HOUBBQ News & Info

Banh mi is getting a makeover at Houston barbecue joints

Tejas Chocolate & BBQ banh mi
Tejas Chocolate & BBQ banh mi

If you spent any time in Houston in the late ’90 or ’00s as a student or otherwise underemployed young person, you were well-acquainted with Les Givral’s on Milam.

In the beginning, you could order a well-endowed sandwich on freshly baked bread for $1.50, which was even cheaper than the faux-filling sandwiches of chain shops opening at that time. 

Les Givral’s specialized in the banh mi sandwich, a Vietnamese classic that started popping up in Houston in the late ’70s and ’80s, along with classics like pho (noodle soup) and goi cuon (spring rolls).

Like most delicious sandwiches, banh mi seem deceptively simple but are actually a complex combination of flavors and textures: a roll with a pillowy interior and slightly crisp shell filled with grilled or sauteed meat and fresh or pickled vegetables, doused in a condiment like a savory chile sauce or even mayonnaise, and topped with a clump of fresh, fragrant cilantro. 

My go-to order at Les Givral’s was a barbecue pork filling (double meat), which consisted of shaved pieces of pork shoulder marinated in a slightly sweet, honey-based sauce. It clocked in at around $3.50.

There is no strict recipe for banh mi, and it can be a blank canvas for any chef, home cook or even a barbecue pitmaster. 

Such is the case with Scott Moore at Tejas Chocolate & BBQ in Tomball. A self-professed sandwich connoisseur, he experienced a light bulb moment on a recent visit to his favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop. 

“I discovered they were selling their fresh banh mi bread commercially,” said Moore. “I had also recently seen a promotional poster for banh mi that called them barbecue sandwiches. That’s the moment I decided to pair our meats with their bread.” 

The bread comes from Vina Bakery in Houston, which is undoubtedly one of the best banh mi loaves in the city. 

For Moore, the process of producing his own version of a banh mi started innocently enough, with smoked pork belly for the meat filling. A couple of thick slices are placed in a loaf smeared with a mayo-based spread, then topped with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and crunchy strips of (mostly seedless) jalapeños. It’s all jotted with a bit of Maggi seasoning.

From there, Tejas’ banh mi began spinning off in other directions, including variations with pulled pork, turkey and a “Texas chop” featuring a combination of chopped brisket and kielbasa sausage. On Thursdays, you can even get one filled with smoked pastrami. 

To be sure, Tejas is not the first or only barbecue joint to put smoked meats in a banh mi. Blood Bros. BBQ in Bellaire, among others, have long served their own versions of the sandwich.

Still, Moore is so excited about the possibilities that he’s created a separate menu just for the sandwiches: He calls it “BanhBQ.”

For my part, Tejas’ BanhBQ is a long way from the now-shuttered Les Givral’s shop in Midtown, but no less delicious.