Whenever word of an interesting new restaurant hits the food blog-o-sphere, it seems like there’s a space of about two weeks when every food blog writes about it. This can have a few consequences: an oversaturation of coverage, lines out the door, etc. This is what happened at Num Pang, the Cambodian sandwich shop near Union Square. I myself fell victim to the hype; after all, I had a good meal at Kampuchea, which is owned my same people, and I love banh mi, so it seemed like a perfect match. So on a rainy day a few weeks ago I headed out to Num Pang for lunch.
The rain had kept some of the line down, I think, since you have to order while standing outside. There was only one person in front of me, though there were several people waiting for their sandwiches. It was less than ten minutes between when I ordered and when I got my sandwich; in the meantime there were several happy customers leaving. I heard many of them thanking the people behind the counter and complimenting the sandwiches, which raised my expectations a bit. If you want to take your sandwich to go you can, or you can climb a winding metal staircase to the “dining room.”
I have to give the owners credit for recreating what I think an authentic Cambodian sandwich shop would look like. The space is about the size of my old studio apartment (which is to say TINY), and overlooks on two sides an auto body repair shop (the windows are covered with metal grates). There are bottles of sriracha counters and stools to sit on.
THe sandwich itself was pretty good, not great. The vegetarian sandwich contains cauliflower and eggplant, though it seemed a little under-seasoned and a little under-sized. Worse still, it wasn’t nearly spicy enough, though i guess that’s why they provide the sriracha. The Cambodian sandwich does not have the fresh pickled veggies that make the banh mi so special. I have to say, though, despite my reservations I scarfed down the sandwich in no time. I won’t be making a special trip to return, but I wouldn’t mind going back if I was in the area and the line wasn’t too long.
Num Pang — 21 east 12th St.