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Best banh mi

  • t

I've tried multiple locations of Banh Mi Che Cali and have not been terribly impressed. Any recs for better banh mi? I live near SGV but will travel. Thanks.

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  1. You live near the heart of "bahn mi central" and you're asking for the best?
    You should be the expert telling us where to go.

    I got a few favorites and you mentioned one of them-you can't beat their buy 2 and get 1 free and they offer to give you the veggies on the side and you usually get lots.

    Some might not consider them the "best". I like them.
    Saigon Sandwich
    Baquette du Jour
    & Lee's Sandwiches

    15 Replies
    1. re: monku

      i was told the other night by some bahn mi affiicionados that Lee's is not authentic. however, i love the sandwiches there.

      1. re: lotta_cox

        imo, lee's is the mcdonald's of banh mi.

        1. re: wilafur

          this was precisely the phrasing used. i think it tastes good anyway.

          1. re: lotta_cox

            What exactly makes Lee's so bad as to be compared to McDonald's?

            1. re: huaqiao

              The people I was discussing this with say the sandwiches are inauthentic. It is also a chain, and a little pricier than smaller one off Vietnamese/Pho cafes. There is supposedly a classic prep of the bahn mi that always includes a schmear of pate along with the other ingredients. I am no expert on bahn mi, I love Lee's personally, I am simply repeating second hand the conversation I was part of with some people the other night.

              1. re: lotta_cox

                I can't understand what people on CH are complaining about.
                Every Lee's I ever go to there are quite an abundance of Vietnamese people buying sandwiches and baguettes to go.
                Tell them it isn't authentic....or they don't know any better.

                1. re: monku

                  re: monku

                  Not everybody is a hound. I got friends who don't like pho minh because it's not salty enough (aka not enough msg), which would explain why places like pho pasteur stay so busy.

                  Some people don't care , some people don't know any better, or hell, it might be good enough for them.

                  My relatives love chinese buffets because quite frankly it's good enough for them.

                  1. re: ns1

                    Actually I love a good Chinese buffet myself (though they do them best in Texas in general and San Antonio in particular), but it's not really what I mean when I say I'm in the mood for "Chinese food".

                  2. re: monku

                    Lots of white people eat at McDonald's. That doesn't mean it's authentic or good. People who habitually eat there have no taste. Lee's is great... right up until the time you try a place that is actually good. At that moment, Lee's loses you as a customer.

                    If you are in OC, try Top Baguette near the corner of Bolsa & Magnolia in Garden Grove.

                2. re: huaqiao

                  Generic run of the mill bread, relative stinginess with condiments/meat, crappy quality products, no care AT ALL in making said products, and a cafe sua da that makes me want to cut myself.

                  IMHO, of course.

                  1. re: ns1

                    Run of the mill bread compared to where? I always see lots of people at Lee's there just to buy baguettes. Something I don't see at some other more highly regarded banh mi places.

                    I'm not trying to vouch for Lee's as the best banh mi place or anything, but a lot of the hate this place gets strikes me as going overboard.

                    1. re: huaqiao

                      Let me give you specific gripes, then, about the one on Harbor Blvd. near GG Blvd.:

                      1. The bread is too crunchy on the outside and not chewy enough on the inside. You are right: people stand on line to buy the baguettes and I think this is because as odd as they are, they are better than Albertsons baguettes and they are cheaper, particularly in the evening.

                      2. The charcuterie has no particular taste. The white pork and the cha lua and the head cheese are all interchangeable, flavour-wise. Only texture sets them off.

                      3. The sauce they use is oddly sweet. WTF? Why does it need to be sweet? Nobody else's is particularly sweet.

                      4. If you order a sandwich with pate the pate is all jammed up in the middle since they keep it too cold to spread efficiently.

                      5. Their service model is bad. It takes longer than average to make the sandwich (not sure why) and if you order ca phe sua da you still have to wait while they make everyone else's sandwich, when the ca phe sua da is just in tamarindo-style agitators behind the counter. It would take thirty seconds for the cashier to fill the coffee and hand it over the counter.

                      6. Their breakfast banh mi are a shame. Bland, from that carton-type pre-made egg mix, mushy bacon. Real breakfast banh mi have sunny-side up eggs on them -- the one at Zon Baguette, while expensive, is probably the pinnacle of the fried-egg banh mi in Orange County.

                      7. They're stingy on the pickles, but they seem to have a deal with the jalapeno suppliers.

                      8. Their "Lee's Iced Coffee" is to real ca phe sua da what the boba milk tea at Lollicup is to real nai cha at a place that makes it by hand like Au 79.

                      I've stopped going to that Lee's. Nhu Lan Bakery, which is on the opposite corner of GG Blvd. and Harbor Blvd. (near King Harbour Seafood and the oh-so-mediocre Pho Nam Dinh) is so far superior that it's hard to imagine a circumstance in which I would pass it to go to Lee's.

                      1. re: huaqiao

                        "Run of the mill bread compared to where? I always see lots of people at Lee's there just to buy baguettes. "

                        People who don't know better or don't care.

                  2. re: lotta_cox

                    Hey, leave McDonald's out of this!

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I am loving this thread. I am also not against McDonald's when occasion calls for it, and I find it perfectly authentic. Authentic fast food.

            2. On the suggestion of another poster, I tried Banh Mi My Tho, and found it better than Lee's and Banh Mi Che Cali.

              Banh Mi My Tho
              304 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803

              2 Replies
              1. re: Chowpatty

                This is my preferred place for Banh Mi and has been for years. Although I do love the Che Cali deal of buy 2 get 1 free at all the branches. Can't beat for value.

                I'm not a particular fan of Saigon Sandwich and Bakery. While the bread is fantastic, there is something about the meat ingredients that tasted "off" to me. Maybe it was because the thit nuong (bbq pork) was too red and sweet to be Vietnamese-style, it was bordering on just bad Chinese char siu pork.

                1. re: Chowpatty

                  third re: banh mi my tho. good stuff.

                  whever i golf at alhmansor, i always pick up a few banh mi prior to the round.

                2. I <3 Ba Le sandwiches

                  WAAAAAAAAAY better than bagette express, lee's, and che cali (imho)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ns1

                    Haven't been in years (one on Atlantic near Valley in Alhambra). Still good I guess.

                    At Lee's, chicken banh mi is all I get. Other meats too inconsistent, at least at the Artesia/Cerritos branch.

                  2. My fave by far is still Gala in Little Saigon.

                    1. I love the fresh-out-of-the-oven bread at Hue Thai off of Garvey. Get it with the curry. The ice coffee's are good too! :)

                      Hue Thai Bakery & Deli
                      8968 Garvey Ave, Rosemead, CA

                      1. Can anyone help id this place: It's a takeout Vietnamese place on the north side of Garvey, east of Rosemead Blvd. a few blocks, and shares a strip mall w/ a laundermat. It's my current favorite spot for banh mi, and it's a pretty clean, family-run affair.

                        Also avail. are "summer rolls" (w/ shrimp/vermicelli) and various rice ball things, good cold drinks, etc.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: cant talk...eating

                          What's the matter with Lee's?

                          Certainly the McDonalds comparison is a poor one. First, they make the stuff that they serve. It is not adulterated with additives and preserved to withstand the nuclear winter. The bread that they bake is fresh. Second, they do a nice business, which means that the meat isn't iffy. I ate at Saigon Sandwich and had the same experience of off-tasting meat. Third, the food is reasonably priced.

                          Why is it that the moment that a store opens too many branches, some food "aficionados" see fit to critique the McDonaldization of the food? Why not simply embrace a succesfful business model? Usually, multiple stores means tasty food. Personally, I long for the day that Lee's gets a store somewhere closer to me than the SGV.

                          Also what does authenticity mean here anyway? I mean have you really been to Vietnam and tasted better? Vietnam is a third world country where protein is a much higher cost for the ordinary person than it is here, where hygiene and running water are not what we take for granted, &c &c. Inauthentic might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

                            1. re: monku

                              Well, I was at 99 Ranch today buying rau ram, tamarind, catfish and shrimp paste (three guesses what I was making, and the first two don't count) and there's a big sign in the plaza that Lee's Sandwiches will be opening in that plaza soon.

                              Euclid and Crescent, north Anaheim.

                            2. re: nhb2009

                              Uhhh... "inauthentic might be exactly what the doctor ordered"? I've been to Vietnam many times and never had problems with the food. I follow the same guidelines that I do in the US about where I eat. There are many good stands on the street where you can get a good Banh Mi and there are many shops where you can also get a good one too. I've had more problems eating at American Fast Food places than I have ever had in Vietnam. Authenticity has nothing to do with cleanliness.

                              Are the sandwiches in Little Saigon exactly like what you would get in Vietnam? No, in some cases, they might be better. In Little Saigon, there are some places (Pho, Bun Bo Hue, Com Tam) that are just as good or better than I have had in Vietnam.)
                              I think Lee's makes a decent Banh Mi, but I do think they have rounded the corners a bit to appeal to a wider audience (their introduction of Euro Sandwiches etc). I do think the McDonald's comparison is silly. Is the meat as good as Ba Le? No, but for a couple of bucks, Lee's is a great deal. The good news is that if you are in Westminster and it's before 6pm, you can go to Ba Le. If you are hungry and you want a good sandwich and you aren't near Little Saigon, Lee's does the trick.

                            3. re: cant talk...eating

                              Hi can't talk... eating,

                              Are you talking about Baguette City (Banh Mi Do Thanh) on 9505 E. Garvey Ave.? If so, that's my favorite as well in the area. :) Delicious bread, small family operation.

                              1. re: exilekiss

                                Nope. I'll check the next time I'm in the area and grab a card.

                                1. re: cant talk...eating

                                  Exilekiss - you were right, it IS Baguette City. Back there again yesterday. Just the best. Perfect blend of toppings (chives, green chilis, cilantro, etc.), warm fresh bread, etc.

                            4. Lee's sandwiches is good, but the bread always manages to cut the roof of my mouth.

                              1. No one here's a fan of Mr. Baguette? I feel like I've been out of the Banh Mi loop for a while - the only other places I've tried are Banh Mi Che Cali and Lee's, so, I decided to try it out after seeing them at J. Gold's LA eating event. Definitely pricier than other places ($3.30 for the banh mi dac biet). The 2 things that stood out was the bread, which was fantastic - wider and browner than at the other shops, and the mayo, which was very sweet and creamy. The meats inside were very fresh but a little bland, and they didn't serve up a generous portion of it. Lookin' forward to try all these other recs!

                                1. Here's my rundown of Banh Mi's in SGV:

                                  -Banh Mi Che Cali - good deal but lacking in filling on the standard sandwiches; poor meat
                                  -Banh Mi My Tho - they pile the stuff on and it's all of a relatively decent quality-but veggies weren't pickled enough and the bread is a bit too sweet; my fav so far
                                  -Lo Banh Mi Hue Thai - another packed sandwich; slightly lower quality ingredients but still good; I really like their iced coffee
                                  -Ba Le - I ordered extra meat and a couple fried eggs to stuff out the sandwich; decent but poor quality ingredients
                                  -Mr. Baguette - Bad bread, veggies far too sweet, decent meat, gross mayo and expensive!
                                  -Lee's - Comparisons with McDonald's notwithstanding, these are the worst banh mi's I've had. Where's the filling? And taste? And the shakes are horrible.
                                  -Golden Deli - expensive, bread was dry, ingredients were decent, but overall it didn't meld

                                  My realistic side knows it's wrong to nitpick some of the cheapest (and most value-laden) edibles available but my hound side hasn't been able to find a banh mi that's more than half decent in spite of accounting as much as possible for subjective tastes by ordering extra of this or that.

                                  Besides Saigon any other suggestions?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: tchad

                                    Yes; Little Saigon.

                                    Nhu Lan Bakery on Harbor and Garden Grove; Banh Mi Cho Cu on Magnolia and Hazard; Zon Baguettes on Newport and the 5.

                                    Also in SGV, Saigon Sandwich on Garfield across from Dim Sum Express.

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      Nhu Lan is pretty good. I prefer Ba Le on Bolsa. If you go to either, you will get a top-notch Banh Mi.

                                      Lee's is OK if you aren't in Little Saigon and want a Banh Mi. I ate at one before a family function in Mission Viejo and it was fine. I think some people get a bit carried away when they have a laundry list of Banh Mi restaurants and seem to find a million different things to pick apart (the cilantro wasn't crunchy enough?). In Vietnam, most of the time when you eat a Banh Mi, you are eating off a cart in the street. Actually, Nhu Lan bakery is one of my favorite places in Saigon. It made me smile when I saw a place named after that shop (which is pretty well known).

                                      I also like Mr. Baguette and Banh Mi Che Cali (even though I prefer the one on the east side of Valley Blvd.) Keep in mind that the Lee's on Westminster Blvd. is open all night. Ba Le closes at 6pm. If I want a sandwich at 9pm, Lee's is my choice. I do think it is alarming that they serve a 32oz Caphe Sua Da. I don't even want to think about what that would do to my heart.