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Feb 5, 2010 05:10 PM

The New and Improved Ba Le (Banh Mi)

Banh Mi aficionados - Ba Le's baking operation is now online at the Kingsway location. They had the ovens installed in Nov(?) but last week was the first attempt at a real run of Vietnamese baguettes. After a week of abortive attempts, they are finally using their own buns.

It's a pretty big investment for them. The baker went to France to learn the craft, etc.

They used to get their bread from Empress (kitty corner from them on Kingsway) - but they were not satisfied with product (crumb was too dry, the crust was too soft, and hours of operation were too short).

Tung Hing down the road always had the upperhand since they had their own baking operation. Tung Hing's baguettes were always fresher and they never ran out of them. Ba Le used to run out of buns regularly. (Ba Le had a much better selection of filling than Tung Hing, however.)

Verdict? Fantastic. The baguettes were nearly perfect - eggshell thin, crispy crust, beautiful slashing, and a soft pillowy crumb. It just leapfrogged over Tung Hing as my favourite banh mi joint. I hope they keep the quality consistent.

Ba Le
701 Kingsway (at Fraser) - right at the "Triangle"

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  1. Choirs of angels singing :-). Can't wait to try it -- I always liked Ba Le despite any bread quibbles because it is the first place I tried banh mi and they are always so nice to the tall blond white lady who asks masses of dopey questions. I also like their pickles which I occasionally buy to add to my own sandwiches.

    As usual, fmed, you are on top of things, so maybe you also know whether a) the Ba Le on Main is affiliated and b) whether they will now have access to the in-house baking if so. It is a much more convenient location for me and serves a bit later than Golden Garden, our usual go-to for banh mi near Chinatown.

    4 Replies
    1. re: grayelf

      They are affiliated and the Kingsway branch will be supplying bread to that location.

      1. re: fmed

        Thanks for that info, fmed. Hit the K'way Ba Le on the way home from Famous Foods today. The word is clearly out as the joint was jumping even at 3 pm. It has nearly doubled in size and is much brighter and cleaner looking which is nice. I got a #6 (chicken $3.25) and a #7 (grilled minced pork $3.50) to go. The bread was indeed near perfection, even after a slowish drive back across town in pre-Owelympic traffic. I thought the chicken tasted a wee bit stale, but I am picky about precooked poultry. The pork was tasty, sliced quite thin but a generous amount. There was no mayo which made it a bit dry but I could fix that since I was at home, and the addition of a little nuoc cham kicked things up a notch. Has anyone else noticed that the jalapenos we are getting might as well be green peppers in terms of heat? Anyway, a very nice sandwich, and I am looking forward to trying some of their other banh mi offerings which are now conveniently depicted on a photo board complete with English translations. They have also expanded their wares to include other baked goods -- they have the Vietnamese doughnuts I was blathering about on another thread and they are even better than the ones I get in Chinatown -- having them with Malaysian milk tea now :-). We also tried some of those rice cakey steamed dealies that look like fried eggs, and some of the translucent dumpling like rice offerings (both savoury) that were good and supplied us with the aforementioned nuoc cham. My friend inquired about the round packets in the small display case at the far left of the counter and apparently they are a special sausage which can be put in banh mi, though they don't appear to be on offer. Will investigate further next time... and there will be a next time!

        1. re: fmed

          fmed - I think on another thread you mentioned that the Kingsway and Main branches are not affiliated? That would explain why my experiences at the Main branch were always so disappointing.

          I've been to the new Ba Le (Kingsway) a few times now and it's pretty good. I love that there are seats and that there's an entire section for dessert. i still prefer Tung Hing (at least for the Dac Biet sandwich) because i find the meat sliced too thin and cold (like cold cuts) at Ba Le and also I like the sauce they add at Tung Hing. I also find that my sandwiches tend to be warmer at Tung Hing... though maybe that's just bad luck that I haven't shown up at the right time for fresh bread.

          1. re: twinkienic

            That's right...they are not affiliated, but they do supply some ingredients to the Main St Ba Le...including the bread.

            I've had good luck with timing so far. I think that Tung Hing - because it is a well known and established bakery - has a much higher volume baking operation compared to Ba Le (which is of course, just starting out). Tung Hing bakes all day long and thus you are almost guaranteed a fresh bun there.

            They are now running neck and neck in my books...the other day I went to both places! (Tung Hing's butter buns were beckoning).

      2. Ba Le on Kingsway has alway been one of my goto. more so than APC, which i think is over rated. I mean the bagguete is a key component. and the APC though is larger it isnt as crisp.
        Ba Le's warm banh mi are great when eating immediately while they are warm.

        also try the one on Victoria at 38th i think. on the corner. mom and pop - good pho and bahn mi, not well known or reviewed.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kfed

          APC gets their baguette from La Baguette and has it delivered once (perhaps twice) a day. But the bread is often many hours old by the time they make it. Unlike at Tung Hing or Ba Le were the bread is probably only five minutes from the oven. Far more fresh.

          1. re: fmed

            good bread makes all the difference. heck in certain parts of europe i'd gladly survive on bread, water and love. :-D

        2. groannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!

          enjoy! :D

          1. I FINALLY made my way over to the Kingsway location today after weeks of thinking about it. Went @ 12:30 pm and they had run out of grilled pork -- they said the first 10 people in the store today ordered it. I had the grilled beef instead. Very tasty -- great sweet sauce contrasted nicely with the sour veggies. Bread a terrific.

            Needless to say - great call fmed.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JEheartbreak

              Indulged in my favourite banh mi from Ba Le on the weekend: the minced pork was excellent, slightly warmed which was nice. Bread is holding its own. They put hoi sin sauce in both our sandos (SO had the grilled pork) which I think is maybe new. They must go through a lot as they had half a dozen industrial size tins of my preferred brand, Koon Chun.

              A new-to-me item was the Vietnamese yogurt in the cold case on the north wall where the drinks and chilled desserts are kept. It was very tasty, not too sweet and with a thick rich consistency that reminded me of quark. $1.75 for maybe 6 oz.

            2. Not bad, but Tung Hing retains the crown IMO (this is based on the "house special" which is my usual). Tung Hing's has a bit more pickled veggie, that squirt of special sauce, a strip of warm bbq pork, more substantial meats, that all combine to keep them my fave.

              10 Replies
              1. re: jcolvin

                And they're flexible to add/delete ingredients as you're standing right there watching them make the beautiful creation for you.

                Tough to beat this:

                I always subtract that butter/canuba wax-like substance, instead add more fish sauce and cilantro :-D

                1. re: LotusRapper

                  My regular is just extra hot pepper and extra cilantro. I'm not sure what the butter-substance is but I likes it so it stays in.

                  1. re: LotusRapper

                    That's butter-mayo - butter with egg yolk and oil beaten in. Some places just use jarred mayo - but it ain't right!

                  2. re: jcolvin

                    Tung Hing is also my top pick these days (the bread quality is more consistent). Ba Le's buns are not as good as when they first started using the new oven.

                    That said, Ba Le has a good charcuterie operation which allows them to offer fillings that Tung Hing does not. For example - their Vietnamese bacon (which is rolled and cured pork belly - like a porchetta or a soft pancetta ) sandwich is pretty good. Their baguette is just a notch below Tung Hing's in quality since they bake it fresh in-house also. Tung Hing is definitely more generous with the pickle.

                    I like both and have actually picked up a few baguettes at one place - then drove to the next place to pick up a few more. (Not all for me, of course).

                    1. re: fmed

                      Yeah, Tung Hing takes it for me too still. The bread quality and the pate nail it for me. That liver-y goodness and the pickles are perfect at Tung Hing. Ba Le tends to be my usual spot though just due to proximity to my house and Matchstick Coffee. There I avoid the special in favor of the grilled pork and the bacon. The grilled pork is umami central.

                      1. re: fmed

                        "I like both and have actually picked up a few baguettes at one place - then drove to the next place to pick up a few more"

                        I like your scientific approach :-)

                        1. re: fmed

                          Does either place offer a vegetarian banh mi and, if so, is it even worth eating? (Fish/cheese/eggs ok.) My last one was in the early '90s!

                          1. re: queueueuq

                            Tung Hing has fried tofu cubes with vermicelli as one filling option. So in essence, yes. And you can load up on the pickled veggies and cilantro too.

                            1. re: LotusRapper

                              Thanks. The website listed that tofu one and then the next line said "all sandwiches have paté" -- I wasn't sure if they meant "except the veg one" (it may seem obvious but I've learned to never assume!).

                              1. re: queueueuq

                                When I order my sub, I just point and choose what I want, and tell them what I don't want (ie: that weird mayo/butter/car wax concoction that sits there all day un-refrigerated !) :-D