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Banh Mi - first time

OC Mutt Aug 31, 2010 07:45 PM

Hounds, I would like to try bahn mi, but there are so many choices in Westminster I have no idea where to start. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Also any suggestions for Huntington Beach and the south bay area are welcome as well. Thanks.

  1. Professor Salt Aug 31, 2010 08:39 PM

    Start with Banh Mi Cho Cu. Their bread is the best IMO, and their fillings are also good. Banh Mi Che Cali is a small chain with several locations in Little Saigon and a satellite in Fountain Valley.

    Those are reliably good, and take care in baking their bread and prepping the filling.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Professor Salt
      monku Aug 31, 2010 09:23 PM

      Go to Banh Mi Che Cali, they got a buy 2 get 1 free special all the time. Order three different sandwiches (about $5.50) and see which kind you like. Ask for the veggies on the side and you can put as much or as little as you want. All places have basically the same kind of sandwiches, but Banh Mi Che Cali is a good place to start and experiment.

      1. re: monku
        Professor Salt Sep 1, 2010 10:49 AM

        Also for the BMCC first timer: BMCC makes sandwiches on two types of bread - the shorter, fatter loaf with more crumb to crust ratio, and the thinner, classic baguette shape, which has a more crisp crust. I prefer the thinner baguette, but YMMV.

        I believe the buy 2 get one free deal is for the fatter style.

    2. Das Ubergeek Sep 1, 2010 09:26 AM

      I'm going to get flamed for this, but...

      If you are truly a bánh mì noob, I suggest you go a little bit out of your way to Zon Baguettes on Newport and the 5 in Tustin. It's not Westminster, but it is very good bánh mì, and while it's very expensive ($3.50 a sandwich) you are getting English-speaking staff and a place that doesn't have the insane-making crush of little old Vietnamese ladies that puts some people off. Once you know your fillings, you could move on to the Westminster stuff.

      That said, if you're determine to go to Westminster, I agree: Banh Mi Cho Cu is a good start (on Magnolia and Hazard), or Nhu Lan in Garden Grove (on Harbor and Garden Grove Blvd). Banh Mi Che Cali is also very good, with many locations, but they are abrupt like whut.

      Zon Baguettes
      14081 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA

      11 Replies
      1. re: Das Ubergeek
        ipsedixit Sep 1, 2010 09:41 AM

        By that logic, then, I would suggest OC Mutt first dip the proverbial toe in the water first by going to Lee's Sandwiches, and I think there are least 3 or 4 in Westminster alone (and probably 2 on Bolsa).

        1. re: ipsedixit
          aching Sep 1, 2010 09:59 AM

          That was how I got introduced to banh mi, and I think it's a good way to do it!

          1. re: aching
            Dommy Sep 1, 2010 02:05 PM

            Exactly! Lee's Meatball is still one of my favorites!! Avocado milkshakes too! ;D


          2. re: ipsedixit
            New Trial Sep 1, 2010 10:43 AM

            Lee's also has a location on Campus across from UCI, though I tend to gravitate to the Banh Mi Che Cali off Talbert even though Lee's is closer to work.

            1. re: ipsedixit
              monku Sep 1, 2010 04:28 PM

              Interesting...I thought the CH considered Lee's at the bottom of the bahn mi rankings. Like Starbuck's is to coffee.
              Hey, I like Lee's too.

              1. re: monku
                ipsedixit Sep 1, 2010 04:30 PM

                Nothing wrong with Lee's, or Starbucks. Each has its own place in the culinary batting order.

                1. re: monku
                  hobbess Sep 4, 2010 03:50 PM

                  The bread for Lee's is too hard and dense for a banh mih sandwich, and why I personally don't like it.

                  And, Zon's is really expensive for banh mih; I remember I paid about six bucks for mine. I thought it was tasty, but certainly not enough to justify that price when you can go to Westminster and get really good banh min for less than half that price.

                  I know the OP was asking about banh mih, but Tustin's got so many other food options.

                  1. re: hobbess
                    Das Ubergeek Sep 4, 2010 06:54 PM

                    My point wasn't that the best place to get banh mi is Zon. My point was that some people aren't comfortable walking into a loud, crazy place with a scrum and help who don't have time to speak English (that's really just Cali, but...), then Zon is a great step into that world... open, quiet, English-speaking and, yes, expensive.

                    Once the bloom is off the rose, absolutely, go for the dives in Westminster at half the price.

                    I have no idea, incidentally, how you managed to spend $6 on a banh mi there; I believe the dac biet is the most expensive at about $4.

                2. re: ipsedixit
                  bulavinaka Sep 3, 2010 06:58 PM

                  My one warning about Lee's for a BM virgin would be that the menu and all of the prepared foods can be a little overwhelming compared to the other not-as-chainy places. Focus on the menu, take your time, and order only what you plan on eating. You can always go back after you're done if the mood strikes you.

                  Also consider getting the baguettes - they are usually really good and really cheap. Just make sure you eat them within a day.

                3. re: Das Ubergeek
                  adamclyde Sep 1, 2010 09:49 AM

                  I'm just settling back into HB/OC after a 10 year absence. I've been to Ban Mi Che Cali a few times. It seems OK, but there must be better in this wonderland of vietnamese. Thanks for the other recs... I'm going to give Nhu Lan and Cho Cu a try this week.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek
                    SavinaW Sep 3, 2010 01:53 PM

                    I second Zon Baguette. It's way tastier than BMCC. Ask for extra meat and mayo sauce.

                    Zon Baguettes
                    14081 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA

                  2. i
                    I got nothin Sep 1, 2010 09:53 AM

                    The Banh Mi Che Cali on Brookhurst & Talbert in Fountain Valley would be a good spot for a first timer. Lots of English speakers, and you don't get the old ladies elbowing you in the back and then cutting in front of you like at other BMCC's. 3 for $5 if you want it on a roll, and $2.25 a sandwich if you want it on a baguette.
                    You can't go wrong with Banh Mi Cho Cu, usually someone is there who can speak English or understand my butchering of the Vietnamese language.
                    Zon Baguettes is also a good rec for a first timer, but it is a little out of the way if you are in HB

                    1. n
                      NYCnowLA Sep 1, 2010 10:42 AM

                      i like this question. what about the first-timer who wants to find someplace from downtown to SaMo??

                      28 Replies
                      1. re: NYCnowLA
                        Das Ubergeek Sep 1, 2010 10:55 AM

                        Find the Nom Nom Truck (twitter.com/nomnomtruck) and stand in line, unfortunately... the Westside is an absolute desert of bánh mì. There are versions here and there that are typically $7 or $8, they don't last very long, and they aren't very good, so at that point the $5 sandwich from Nom Nom seems like a bargain.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek
                          aching Sep 1, 2010 11:30 AM

                          Doesn't it seem like a Lee's would make a killing if they went in in the Financial District, around USC, or in Westwood Village? I'm surprised that it hasn't happened yet...

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek
                            bulavinaka Sep 3, 2010 06:55 PM

                            You can also hit up Phamish as well. They usually are prowling the Westside for the very reason that IT IS a banh mi wasteland. They were on Abbot Kinney today setting up for First Friday, and I think they usually hang out around the Sawtelle Blvd/Olympic area on Saturdays. Their banh mi are pretty good - not great - and they are six bucks.

                            1. re: bulavinaka
                              monku Sep 3, 2010 06:58 PM

                              $6 for bahn mi?
                              That's out of my league.

                              Also out of the OP's intended county.

                              1. re: monku
                                bulavinaka Sep 3, 2010 07:03 PM

                                I was responding in kind to NYCnowLA's request. And yes, $6 for banh mi is a crime - but only in SGV and North OC. In the Westside, it's fuel and time efficient, so the price is the price.

                                1. re: bulavinaka
                                  monku Sep 3, 2010 07:06 PM

                                  My apologies.

                                  Yes it's a crime.
                                  KP's Deli in Silver Lake tried to do that and they're out of business.

                                  1. re: monku
                                    bulavinaka Sep 3, 2010 07:09 PM

                                    No sweat - I appreciate you trying to keep the post clean. IMHO, Silver Lake is too close to the SGV. When I get banh mi, it's usually four to six at a time. I'd make the drive over to Banh Mi My Tho for excellence at a bargain price...

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

                                    1. re: bulavinaka
                                      monku Sep 3, 2010 07:29 PM

                                      That's where I had my first bahn mi experience(s)...friend used to bring me sandwiches from there and then took me there.
                                      I didn't know that was the name...just went by "the bahn mi place".

                                      "I appreciate you trying to keep the post clean"....(does that have to do with our favorite place?)

                                    2. re: monku
                                      Das Ubergeek Sep 4, 2010 06:56 PM

                                      But the trucks aren't. You do end up paying for not having to drive to SGV, OC or the Valley.

                                      East-West in Westwood Village tried to resurrect the old "buck fitty" stand only in a nice, large, clean place, and their banh mi were ridiculously expensive too.

                                2. re: bulavinaka
                                  hobbess Sep 6, 2010 11:23 PM

                                  Who's better- Nom Nom or Phamish?

                                  I guess I don't quite understand the whole food truck thing, but why are their prices for banh mih so high? Wasn't the whole point of a food truck was that it was a lot cheaper to do that than to open a storefront? So, shouldn't their prices be the same or maybe even lower than what you'd pay for in SGV or Westminster?

                                  1. re: hobbess
                                    adamclyde Sep 7, 2010 08:06 AM

                                    there are food trucks and then there are yuppie food trucks. This sounds very much like the latter, which have taken over the world in the past few years... not that they are bad, necessarily, just that they have a different aim and targeted demographic.

                                    1. re: hobbess
                                      Das Ubergeek Sep 7, 2010 08:38 AM

                                      Free market, my dear hobbess. Free market. When you're on the Westside and you're the only game in town, you can set your prices higher. Food trucks are still for-profit entities.

                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek
                                        Dommy Sep 7, 2010 10:42 AM

                                        Exactly.... and as a regular happy Phamish customers, although it might be 'cheaper' to run a truck, it also doesn't have the same kinda of turn around that keeps Lees and Pho #whaterver able to support it's prices.

                                      2. re: hobbess
                                        bulavinaka Sep 7, 2010 08:11 PM

                                        I recall trying Nom Nom a while back maybe a month after they first hit the streets. I wasn't impressed. I did find Phamish to be good though. The bread was a bit dry, but I've run into the same at a fair amount of banh mi places in SGV as well.

                                        There's no way Phamish could generate the kind of volume that would justify SGV or Westminster prices. They're not set up for it and the demand isn't there either. The thing to remember about these new wave food trucks is they are trying to offer something that is somehow unique to the markets that they drop into. Setting up a food truck is cheaper and easier than setting up a brick & mortar, but it doesn't necessarily follow that the food trucks will then turn around and pass the savings on to you - at least not yet. IMHO, the supply of food trucks is quickly becoming oversaturated with Kogi-clones, half-baked food and novelty cuisine. My guess is that sooner or later, the fallout will occur, the market will become multi-tiered and those in the lower tiers will probably have to drop prices to survive. This is a new phenomenon so who knows how things will evolve.

                                        As I mentioned earlier, I don't mind at all paying the six bucks since Phamish's banh mi scratches the itch that would otherwise cost me a long drive to satisfy otherwise. And when they're set up near the Nijiya in West LA, I go into Nijiya, get a container of their namasu, and put generous amounts on the banh mi. This added touch puts me even closer to what I really want.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka
                                          hobbess Sep 9, 2010 01:11 AM

                                          Maybe, a Phamish couldn't make those prices work but what about one of the SVG places loading up a food truck and selling their banh mihs to the Westside?

                                          1. re: hobbess
                                            Das Ubergeek Sep 9, 2010 09:21 AM

                                            The reason the price for banh mi in the SGV or Little Saigon is so low is the same reason the price for pho in the SGV or Little Saigon is so low: there's so much competition that there is, in effect, a ceiling on price. The going rate is $2.50 in those places for banh mi and $5 for pho.

                                            Pho is more expensive on the Westside, and banh mi (when they're available) are too. Even assuming the costs aren't different, why would they sell banh mi for $2.50 on the Westside when their competition is charging $5?

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek
                                              Dommy Sep 9, 2010 11:16 AM

                                              True, there is a lot of undercutting, but at the end of the month there is still bills to pay... So volume plays a MAJOR roll. It might take a Phamish a week to go through a case of cilantro versus a Lees going through a case a day. No doubt Lees has a connection to make sure that cost of the case of cilantro stays as stable as possible.


                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek
                                                ipsedixit Sep 9, 2010 09:48 PM

                                                Real estate prices account for much of the difference in prices between Westside and SGV -- and not just for banh mi, but for other foodstuffs as well.

                                              2. re: hobbess
                                                Dommy Sep 9, 2010 11:12 AM

                                                Then that would be more akin to a Tommy's Truck or In and Out Truck... The restaurant business would still "subsidize"

                                                Also, one dirty little secret in the Food Truck world is that a lot of these Fancy Trucks use are OLD and Used. Some even 'lease' them... So there is still a LOT of pressure to make a decent profit to able to making a decent living at it...


                                                1. re: hobbess
                                                  bulavinaka Sep 9, 2010 06:51 PM

                                                  Between the responses of DU, Dommy!, and Phamish's, I think they pretty well sum it up. It's the matrices of cost, supply, demand and mobility. Besides, I think the SGV and Westminster places are fine with their brick & mortars and/or adding a truck would severely complicate things for them. Does In and Out's truck make money? I don't know, but I think it's more of a marketing tool for them. The banh mi places aren't so concerned about spreading the word out to the Westside. I think most are happy with their working business models where they are.

                                                  1. re: bulavinaka
                                                    taiwanesesmalleats Sep 9, 2010 09:39 PM

                                                    I can definitely stand Banh Mi My Tho not getting the word out anymore than it already is so the lines don't get any longer...

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

                                                    1. re: taiwanesesmalleats
                                                      Dommy Sep 9, 2010 11:06 PM

                                                      Really?! They have lines now? We tend to go in the early evenings, so it's never bad...


                                                      1. re: Dommy
                                                        taiwanesesmalleats Sep 10, 2010 08:58 AM

                                                        I use the "lines" kind of loosely in this case. It's mostly a conglomerate of people wondering who's ordered and who hasn't but there is some logic to it that seems to control the pace. I still get my food at a reasonable pace but I've noticed over the years the amount of people who know about it have grown steadily.

                                              3. re: hobbess
                                                adamclyde Sep 7, 2010 10:49 PM

                                                one other thing I should mention is that just the fact that this conversation is happening should be heartening. I just moved from NYC where you need to double the prices of any banh mi you'd get in OC (chinatown banh mi were ~$4, and midtown banh mi (like Baoguette) were ~$6-$8). The volume and choices here are amazing. Heavenly, actually.

                                            2. re: Das Ubergeek
                                              hobbess Sep 4, 2010 04:09 PM

                                              Are you recommending Nom Nom because its' the best option in Westside or because it's good enough to compete with the best banh mih in Westminster? Nom Nom is in a reality competition show on Food Network right now and I've been impressed by their marketing and business skills but I'm curious about their culinary skills.

                                              They were at the Honda Center recently at some food truck event, and I heard that people were waiting in line for more than an hour for their banh mih. With the success Nom Nom is having, I'm surprised nobody else has done too with a food truck serving banh mih to the Westside.

                                              1. re: hobbess
                                                Das Ubergeek Sep 4, 2010 06:57 PM

                                                It's the best option on the Westside, short of driving in traffic to the Valley.

                                                I was at that Honda Center event and yes, the lines were 100-200 people deep by the time I left. I went early to Nom Nom and waited only 2 minutes, and while I enjoyed the tofu banh mi, the pork was flavorless; it's not a good substitute for Westminster, Garden Grove or Santa Ana.

                                            3. re: NYCnowLA
                                              vronic Sep 3, 2010 02:39 PM

                                              Nom Nom is great - but I must admit Mandoline Grill truck's banh mi put everyone else to shame. Still, for Westsiders, if you can find either of them it's worth a shot. Nom Nom is almost always on Sawtelle (off Olympic) on weeknights.

                                              As for OC, I had my first Banh Mi at BMCC and tried Lee's at a later date... I will never go back to Lee's for a banh mi after that. They do have killer Taro slushes though!

                                              1. re: vronic
                                                huaqiao Sep 3, 2010 02:50 PM

                                                Try the soursop slushie. Mmmm. Plus Lee's just smells so incredibly good when you walk in and are hit with that fresh baked bread smell.

                                                I prefer BMCC over Lee's as well, but I'd probably take a first timer to Lee's.

                                            4. r
                                              raizans Sep 3, 2010 08:26 PM

                                              the first place i ever went was banh mi cho cu. their baguettes have yet to be beaten. tip top and top also have pretty good baguettes, but nhu lan's were not crisp when i went (though the lemongrass beef was great). still haven't gotten around to bmcc and lee's, among other places (banh mi my tho, banh mi ba le, zon...).

                                              1. Mr Taster Sep 10, 2010 12:13 PM

                                                As a public service, I'm posting my original quest for banh mi in 2005.


                                                I love Chowhound... it's become essentially a diary of my food progress over the years that I've lived in LA. Since I made that post I've spent a month in Vietnam (and several more months around Asia), gotten married, and broadened my palate considerably.... it's good to see other old timers like Das Ubergeek and WildSwede still hanging around and offering their advice.


                                                Mr Taster

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