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Three Dollar Forgasm: Banh mi, summer rolls, and more

Situated in the heart of Boston’s Chinatown, an area already known for affordable hole-in-the-wall Asian joints, 163 Vietnamese Sandwich takes value to a whole new level. The menu is fairly diverse, but the place specializes in two areas: banh mi and fruit shakes. Banh mi, which has its origins in colonial times from Vietnam’s occupation by the French, is a strange and wonderful spinoff of the sandwich.

Serving as the backbone of any good banh mi is a freshly baked French Baguette, altered slightly from its original form but vastly similar to something you’d find in Paris. The inside consists of Vietnamese-style meat (usually beef or pork), cilantro, jalapeño, onions, fresh cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots, homemade mayonnaise, and a buttery Maggi seasoning sauce. When done right, the results are unbelievable. The other specialty of 163 Vietnamese Sandwich are their fruit shakes. I’m not exactly sure how they’re made, but I know that they involve ice and an astonishing variety of fresh fruit (you choose one), from strawberry to durian. Add the optional tapioca pearls or coconut jelly to give your drink some texture, or sip it smooth.

The place itself is small and not much to look at. Yet the minute I walked in I knew it was going to be good. I was in the mood to splurge, so I got an order of summer rolls, a barbeque beef banh mi, and a coconut shake with tapioca pearls. The total came to a whopping $10 even, and within two minutes I had all my food in front of me at one of the restaurant’s three small tables. Glancing behind the counter, I saw the lady put fresh young coconut in addition to coconut milk into the blender. The result was far more than I had expected, and I would go back there just to taste another. Yet, accompanying the shake were summer rolls. I’ve never had summer rolls that blew me away, but these were as good as any, and portioned very generously (you get three large rolls in one order).

It goes without saying that the banh mi was great, and if you haven’t tried something like it before then you are seriously missing out! At 163 Vietnamese Sandwich, all of the different flavors and textures worked together impeccably, turning a food that I already love as damn close to perfection as is humanly possible. Best of all, I didn’t even have to feel guilty, because my sandwich cost only three dollars. (Suck on that, Subway!) In fact, every sandwich featured on the menu is similarly priced, and is alone enough to fill most people up. If not, there are plenty of cheap and delicious Vietnamese sides including the summer rolls I got, noodles, and fried sticky rice. Ordering a fruit shake is also optional, but a good way to sweeten the meal. Basically, $3 will buy you a fantastic meal, and you don’t have to spend more unless you want to be completely and utterly stuffed. In this day and age, such value is unheard of. So, to all you thrifty college students out there: make the pilgrimage to Chinatown. You won’t be sorry.

Ambiance: D

Service: B+

Food (taste): A

Food (presentation): B-

Price: $5/person

Overall: A-

Gabriel Spieler

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