I Pang, You Pang, We All Pang For Num Pang


The pulled pork sandwich is not only delicious, but it’s easy on the wallet as well. (Rex Sakamoto/The Observer)
The pulled pork sandwich is not only delicious, but it’s easy on the wallet as well. (Rex Sakamoto/The Observer)

In Spanish class the other day, my friend, Molly Spater, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’15, told me about this Cambodian sandwich shop she was working at that had a Zagat rating of 26; the highest rating for a sandwich shop in New York City. Wearing a dreamy expression, she described the sandwiches as “amazing,” “sooo good” and “the best in the city.” Now, the sandwich scene in the Big Apple is competitive, but I am always looking out for the next best sandwich. So with high hopes I set out to visit Molly and try the sandwiches at this supposedly divine eatery.

Num Pang, located just off Union Square on East 12th St., is a little hole-in-the wall restaurant with barely enough space for two people to place an order. At the lunch and dinner rush there is usually a line extending down the block. In the back, the chefs feverishly assemble their artisanal sandwiches trying to meet the demands of their hungry, but loyal customers.  While most customers take their sandwich to go, the restaurant does have limited barstool seating upstairs.

“Num pang” in Cambodian means “bread” or “sandwich.” A num pang is defined by its savory Asian-flavored meat and is usually accompanied by fresh cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro and chili mayo enveloped in a freshly baked baguette. It is very similar to the Vietnamese sandwich, the “banh mi.”

For such a small shop, I was surprised at the variety of sandwiches and sides they offered. Molly, a vegetarian said that her favorites are the spicy organic tofu and roasted salt and pepper Japanese yam sandwiches. Molly said, “the tofu sandwich is a little spicy and the tofu is good protein. The yam sandwich is really filling and it comes with leeks I just like the richness of the yam and I like the soy sauce and the spice in the tofu.”

A meat-lover myself, I decided to try the popular pulled duroc pork ($7.75) and the five-spice glazed pork belly ($8.00) crowd pleaser.

Both of the six-inch sandwiches were overflowing out of their baguettes. I decided to dive into the pork belly sandwich first. The first bite was intimidating as the filling gushed out. Seconds after my first bite, however, my eyes widened as my taste buds were electrified. The acidic pickled carrots cut through the fatty and savory pork. At the end of the bite you get a little kick from the chili mayo, which is then cooled off by a refreshing cucumber filet. As soon as the first bite was down my gullet, I took a second bite, and then another and another. Alone, any one piece of the sandwich would have been good, but when they were all eaten together a symphony of taste was created.

After finishing only half of the pork belly sandwich, I wanted to try the pulled pork sandwich. I had a similar euphoric experience. The pulled pork had soaked up the juices of the other ingredients and exploded with flavor in my mouth. While the taste was similar to the pork belly, the pulled pork had more of a sweet and savory flavor combination happening.

If I absolutely had to choose a favorite sandwich, it would be the pork belly. While I loved both sandwiches, the fattiness of the pork belly was unworldly. Either way, it is undeniable that Num Pang is selling the best sandwiches in town.

When I asked Molly why their sandwiches were so excellent, she replied, “Everything is just really fresh and we cook everything fresh daily. There is nothing that carries over and we put a lot of work into it.”

The proof was certainly in the pudding.

Spater also commented, “The vibe is really nice here. I was looking for a job last summer and I applied to a whole bunch of places and I got callbacks from two places. One was from a pizza place, but I swore to never to work at a pizza place again after working at Pizza Hut. So now I work at Num Pang!”

Although Num Pang is in Union Square, I do encourage you to make the 20-minute trip here and try their delectable treats. If you cannot make it down, however, you can go to their other location by Grand Central (140 E. 41st. St.) or wait until spring when they open their newest shop on Broadway. Even as I write this now, my stomach “pangs” for Num Pang.


Num Pang
Rating: 4/5
$ out of $$$$$$
Where: 21 East 12th Street

View Num Pang in a larger map