KK hit the baguette on the head with the post about Lee's.
I still think it is an outstanding chain, because they offer something delicious that is almost impossible to find elsewhere -- a good, fresh baguette, early in the morning. Moreover, you can get fish or pate at that hour. But I admit that I have been to Story Rd and to Fremont often for banh mi where the ingredients star, even though Lee's outlets are more convenient.
I used to live in MV and I too had to satisfy my cravings with Pho Vi Hoa, Pho To Chau, Lee's Sandwiches, and Pho Quyen.
Pho Vi Hoa, most "fancy" among all of them, but it was nice to be in a roomy booth. Good Pho, as well as good rice dishes. Most pricey.
Pho To Chau, is hit or miss. I totally agree with David Sloo. They are really cheap, but I more often felt it was a miss than a hit. The broth didn't always do it for me.
Lee's Sandwiches is good for fresh bread and some of their other food items that are on the counter. I like their sticky rice. However, for sandwich meat they use isn't the best quality.
Pho Quyen is probably my favorite Pho place among the three. They are pretty empty most of the time, but serve great pho and rice dishes. Oh, and they also have spring rolls of many different flavors for not too much $$. I especially like their grilled pork spring rolls. I never did try their banh mi. I used to call in my order and by the time I got there from MV, it was ready.
Someone PM'd me a while back and mentioned that Pho Quyen on El Camino near Bernardo (behind Carl's Jr) has banh mi, but I never followed up. Has anyone been and can share whether this is any good?
Pho Vi Hoa when they are in top form (which has been most of the time for me), has broth and pho that can be as stellar as the Vung Tau trilogy of restaurants (well VT2 and VT3 from memory, I haven't been to VT1 since 1990). PVH's seafood egg noodle does indeed remind me of Vung Tau's version (or a rendition that is similar).
I suppose if you want something better than this, head down to San Jose (perhaps Story Rd or Century Plaza) or north into San Francisco like PPQ or the Hung Ky's. Pho ga should be pretty decent here, I should try that soon.
Have to agree that Lee's greatest strength is their in house baked fresh baguettes, but sadly that's pretty much it for me. Sandwich meats (like their pork roll) and condiments are sub par quality compared to many mom and pop banh mi places (the super fatty cha shiu's red dye coloring around the edge makes me wonder and cringe).
I've had mixed success with Vi Hoa: it has been great, with a brightly flavored soup and good noodles, and it has also been disappointing, with cloudy muck and soggy noodles.
I have also had a range of experiences at Pho To Chau, on Villa just off Castro in downtown Mountain View. Sometimes the ingredients come together perfectly, and it's about half the price of Vi Hoa's sit-down fanciness.
The chain Lee's is a source of banh mi in Sunnyvale, largely lauded because they bake their baguettes there, they open at 7 am, and your number gets called by a computer voice. If the baguettes are fresh, they can be a treat, and it is one of the only places near the Peninsula where you can get sardines and pate on a still-warm baguette for breakfast. Like a lot of 'hounds, I am partial to a few chains: the Atlanta-based megalith Popeyes, the strange but liver-and-onions cafeteria called Luby's, and Lee's. Oh, plus Beard Papa.
Pho Vi Hoa, 4546 El Camino Real, Los Altos. www.phovihoa.com
Pho To Chau, 853 Villa, Mountain View.
Lee's Sandwiches, 939 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale.
Just had the chicken banh mi Saigon City (San Mateo). It's the crispy/soft roll kind, not the baguette. Served hot, like it was just baked (since it was 11:30 it probably was). I missed the heavier pickle flavor and crunch of Lee's -- SC's just had extremely soft shredded carrot without much crunch or tangy flavor. Great rare beef pho with generous herbs.