The latest wave of sandwich shops (Hero Shop, Superba Food + Bread, Trencher) and modern Vietnamese cafes (East Borough, Phorage) in Los Angeles have generated tantalizing new spins on banh mi, the beloved Vietnamese sandwich that is the culinary result of French colonialism in Southeast Asia.
The banh mi of Beverly Hills, Venice, Santa Monica and Silver Lake are a different breed from our favorite sandwiches in Westminster and the San Gabriel Valley (Banh Mi & Che Cali, Tip Top, Dakao). With ingredients such as black cod, Dungeness crab, locally farmed cauliflower or Spanish blood sausage, some are radically different. And they will cost you more, from $7 to $13.50. (We know, the banh mi duc biet at Lee's Sandwiches is 3 bucks, and at Banh Mi & Che Cali, it's buy-two-get-one-free!)
Still, here are our favorite above-$6 Los Angeles gourmet banh mi sandwiches.
Black cod might seem an unlikely star in a banh mi, but here, it is pretty spectacular: steamy-hot, tender but firm, flaky, tasty, miso-marinated black cod in the shatteringly crisp house-made baguette. Along with do chua pickles, cilantro, mint, cucumbers and soy-harissa mayonnaise. $13.50. 143 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 550-5510, www.chaumontbakery.com.
This new modern Vietnamese spot in Culver City from restaurateur Paul Hibler (Superba Snack Bar, Superba Food + Bread, Pitfire Pizza) and chef Chloe Tran (East Borough in Costa Mesa) serves a handful of banh mi, including sau- (six-)spice chicken, grilled pork and tofu. The pho baguette is a banh mi of brisket, basil, onions, hoisin-sriracha aioli, served with a sidecar of concentrated pho broth -- the French dip of banh mi. $11 to $13. 9810 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 596-8266, www.east-borough.com.
Gjelina Take Away
The juiciest brisket banh mi ever. Gjelina Take Away's succulent brisket in a buttery, toasty, charred-edged baguette is nothing like traditional banh mi. You will appreciate it for being in a class of its own. The brisket is succulent and fatty, topped with requisite pickled carrots, cilantro, onions, aioli and jalapeño vinaigrette. It is dripping with deliciousness. And it will cost you $13.
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 450-1429, www.gjelinatakeaway.com.
Good Girl Dinette
The sandwiches at this Highland Park neighborhood spot include a handful of banh mi with roasted pork and galangal chicken. But for vegetarians looking for something other than the nearly ubiquitous tofu, there are always a couple of farmers market vegetable banh mi made with ingredients such as Underwood Family Farms cauliflower, Persian cucumber and Cherokee tomato, or roasted oyster mushrooms. (Meat or no, ask for a side of the Red Boat bacon for an additional $3.) Served on long, thin, crunchy ficelle-like bread. $8 to $10. 10 N. Ave. 56, Highland Park, (323) 257-8980, www.goodgirldinette.com.
The team behind Black Hogg in Silver Lake has opened Hero Shop downtown, devoted to banh mi (with a few rice bowls). Chef Eric Park's banh mi include sambal-roasted broccoli with raisins and almonds; house-marinated pork headcheese; cold cuts with spicy ham, house pâté and pork loaf; dry salame with shaved onion; and morcilla (blood sausage) with sauteed pasilla peppers. $7 to $11. 130 E. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 265-7561, www.heroshopla.com.
Little Shop of Mary
All of the sandwiches on Little Shop of Mary's menu of 10 banh mi are $7 each, a veritable bargain at this homey Torrance cafe (look for the yellow-and-white striped awning). Customers rave about the roasted pork banh mi with pickled red onions. Our favorite is the pork meatball with handmade oblong-shaped split meatballs mixed with Vietnamese spices topped with mayo, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots. 2205 Torrance Blvd., Suite A, Torrance, (424) 558-8198, www.littleshopofmary.com.
Chef Judy Han's Kurobuta pork belly banh mi has always been something special, with caramelized Kurobuta pork belly (cooked in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, ginger and sake), house-made pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapeños and chile aioli on a grilled ciabatta. $10.45. Several Los Angeles locations; see www.mendocinofarms.com.
The banh mi at Phorage in West L.A. include a Berkshire pork sandwich with both lemongrass pork shoulder and pork belly, as well as a Jidori chicken sandwich and a tofu sandwich with avocado. But the real stunner might have been a Dungeness crab banh mi special that they're no longer serving -- please bring it back. Current banh mi selections are $8 to $10. 3300 Overland Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 876-0910, www.phoragela.com.
Nguyen and Thi Tran's Starry Kitchen, the restaurant located inside Chinatown's Grand Star night club, might yet spawn a permanent banh mi shop. But until then, Starry Kitchen hosts sandwich pop-ups on Fridays at lunchtime in Far East Plaza (the same shopping center where Roy Choi's Chego is located). Among the rotating cast of banh mi is one that includes its famous crispy green tofu balls -- pressed tofu that's been marinated, dipped in buttermilk, coated in Vietnamese green glutinous rice, deep-fried and squirted with sriracha aioli. $7 each. 727 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, www.starrykitchen.com.
Superba Food + Bread
Bread-centric Superba Food + Bread opened last week in Venice, with baker Jonathan Eng's breads and chef Jason Travi's menu. The banh mi is served only at lunch on weekdays, and includes house-made lemongrass pork sausage with pickled vegetables and hot peppers on Eng's exceptional baguette. $11. 1900 S. Lincoln Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 907-507, www.superbafb.com.
Viet Noodle Bar
Viet Tran's cult favorite in Atwater Village is known for its light-touch dishes such as delicate soyskin with noodles and tumeric fish soup. You won't find pork on the banh mi menu here. All are $7.95 each and include shiitake-tofu, sole, chicken, spicy sardine and vegan basil tofu with tomato sauce. 3133 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 906-1575, www.vietnoodlebar.la.
What's your favorite banh mi?
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