo, pickled carrots, cilantro and cucumber. $5.99
- For those familiar with banh mi, anything over $4.50 sounds like a rip off, but these cannot be compared to the authentic Vietnamese banh mi.
- It was a modern version of banh mi, but most of the components were still traditional to a Vietnamese sub, except for the meat.
- The 5 spice pork belly is the favourite and that’s why I chose it, although I only noticed the duck confit now or I would have ordered that.
- The baguette was warm and nicely toasted with a crusty exterior that didn’t scrape the roof of my mouth.
- It was a very good soft and chewy baguette and it was quite fluffy compared to others.
- I loved the crunch of pickled vegetables and the house mayo was mixed with Hoisin sauce so there was a sweetness.
- The pork belly was tender and not overly fatty and the fat layers were melt in my mouth creamy.
- The thin slices of pork were grilled with a crispy exterior and it was well seasoned.
- It was moist, but not juicy and it tasted like Chinese sucking pig or Crispy Chicken at Chinese banquet dinners due to the 5 spice.
- The pickled veggies cut the richness of the pork, but overall I wanted more meat although I could still taste it in the amount given.
This is the Crispy Pork Belly Banh Mi from The Union in Vancouver, BC which is a nice sit down bar. This banh mi was stuffed with pieces of pork belly, sriracha aioli, jalapenos, daikon & carrot pickle, cucumber and cilantro and an added fried egg ($9). It was fancier than the banh mi at Banh Mi Boys, but also pricier given the context. I did like the execution of the pork belly and overall banh mi more at The Union though.
- Served with cucumber, pickled carrots and cilantro $3.49
- The Taiwanese started it (see traditional version here), David Chang glorified it (see Momofuko), and these Boys are going to commercialize it.
- The steamed bao has come a long way, but it is certainly here to stay as people from various cultures are embracing it.
- This was bigger than most steamed bao and two would be satisfying for lunch.
- Traditionally it is served with pork belly, but since I had the pork belly in the banh mi I opted for the next most popular – pulled pork.
- I wanted the beef cheek, but I just went with the recommended pulled pork, which I also love.
- There was more bao to meat again, but the bao was very good so I didn’t mind.
- The bao was super light, pillowy soft and fluffy and it was moist, tender and squishy.
- The pulled pork was very moist, but not soppy and it was likely marinated in a soy based sauce.
- It pretty much tasted the same as the banh mi, but in a different bun with a different meat.
- It also came with optional hot sauce which was just the standard Sriracha sauce.
Photo from FoodTwiceEaten
**Kimchi Fries – It’s the “poutine” of Toronto (or Vancouver if we offered it). It is pulled pork, mayo, green onions, and kimchi on fries. I’m recommending this one without even trying it. I know! I can’t believe I missed it too! I overlooked the menu and regretfully missed one of their signature items. I asked the girl at the cash register for recommendations too and she didn’t mention this.
Another photo of the Kimchi Fries just to punish myself. They look so good, although the concept is not hard to replicate and I’m surprised no one in Vancouver (that I know of) is doing it already. It would work with nachos too. Some might call it confused Asian fusion, but good is good and no one is expecting authentic here. (Photo from Foodspotting)
“Club Baos with Kimchi Fries” – I randomly found this photo on Yelp from a customer who made it himself at Banh Mi Boys, and I think it looks delicious. Yes, it is heavy on the starches, but I can just hear it calling my name on a Friday night. Okay who am I kidding? I would eat this for lunch on a weekday.