The $6 Wundersandwich (aka the “It Could Be Possible To Live Off Nha Toi’s Menu Alone” Post)

Finally. A $6 sandwich in New York City that is everything I’ve ever wanted: Badass baguette that’s so fresh it talks smack: “Oh yah, what. Bring it.” A serious veggie crunch and bold, fresh flavas that stand up to the succulent, meaty, (in this case porky) protein at its core.

There’s more, nine more banh mi on the menu — lemongrass pork cutlet or shitakke mushroom, anyone? — all priced at either $6 or $7 dollars, NSA.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Nhà Tôi.

Don’t blink as you walk past this tiny storefront on Havemeyer Street, lest you miss it (inside, it’s almost all kitchen and about a mish-mashed seats). The bi heo sandwich that I had — stuffed with shredded pork and skin with roasted rice powder — trumps any banh mi I’ve had in the city, including Baoguette’s.

This is the kind of food memory that will make the injustices of that crappy, prepackaged salad lunch in Midtown and overpriced UES bodega sandwich — with all due respect, it’s just meat, cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, watery tomato, raw onion on a passably fresh roll — all the greater.

But Nhà Tôi’s menu doesn’t stop there. Once you get past the sandwiches, there’s a full menu of pho to explore, as well as snacks. On my visit, I was blatantly oggling the crispy spring rolls at the next table (can’t help it, close quarters warrant awkward seating and wafting smells).

… and the drinks? Well, no booze. However, the lineup of canned Southeast Asian beverages strung up on a chord will keep you perennially interested, e.g. basil seed beverage with “creme soda flavour” ($2). What’s it taste like? Says Nhà Tôi chef/owner Fred, “Well, I grew up with it. So I love it. But there’s definitely a certain texture to it.

So how does Nhà Tôi keep their prices down? I’d guess from low overhead costs. In addition to being tiny, there’s only one menu, on a sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, full of Sharpie cross-outs and tacked-on additions.

Why not print more? Not sure … that’s between a man and his laser jet. I’ll be back to Nhà Tôi in a split second, but I’m not going there.

Nhà Tôi, 160 Havemeyer St., nr. S. 2nd St., 718-599-1820. Cash only.

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Sunday: The Perfect Pre-Park Pit Stop (Hint: It’s the Only Thing Swedish About Columbus Circle)

One of these days, I’ll get around to actually dining in at AQ Kafé in Columbus Circle — the room certainly looks pleasant enough, with its woods and Swedish minimalism, and the menu is stacked with classic Swedish entreés you just don’t find in every neighborhood.

photo-5But so far, I just haven’t been able to get past the draw of that oasis of green that lingers in your peripheral view, no matter where you look. Every time I’ve been here so far there comes a point when I give in, forget it, let’s just get something to-go and go find a place to sit in Central Park.

I mean, it’s right there.

I’ve tried a number of things before, including the gravlax sandwich ($9.95), the potato salad and pickled cucumbers ($2.95 ea.), all worthy picnic items. Yesterday, looking for the simplest thing to put in my stomach that wouldn’t have me sugar-crashing two hours later, I tried one of their bagels ($1.95), which are made fresh daily in their bakery.

photo-6photo-7Cheap, fresh, original — and of modest size. This bagel appeals to me more than any other plain bagel of recent memory. An everything bagel sandwich stacked with gravlax, tomato, onion, capers, cream cheese, etc., from a fine purveyor like Murray’s Bagels is in a class of its own, but in general, the huge, doughy bagels people order in delis around the city every day and they terrify me. I can only think of one word: Dry. So, so, dry. And so, so bland.

On the other hand, AQ Kafe’s bagel is… delightful. Just like that green space that’s right across the street.

Sunday: Barbecue, Squared (and a Birthday, to Boot!)

Almost didn’t make it to the second barbecue of the day because we were busy working our way through a basket of rib tips at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, which happen to be one of my favorite food discoveries so far in New York City — rib tips are like these gnarled, meaty, fatty end-of-rib knuckles and they’re so, so good.

I think I might like them better than ribs. The ultimate test will be when I rise to the challenge of Brother Jimmy’s Monday night special: $15.95 for all-you-can-eat rib tips and all-you-can-drink domestic draft (maximum two hours). Hot damn. We’ll find out how many rib tips this girl can truly put away when that day comes.

photo-3photo-4Thankfully, I did get to the second barbecue just in time: It was after the dishes were washed and the home-smoked pulled pork, smothered in a delicious hickory-style spicy barbecue sauce, had been packaged into leftover bags … but (and this is key) before the pork, dishes, et. al. walked out the door. Meaning, I swooped in and got one!

They layering of the sandwich is key, my friend, the pitmaster (if you’ll recall, the one responsible for the delicious tea-smoked chickens), advised: Coleslaw, then sliced white onion, then pork, pickles on top. One of these little pulled pork sandwich gems, paired with the cutest miniature cupcakes from Crumbs Bakeshop … this Sunday birthday party was kickin’ yet.

Wednesday: One Last $5 Sandwich from Food Exchange (aka “The Third Time Is Not the Charm” Post)

The magic of the $5 sandwich finally wore off. I finally saw where the Food Exchange sandwiches were coming from (mystery gone). Or, maybe I just picked a bad one — made by a bad sandwich-maker. I’m not exactly sure what happened, or how, but I am certain that today’s Italian Submarine sandwich is the last sandwich I’ll be eating from Food Exchange for a while.

photo-11photo-12Which is not to say it was bad; it was just … ordinary. Sort of what I expected the quality of these sandwiches to be before back-to-back successes raised the bar.

photo-14photo-13Badly-folded, ultra-compressed slices of genoa and cappicola salami, a few thin shreds of proscuitto, thin shavings of red onion, a sparse distribution of hot peppers, wilted shredded iceberg lettuce, all within a so-so sesame seeded hero loaf, the sort that starts to dry out on the ends quickly after being cut. Generally uninspired. Next!

Monday: Oh Why The Hell Not (aka the “Back for More $5 Sandwich Love from Food Exchange” Post)

A friend of mine who saw my Tweet about trying Food Exchange on Friday asked me over the weekend, “Well, how was it?”

photo-7“Oh it was sooo good,” I said. “The special runs through Wednesday. I might just have to try three more.” I was teasing, sort of. But as it turns out, not really, because here I was, perusing the online sandwich menu for Food Exchange at 11:35 am on Monday morning. More than a little deja vous.

The only thing deja vous, however, about the “100% all natural beef” steak & cheese sandwich from the “Hot Pressini Melts” section (quite different from the “Cutting Edge Sandwiches” section) was … the serious deliciousness.

Another winning sandwich: It arrived via delivery perfectly warm, the cheese melty, tender slices of beef, flecked with bits of sauteed mushroom and red pepper, garlic aioli, all pressed between a crusty rosemary focaccia bread. My one (minor) critique would be I’d love to have the beef a little more rare, but that’s virtually impossible, particularly in a warm sandwich.

Alright, Food Exchange, you’re 2-for-2, so far…

Friday: $5 Sandwiches, You Say? Alright, I’ll Bite (aka the “Sandwich Exchange Gamble” Post)

photoI generally hate when people shove flyers, etc., at me when I’m just coming up from the subway in the vicinity of Times Square sometime between eight and nine o’clock in the morning. Seriously, it’s way too early (and, these days, too chilly) for this nonsense; having to emerge in Midtown is unpleasant enough as it is. (Nevermind the fact that I have no gold to sell.)

Yet, on this particular morning, the flyer being wagged in front of my face caught my interest: A $5 sandwich promotion from a place called Food Exchange (never heard of them)? Closer inspection revealed that this promotion appeared fairly gimmick-free; all you had to do was order online, not even a promo code required.

Alright, I’ll bite. I picked the one featured in the big photo on the front of the flyer (all the better to inspect you, my dear), which is the Tuscan chicken sandwich, complete with “roasted red peppers, mesclun and artichoke aioli in an olive pocket.”

photo-1photo-2Ordering was straightforward, other than the minor annoyance of having to set up yet another user profile, and my sandwich arrived within minutes of when my delivery window began.

Nice bag on the outside, nice sandwich packaging and … whoa. A damn good lookin’ sandwich on the inside. Generous portion of chicken on a soft olive loaf (olive pocket has to be the worst name for this type of bread in the universe); everything else present just like the description promised … (pause, savor and repeat.) I enjoyed full-flavor bite after bite, until it was, suddenly, gone. Damn, that’s a good $5 sandwich.