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Eight great places for takeout banh mi

Dac biet in baguette and roll versions from Saigon's Bakery/Banh Mi Saigon in Garden Grove.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Banh mi are essential to Los Angeles, as embedded in the culinary landscape as tortas, shawarma, French dips, subs, hot chicken and Langer’s No. 19. The snap and sting of pickled carrots, daikon and chiles mingle with splintering bread, unctuous pâté and meats that are grilled or processed into cold cuts.

In Southern California, worlds come together. Flavors evolve in many hands. Dozens of banh mi shops populate the region, not to mention chefs tinkering with novel versions on their takeout menus; these are eight of my favorites.

Banh Mi My Tho

The phone at the tiny original Alhambra location never stops ringing; staffers juggle calls with customers trailing out the door (currently at a mindful distance). Follow the wisdom of the crowd: Most everyone orders either the No. 8, stuffed with grilled pork deeply imbued with lemongrass and garlic, or the No. 2, a combination of grilled pork with cold cuts and pâté. The bread’s fluffy interior cradles the meats and generous garnishes; on contact the bronzed crust fractures like cracked earth.

304 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 289-4160; also at 9011 Garvey Ave., Rosemead, (626) 872-1884, banhmimytho.com

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Chicken meatball banh mi at Banh Oui in Hollywood.
Chicken meatball banh mi at Banh Oui in Hollywood.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Banh Oui

Casey Felton and Armen Piskoulian introduced their modern riffs on banh mi at Smorgasburg L.A. before opening two permanent storefronts in the last couple of years. Banh Oui, on Cahuenga Boulevard, focuses explicitly on banh mi. (A newer location nearby on Melrose Avenue, renamed Oui Bakery, no longer serves the sandwiches.) Chicken liver pâté enriches a chicken meatball variation; mint among the usual cilantro and scallions adds piercing grace notes. The mushroom banh mi, with roasted shiitakes and criminis — and creamy sesame-chickpea puree subbing for pâté — is a vegetarian breakthrough in the genre. Also, though off-topic, I’m obsessed with the compact, ultra-cheesy khachapuris Felton and Piskoulian make as a side hustle.

1552 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (323)-645-7944, banhoui.com

Saigon Special and Grilled Pork banh mi from Banh Mi Saigon 168 in Rosemead.
Saigon Special and Grilled Pork banh mi from Banh Mi Saigon 168 in Rosemead.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

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Banh Mi Saigon 168

With locations in Westminster and Rosemead, this shop sells banh mi stuffed in both billowy rolls and airy baguettes — with a buy-two-get-one-free deal on the rounds. A subtle sweetness ripples through the garnishes; offset it with more pungent fillings like sardine or grilled beef. Though the menu largely hews to tradition, perhaps no greater signifier heralds the banh mi’s total absorption into California culture than seeing avocado offered alongside extra pâté and fried egg as an optional add-on.

Banh Mi Saigon 168 was one of several places I noticed offering the familiar baguette as well as the less-common roll. I asked Andrea Nguyen, Vietnamese food expert and author of “The Banh Mi Handbook,” for insight.

“My dad, who grew up in northern Vietnam during the 1930s and ’40s, regularly ate fist-size, round-shaped banh mi rolls sold by street vendors,” she said. “After he migrated to southern Vietnam in the 1950s, he didn’t see the round rolls in Saigon, where we lived until 1975 when we fled for America. Southern Viet banh mi featured baguette-shaped bread.”

In L.A, both options are welcome.

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15471 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 718-0159‬; also at 8118 Garvey Ave., Rosemead, (626) 288-2132, banhmisaigon168.com

Gjusta

Gjusta’s smoked brisket banh mi is an irresistible hybrid: flutters of campfire-scented sliced beef with pickled vegetables and chile-spiked dressing on a thin French baguette smeared with garlic aioli. A much subtler version presents the same setup but swaps in rotisserie chicken. The duo dwell among a dozen sandwich options on the market’s sprawling deli menu of salads, grain bowls and pastries. It’s probably important to note, since most shops charge well under $10 for their many banh mi options, that both of Gjusta’s variants cost $19. Venice is still Venice.

320 Sunset Ave., Venice, (310) 314-0320, gjusta.com

The Los Angeles Banh Mi Company

Tradition and innovation flirt at this Huntington Park gem. Dac biet (“the special,” in English) delivers a canonical mix of pâté, head cheese and ham, pinged with pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber spears, sliced jalapeños and cilantro on a football-shaped roll in just-right proportions. Carnitas, crema and gochujang-laced pickles converge in one unorthodox union, and Fridays bring hot chicken banh mi to the rotation. Shrimp chips come on the side of every order, an endearing touch.

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2479 E. Florence Ave., Huntington Park, (323) 553-1710, thelosangelesbanhmico.com

Banh mi (and springtime bloom) outside Mr. Baguette in Rosemead.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Mr. Baguette

As the name of this small local chain implies, the style is markedly French — thin, tapered 12-inch loaves, baked in-house, with an abundance of crackle. Among the six pork and chicken banh mi iterations, the dac biet stands out for its elegance: thin slices of gio lua (pork sausage with a mildness similar to mortadella) and ham overlap down the length of the sliced baguette. The menu also dips into the American sandwich lexicon (tuna salad, turkey, ham and cheese, eggy breakfast numbers), but stick to the banh mi.

8702 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 288-9166, and other locations, mrbaguettes.com

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The #1, or Special, from Mr. Baguette in Rosemead.
The #1, or Special, from Mr. Baguette in Rosemead.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Saigon’s Bakery / Banh Mi Saigon

On a recent banh mi blitz through Orange County’s Little Saigon, this double-named bakery had the longest line and the most customers buying warm loaves of bread to take home alongside their sandwiches. Both shapes of bread — boules and baguettes — are golden and handsomely scored, with shattering crusts that yield to plushness. I particularly liked the pork meatball, crumbly and herbed and warm against the cool vegetables. Then again, the charred, caramel-sweet grilled pork banh mi stood on its own, as did the twangy sardine and the grilled chicken pulled into soft, frilly threads. The popularity of this place makes complete sense.

13861 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 539-9921

Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches

After I’d ordered a standard banh mi sampling — dac biet, grilled pork, grilled chicken, meatball — I noticed a sign behind the counter that said, “Try our banh mi thit nuong bi.” The woman taking my order explained it was grilled pork combined with crackly pork skin. “Do you prefer it on a round roll or baguette?” I asked her. “Baguette,” she shot right back. Done. Each sandwich was precision-engineered: crisp bread, sharp pickles, just enough mayo, robust meats. Lemongrass vibrated through the thit nuong bi; the skin added textural dimension but in no way overwhelmed. This is an excellent benchmark for banh mi explorations in the San Gabriel Valley.

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718 Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-6475


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