Ba Xuyen, a modest storefront on Sunset Park’s 8th Avenue, was a favorite of the old Outer Boroughs crowd at Chowhound (the plug has been mercifully pulled on the sad remnants of that site), which became a personal favorite when I moved to Brooklyn. Katie shared my enthusiasm – to the extent that in the waning days of her college semester in Spain, she had just one request. When we picked her up at JFK, could we please bring a grilled pork banh mi and a honeydew milk tea from Ba Xuyen?
We obliged, of course.
And yet, for various reasons that didn’t amount to much individually, but slowly added up, several years had gone by since my last visit. There was the time I was craving a banh mi, but for some reason couldn’t find the storefront (it’s nothing if not unobtrusive) and settled for sesame pancakes from the dumpling place instead. Then the pandemic grounded me. When my Sunset Park visits resumed, I generally headed for the southern end of the 8th Avenue strip, drawn by the markets there, and only worked my way as far north as Yun Nan Flavour Garden or Wong Wong Noodle Soup.
In other words, I was overdue for the banh mi that has forever ruined all other banh mi’s for me.
I am exceedingly happy to report that Ba Xuyen is still there, still unobtrusive (“have I missed it again? has it closed?” I thought in a panic as I walked south from 40th street), and still excellent. I ordered the grilled pork, of course, then wavered between an avocado shake and that honeydew milk tea, eventually choosing the honeydew (this one’s for you, Katie). Oh, and because there’s no accounting for tastes, a sardine banh mi to carry back to Eric.
There is, at present, no dine-in option at Ba Xuyen – but with the actual Sunset Park park just a block away, who cares? That’s where I headed to eat my sandwich, first passing through a health fair of some kind, with speakers and booths and balloons for the kids, before settling in on a bench with a view of the Brooklyn waterfront and, shimmering like a mirage in the distance, the towers of Lower Manhattan.
That’s where I unwrapped my sandwich. The grilled pork was caramelized and complex – I gave up trying to identify what I was tasting, sometimes you just have to let the mystery be – and the shredded carrot and daikon gently pickled. Cilantro added herbal notes, cucumber strips added coolness, sliced jalapenos added heat. The bread – crisp outside, pillowy inside – maintained the optimal ratio of sturdiness to squishability.
It was, in short, perfect.
I’ll cop to taking a bite of Eric’s sardine sandwich as my delivery fee (lest you think I’m a monster for feasting in the park while he waited hungrily at home, he had breakfasted late and was in no hurry for lunch). It was tasty, maybe even the the perfect sardine banh mi, but I don’t see myself changing up my order anytime soon.
Eric seemed happy with it, though.
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Ba Xuyen, 4222 8th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn