Popular Vietnamese sandwich shop Banh Mi Boys returns with new food and a new look.
“Pork belly is really popular,” says David Chau, co-founder of Banh Mi Boys, the well-received Asian fusion sandwich shop just west of Queen and Spadina. The fatty meat can be found in the steamed buns and banh mi (Vietnamese submarines), but Chau says there are requests for it to be placed on the tacos as well, even though it’s not on the menu. (Grilled chicken, pulled pork, and kalbi beef are the listed tacos.) “Pork belly seems like a fashion statement right now.”
Fans of pork belly tacos have been patiently waiting without as Banh Mi Boys has been under renovations for nearly two months. Although the shop only opened in December, Chau says the improvements were necessary: when he and his brother Phil moved into the space, “nothing was the way we needed it to be.” The kitchen was the main priority with a need for proper prep and cooking areas. “We knew any space that we got into wouldn’t be exactly to what we needed or to our taste. [But] if the kitchen was set up properly, I could have lived without doing the visual part of the renovations, that part didn’t matter as much.”
While two months may have been longer than the Chau brothers expected to need for renovation (originally the plan was for only two weeks), they are used to being patient: Banh Mi Boys was an idea five years in the making. Chau believes that timing was key in the shop’s success as in the past, he and his brother “didn’t think Toronto was ready.” His main concern was the price barrier that kept Vietnamese submarines below $2 and “to create a product beyond that price range needed more time.”
The switch flipped for Chau when he began to see higher-end street food in other cities being featured on television. “I knew the timing was close,” he says. So, last year, the planning began for Banh Mi Boys, including the testing of recipes in preparation to open the store.
Chau feels like it was important for Torontonians travelling to other cities to try modern takes on banh mi there because “then they come back and say ‘yeah, a more expensive banh mi would work.’” Timing aside, Chau has a very high regard for Torontonians’ palate: “I think Toronto is accepting to all kinds of food. I’ve eaten every type of food I could out there. Toronto seems to accept food in every way, whether it’s high end or low end or really ‘ethnic’ or a reinvention of a comfort food.”
Set to re-open March 26, patrons will be greeted with a large spray-painted mural and a sleek seating area of red benches and white tables against a wood background. Most importantly for Chau, though, is the new open-concept kitchen: “There was just no reason to have the kitchen in the back. We have nothing to hide: people can see their food being made right there, right then when they order it. When people come in and order a sandwich they will hear sizzling, they will see it, they will smell it.” One new menu item that is sure to take off is the kimchi fries, described by Chau as their “dressed-up take on poutine” featuring kewpie mayo (a popular Japanese mayonnaise), green onions, kimchi, and spicy pulled pork.
Although we’re excited to try the kimchi fries as is, undoubtedly there will be someone just waiting to ask to add pork belly.
Photos by Jaime Woo.