Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 399 Yonge Street or 392 Queen Street West
Type of Meal: Lunches
My first glimpse of a banh mi was in Asian supermarkets when I was younger. They looked unappealing, an unsightly bland combination of cold cuts and slivers of vegetables in a cold bun all saran wrapped together.
Banh Mi Boy’s version unquestionably differs from my childhood memory. The kalbi beef banh mi ($5.99) arrives with hot pieces of meat topped with kimchi, pickled carrots & daikon, cucumbers and cilantro all sandwiched between a warm toasted bun. A tangy Asian sauce tops the meat, which was unanticipated as I expected the sauce to be sweet and garlicky like the kalbi sauce at Korean restaurants.
The short ribs were tender and a good portion of vegetables were placed into the bread so that the bread to filling ratio is 50/50. The customer gets to choose the spiciness level of the sandwich (essentially how much sarachi sauce gets squeezed on). I chose “medium” and although it didn’t seem spicy at first, the last half of the sandwich certainly had some heat as it slowly accumulates with the kimchi sauce.
Bánh mì is really the Vietnamese term for bread and is influenced by the French baguette. I wouldn’t describe Banh Mi Boy’s bread to be baguette like, but rather softer, dryer and cased in a thin crumbly crust. Overall, it was a decent sandwich, though I wish they pulled out some of the middle of the bread so that it didn’t get as soggy. Although it was filled with a lot of ingredients, I still found that there was too much tasteless bread for my liking.
In my mind, they should have called the place Bao Boys, I know it really doesn’t have the same ring to it. But, the highlight of their menu is not their namesake but rather the steamed bao ($3.49). Mine was stuffed with a substantial portion of braised beef cheek, juicy and tender and caramelized in a sweet hoisin tasting sauce. The pickled carrots, slices of cucumber and sprigs of cilantro helped to lighten the bao. All wrapped up in a hot soft white steam bun Banh Mi Boy’s version easily rivals the one found at Momofuku at a fraction of the cost.
Banh Mi Boy’s tacos ($3.99) are also tasty and superior to their sandwich. Their taco shell was interesting and unlike any other I’ve tried. Its texture is almost like a mixture between a tortilla shell and roti so that it was a bit chewy. I enjoyed that they toasted it up so that the edges were slightly crispy. The squid version I tried consisted of deep fried calamari rings topped with creamy lime vinaigrette, purple cabbage coleslaw, the customary pickled carrots and daikon and a little bit of cilantro. There was so much filling that eating it got slightly messy. However, since the squid is relatively it got somewhat lost is everything. I think one of the stronger proteins such as the braised beef cheek, grilled chicken or pork belly would stand up better in the taco.
For other blog readers, you may notice one key item not reviewed here - everyone raves about their kimchi fries, essentially a poutine made from kimchi, mayo and pulled pork. However, after reading a Toronto Star article that clocks it in at 1,180 calories and 86 grams of fat, it seemed a bit generous for one. I should have never read the article given ignorance is bliss (sorry for ruining it for you). But, will eventually try it if a few people agree to split it with me so that I can limit the indulgence to a quarter of the poutine.
As a warning, arrive early if you want to beat the lunch time rush and avoid Fridays at all costs if you don’t like lines. I made the mistake of going on Friday on my first visit and found it be mayhem. Further visits, during the beginning of the week, were much better with less than a two minute wait and actually being able to sit and dine there.
Although the initial ordering and payment line moves quickly, you then have to wait in another line to get your food which moves at a much slower pace. My visits were at the Yonge and Gerrard location and found the layout awkward. The single trash can is placed near the cash register so that everyone leaving has to manoeuver through the line-ups adding to the congestion. Patience and constant moving around to allow people in and out of the space is required if you’d like to survive the lunch hour here. But, if you go just before noon on a Monday, you can happily enjoy a steamed bao at Bao Boys (will that ever catch on)?
Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10*
*Mark is for the steamed bao and tacos, their actual banh mi would only earn at 6 for me.
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Gastro World's Grading System
- Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
- 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
- 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
- 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
- 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
- 10 - absolute perfection!