It's pure coincidence that Gene from Hoodscope just wrote about Saigon Sandwiches in his SFE column (which of course tops my own list)! I've been slowly eating my way through the city's banh mis for awhile, and finally visited the last on my list! Props to bsze, Saigon Sandwiches new #1 fan and my partner in crime.
This is a direct comparison of a combo pork banh mi, ie. pate, roast pork, headcheese or some sort of meat jello at each place. That's just what I always get - it's yummy! It's no surprise that Saigon was my favorite since it's everyone's favorite... but people say it's the best for a reason! At the end of the day, it's all about personal preference, but I think big flavor will always win out. This list is also purely SF - I'm sure if you threw in the entire bay into the mix, SJ would dominate fo sho.
1. Saigon Sandwiches
Mounds of salty pate, loaded on top of rich pork goodness. Now I want one.
2. Wrap Delight
Yelp calls it "Wrap Delight," but I couldn't see a sign that actually said that; the awning just said "Vietnamese Sandwiches." Overall really tasty with juicy cuts of roast pork - the only real edge Saigon has over it is the amount of pate. I would totally go here again, except that Saigon is only a block away... maybe if it was closed? Or if I was in a rush and didn't want to wait in line?
3. Baguette Express
Great balance, and added flavor with the BBQ pork.
Not to be mistaken with the chain in Financial, this Little Saigon location is almost like a fast food restaurant, except baking their rolls daily. They take their branding seriously. Fresh, crunchy baguette, but just too much bread for my taste.
5. Little Paris
Tasty pate, but overall a bit small and not as satisfying as the others.
Others I've visited around town:
Irving Cafe + Deli
Definitely Chinese style in the flavor of the meat, but proximity is a huge plus (for people in the avenues).
Close to the Embarcadero, but definitely a bit out of proportion. Cucumber was in huge huge pieces that when it actually stayed in the sandwich that was all I could taste. The meat was also mostly headcheese, so there wasn't much flavor aside from the carrots.
Closest to where I work, and consistent with FiDi prices ugh ($5). Very Western-friendly and dumbed down (their combo was "ham and pate"... and that was literally it). A little bit of ham and a lot of pickled veg.