It’s been a while since I’ve eaten Banh Mi…literally years. Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich comprising of a french baguette, meat, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, mayo and sometimes, pate. Mmm-yoso had several posts on this Vietnamese sandwich which started a craving. Then I spotted someone at work chowing down on one a few weeks ago. After reading Gastronomy’s post about Banh Mi in St. Louis, my craving got pushed into “must have one NOW” territory. A quick Google and Yelp search revealed several places near my work. Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery (also referred to as “Banh Mi Che Cali”l) seemed to be a popular spot so I decided to go there on my lunch break today.
Located on Brookhurst and McFadden in Westminster, this little shop looks like an old Taco Bell that got taken over. Inside are numerous Vietnamese ladies making sandwiches, taking orders and spooning various porridges into to-go containers. The counter is overflowing with all sorts of things – leaf wrapped mystery items, rice with chicken, spring rolls, noodles, bread-y things…. It’s a very small space so most people take their order to go but there are several tables with chairs inside and outside in case you do want to dine in. Also, they bake their own bread and sell long baguettes for $1/piece.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of order to ordering. Basically, you just charge up to the front, kicking all concept of a line to the curb. Little old ladies will cut in front of you without even giving you a glance. The lady at the register quickly writes down your order, takes your money and moves on to the next person. They don’t ask for your name or anything. Somehow, they just know what order goes to which customer. I wonder how many orders they’ve messed up. In the time I was there, I never saw anyone come back in complaining of receiving the wrong items…
The next thing I noticed was the banh mi menu prices. The sandwiches only cost $2.50 and they advertised a “buy two, get one free” deal. Wow…that’s some cheap eats. I decided to go with the 3 for 2 deal. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat all 3 sandwiches despite the fact that I was starving (no breakfast, bad me) but it was too good a deal to pass up. I could always save the other sandwiches for later… I ordered the BBQ pork (Thit Nuong), BBQ beef, and ham and meatloaf (Dac Biet Thit Cha). $5 even at the register because they don’t charge tax for the sandwiches, apparently.
Back at work, I opened the first sandwich. Nothing was marked so I had no clue which one I had picked. It turned out to be the BBQ pork. I chowed down. The bread was soft on the inside and had a ok crust on the outside, though I wish it had a little bit more crustiness to it. The bbq pork was good. It wasn’t dry but some pieces didn’t tear easily. The pickled vegetables added a delicious sour note but I noticed they don’t use cucumbers like other Banh Mi places I’ve been to. There was just the right of amount of cilantro in each bite. However, there was only one long slice of jalapeño which was disappointing. Overall, this was a decent banh mi as far as I could tell and it satisfied my hunger.
A couple of hours later, I was starting to get hungry again so I went for another sandwich. I pulled out the ham and meatloaf. Now, the meatloaf isn’t really “meatloaf” but more like a steamed pork patty. This sandwich had pâté on it as well. It was a little more sloppily put together as the pâté wasn’t evenly spread on the bread and oozed out of the side sometimes. And they really skimped on the jalapeno…one lonely little slice. The bread was even less “crusty” than the previous sandwich. But the ham was nice and salty and overall, this was a good sandwich. I don’t think it’s as good as the ones I remember getting from the little place in San Diego’s Ranch 99 but for $2.50, it was great.
I haven’t gone for the BBQ Beef yet as I’m still full so that may have to be saved for another time. Hopefully, it keeps well…
Overall, these were decent Banh Mi and you can’t beat the price. It did satisfy my craving but I was hoping for something more mouth-watering in flavor.
On a side note, driving from work to this place nearly cost me my life. There was a section on Bolsa around Magnolia that was INSANE with the stereotypical Asian driver. It looked like a lot of people were out gathering supplies for the Lunar New Year. Either way, craziness… I felt like I was on the road with clones of my mom and dad behind the wheel of the other cars.
Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery gets 3 NOMs from the Catty Critic.