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Banh Mi in San Rafael

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Melanie Wong Apr 12, 2001 10:42 PM

A couple months ago while circling for parking to dash into Taqueria San Jose, I spotted this little cafe's signage, "Fresh Coffee and French Sandwiches". Those were code words to me for a potential banh mi stop. I was delighted to discover that was indeed the case. Since then I've had the chance to try three of the five types of sandwiches offered, breakfast pastries and iced Vietnamese coffee here.

My favorite of the sandwiches is the "combo of ham" at $2.50 which has boiled ham, steamed pork roll (that curiously rubbery coldcut), cerise-colored head cheese, and livery pate. The siu mai (ground pork ball) at $2.25 is lighter and not quite enough for lunch. The bbq pork one is also good. All the sandwiches are made on crisp french rolls (lightly toasted), spread with mayonnaise and seasoned sauce, then garnished with fresh cilantro, sweet/sour marinated carrots and daikon and chopped jalapeno peppers. If you don't want it quite so spicy, they'll just dab on a little of the pepper juice. The other sandwiches offered are bbq chicken breast at $3.25 and vegetarian for $2.75.

Of the breakfast pastries, the cheese Danish is the best. No, it's not Nablom's but still very good. The raisin snail is okay. The croissant and the strudel sticks are to be avoided.

In the morning, filter coffees are dripping away in stages so you don't need to wait long for your order to be ready. Finding this place has been a godsend for those high mileage days when I need to eat breakfast in the car and pick up lunch to eat at my desk.

How does this compare to the queen of banh mi in San Francisco, Saigon Sandwiches? Well, the bread isn't as good. It's not as crackly crisp or airy. But what I do like better here are the jalapenos are thinly sliced and then chopped which spreads them around more uniformly to be enjoyed with every bite. These sandwiches don't have as much carrot/daikon. They will hold up the 3 hours or so until lunch time, whereas the ones I've bought from Saigon Sandwiches in the morning are soaked through and soggy by noon. Plus, this place is Marin squeaky clean and the proprietor speaks very good English for those who are leery of venturing into the Tenderloin for banh mi.

The official name of the business is Bahn Mi Thit Nguoi but just look for the sign at the strip mall that says French Sandwiches. Right off the 101 freeway exit, the address is 969 Grand Ave., San Rafael, tel. 415 258 1688.

  1. Melanie Wong Jan 7, 2009 08:54 PM

    Link to its new name in google:

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    Fresh Coffee & Sandwiches
    969 Grand Ave, San Rafael, CA 94901

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      mpap89 Mar 17, 2007 03:28 PM

      i have been going to this place for a couple of months so far. It's great. I always go with the bbq pork, but i need to venture out and try to pork combination. I tried to Vietnamese iced coffee today and it was great. I was a little skeptical because of the condensed milk, but it was really good. The great part is a can go here during lunch. I can easily make it here and back to school, Redwood, in enough time.
      Michael

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        Anne Sep 22, 2003 03:50 PM

        Thanks for the tip. I've driven by this place hundreds of times, but never noticed it. Today I got the ham combo and the BBQ pork sandwiches for me and my husband. They were great (first bahn mi for both of us). Next time I'll ask for more jalapenos, but other than that, a good, incredibly cheap lunch!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Anne
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          Melanie Wong Sep 23, 2003 11:52 PM

          Banh mi is one of the great sandwiches of the world, and around here, cheap and one of the best food deals to be found. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. I think you're the only one besides me to have posted on it, pleased to hear that someone else tried the place.

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