Correction: The address of Saigon Deli was incorrectly listed and has been corrected below.
Saigon Deli keeps the overhead low and the flavor quotient high, serving some of the best banh mi sandwiches in the bay. The meat-and-bread lunchable represents a positive outcome of colonial rule in Vietnam, combining the French baguette with Asian ingredients, prepared with a sweet and piquant combo of pickled carrots, cucumber and daikon radish, cilantro and jalapeno slices.
The barbecue pork banh mi is our favorite. The meat is slightly charred and crispy on the outside and buttery inside, tricked out with a deep-red marinade of garlic, soy sauce, onions, ginger and fish sauce. The pate has a more edgy, savory appeal, and the ground beef is hearty. You can get the pate, roast pork and ground beef in one combo. Unfortunately, there's no tofu for vegetarians.
The deli prepares all of the meats in house and serves them on crusty, fluffy submarine rolls from Publix. Veggies are always fresh from local markets.
Other menu items include boba tea, exotic smoothies, pho and rolls. They're all advertised with handwritten signs and served at tables and chairs you might find in a trailer park bingo hall — but, hey, that's fine with us. Saigon owner Lam Le puts the food first. He and his family serve banh mi sandwiches that offer the best combo of quality and quantity you'll find for a measly three bucks.
Saigon Deli's lunch hour is always slammed. Lam works the register and knows regulars by name. His son, Larry, assures us that anything subpar and lacking in freshness is immediately tossed out.
"We never compromise," Larry Le says. "We always try to keep the prices low."
Saigon Deli is at 3692 W. Waters Ave., Tampa, 813-932-0300. It's open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thursday; credit cards accepted.