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Banh Mi Che Cali - overrated! Buu Dien - underrated!

I went to the Alhambra BMCC after trying to go to My Tho (closed Mondays; who knew?) and picked up a few sandwiches to split with the boyfriend for lunch/dinner/today's lunch. It was my first Che Cali experience, and honestly, I was underwhelmed. At 3 for $5, the price was certainly right, but I couldn't get on board with the fillings - dry pork, beef resembling unflavored hamburger meat, and no pate on the dac biet. Pate is, like, the only reason I get dac biet, and it wasn't there! I also found the pickled veggies to be a bit too sweet, the mayo over-applied, and the cilantro, well, nonexistent.

Last week, I had a banh mi dac biet from Buu Dien in Chinatown - commonly regarded here as good for LA, but worse than even the most mediocre SGV offering - and it was delish. Good variety of meats, not too much mayo, a healthy schmear of pate, loaded with fresh veggies and cilantro. OK, the bread could be better, but if you eat it before noon it's pretty decent.

Anyone have any other favorites I should know about? Where should I go the next time I'm craving banh mi in the SGV on a Monday? Any Chinatown places I'm missing out on?

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  1. BMCC is known for one thing and one thing only: buy 2 get 1 free

    I go to ba le on Valley.

    19 Replies
    1. re: ns1

      I actually really enjoy their bread.

      1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

        pretty generic french bread to me.

        I used to live 5 mins away from the first BMCC in Santa Ana and ate many, many sandwiches in my time.

        1. re: ns1

          At BMCC you can get banh mi on baguettes or french rolls. I really like the baguettes, even though only banh mi on rolls are eligible for the 3 -for-2 deal. My Tho definitely has the edge in fillings, but the bread is disappointing compared to BMCC's baguettes.

          There's still a lot of room for improvement for banh mi in the SGV. I haven't had anything here that's nearly as good as the dac biet from Au Petit Cafe in Vancouver, who make their own charcuterie. I still haven't tried Nom Nom yet, though.

          1. re: Peripatetic

            Caution: severe expectation drop ahead.

            Nom Nom's banh mi were mediocre. Fine if you're on the banh mi starved Westside, but they're about the level of Lee's to me.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                tell you what, though- when you live and work in Venice that Nom Nom truck going by is like a cool glass of water in the desert!

                1. re: jdwdeville

                  Agreed. They're only worthwhile in places that are otherwise banh mi deserts.

                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                  Too many trusted opinions here against Nom Nom, so I'll pass. My to-try list overfloweth already.

                  1. re: Peripatetic

                    Nom Nom is only notable b/c (1) it is a truck and (2) the two dollops of eye candy serving you the food.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Yeah, not so much with Nom Nom. I tried it today because it was the most appealing option in one of those food truck lots, and it wasn't terrible, but certainly not great, and definitely not worth $5 given all the amazing versions out there for half that price.

          2. re: ns1

            Is the Ba Le on Valley connected in any way to the Ba Le in Westminster? The latter has great cured meats but their banh mi is really mediocre. But I've never been to Ba Le on Valley...

            1. re: adamclyde

              No idea if they're similar, sorry.

              1. re: adamclyde

                I can't agree with that. I think Ba Le has one of the better Banh Mi's in Little Saigon. The meat is good, the baguette is fresh,,, I don't get how it is mediocre.

                BMCC is good , but avoid the one on the west end of Valley Blvd. Went there and thought it was less than mediocre. Plus, they always seem to have a bad letter grade.

                I encourage everybody to try Ba Le if they are in Little Saigon . It's the real thing. The only downside is that the city make them get rid of their one rickety table. Eat in your car.

                1. re: bsquared2

                  I went really wanting it. But the bread was bland and borderline stale, the fillings were average, the veggies were just average, and e whole package ESA decidedly average. I didn't go back after that experience. Maybe it was an aberration?

                  1. re: adamclyde

                    Well...you admitted the meat was great....

                    The bread stale? I've been there dozens of times and never experienced that. The veggies average? Their pickeled carrots and radish were just as good as any place else. We even buy our Lunar New Year treats there.

                    I've been eating in Little Saigon since I was a kid and I've been to Vietnam many times. To me, Ba Le is the real deal.

                    1. re: bsquared2

                      glad you liked it. I didn't say it wasn't authentic or the real deal. Just said I don't think it's as good as most of the places nearby even. Even Top Baguette just a few doors down was much better. I'll give it another try.

                      And on my comment about the meats being great... i said the CURED meats were great. At least the pate I had was. the thit nuong sucked royally. glad you like it though.

                      1. re: adamclyde

                        Can't comment on the Thit Nuong since I am primarily a Dac Biet man.

                        1. re: adamclyde

                          Agree with bsquared2 that the dac biet banh mi is great at Ba Le; I also like their ga.
                          But I'll also have to partially agree with adamclyde. I've found Ba Le's thit nuong off-putting for some reason.

                2. re: ns1

                  The benefit of Ba Le in Alhambra is it is less crowded than BMCC, better and quicker service, in and out. Not sure about how it compares in terms of quality because I have only been there a couple of times.

                3. I like Siagon Sandwich and Bakery in the SGV. Their bread is SO good.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: martyR

                      I agree their bread is great, but the fillings are weird. The thit nuong they serve always tastes off to me.

                  1. Banh Mi My Tho is my favorite, followed by Saigon on Valley as well. Mr. Baguette has one banh mi with smoked bacon which is really good - their other banh mi I don't care for.

                    BMCC is all about the deal - cost/price trumps quality. I don't see the point of buying a couple of whatever that don't cut it in order to get one more of whatever that doesn't cut it. Some of their goods in the plastic trays on the counter can be okay to good though...

                    -----
                    Mr. Baguette
                    400 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

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

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      Baguette City is better. While BMMT is good, the bread and fixins are just better at Baguette City.

                      Baguette City
                      9505 Garvey Ave
                      South El Monte
                      (626) 350-7099

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                      Baguette City
                      9505 Garvey Ave, South El Monte, CA 91733

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Never even heard of this place, need to give it a try then.

                    2. You could be on to something.
                      Vietnamese friend of ours lives in Rosemead and has a sister that works at BMCC in Rosemead for 10+ years(now works at the new Rosemead location on Garvey). Most of the time when she brings us sandwiches its from Buu Dien in Chinatown.

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                      Buu Dien
                      642 N Broadway Ste 5, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                      1. I was there Monday too and the BBQ pork was really dry. I still like BMCC if Banh Mi My Tho is closed. The bread is very fresh and isn't so crunchy hard on the outside that it cuts your mouth.

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

                        1. Saigon Sandwiches is the best I have tried in the SGV and I've been to many, including the top rated ones. This is one instance where I have deemed the search over.

                          1. Totally different level of cooking and price, but for my money, the hands down best authentic banh mi is at the Spice Table in little tokyo. house made pate, house made head cheese, house made garlic mayo, house made pickles, all on house made bread. of course, for the $7.50 that it'll set you back you could have bought 3 sandwiches at some other places. But hey, we chowhounder appreciate both value and quality, right? If you ask me, this sandwich is a perfectly good value.
                            Incidentally, i find it funny that for my SGV fix, my favorite is also Ba Le, which is the place that has already been the subject of much discussion above, so i won't go into detail on that one.
                            but that's my take. for cheap and good, i like ba le the best. for simply the best banh mi i've ever had, it's the spice table.

                            -----
                            The Spice Table
                            114 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Bert

                              I'd pay 7.5 for homemade everything! thanks for the heads up.

                              1. re: Bert

                                My wife was serving jury duty last week and tried the banh mi there and brought home half for me to try. It was superb and a different animal from the standards I'm used to in SGV. Definitely worth the 7.5 for al the reasons you mention....

                                1. re: Bert

                                  I would like to take credit for calling out Spice Table as the best Banh Mi west of the 710 and maybe best in LA. Having enjoyed the restaurant already, we met the chef's Vietnamese wife so when we heard about it, we were there the first day. Great restaurant and really nice people.

                                  Just joking about the credit, but please try it if you like a top notch authentic Banh Mi! We also had some tasty Curry Chicken Wings too. I think the value is there too since the meat is very high quality.

                                  -----
                                  The Spice Table
                                  114 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

                                  1. re: bsquared2

                                    Wow - my wife also ordered the curry chicken wings which were fantastic as well. The banh mi is definitely artisan-level stuff. I didn't realize that Spice Table had a separate lunch menu, so when my wife went, she was severely let down at first, but after trying their lunch menu items, most was forgiven - she still wants the satay something bad though...

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      Another wonderful thing about Spice Table's Lunch menu, is that they offer it on Saturday! :D Which is exactly where I'll be for lunch next Saturday! :D

                                      --Dommy!

                                      -----
                                      The Spice Table
                                      114 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

                                    2. re: bsquared2

                                      Haven't tried the banh mi there, but my friend (who knows owner + wife) brought me some fresh baguettes from there for my b-day. They were absolutely fantastic (crispy but overly so on the outside, wonderfully airy on the inside). Hard as crackers the next day, but, again, they were perfection that first day....

                                  2. I've been to the BMCC on Valley a few times and the one on Garvey once. The one on Valley is small and overcrowded (great prices, though), and the one on Garvey has the worst service I've experienced in my life. Not sure I will be going back to either for a while, although both have a good selection and very good prices. Not sure about Buu Dien. Have only been to one pho place in Chinatown and can't remember the name. Looking for a place with friendly service and good prices in the SGV for boba and other goodies. Will probably stick with Kelley's Bakery and Kiki Bakery for that kind of stuff.

                                    1. I had my first experience with BMCC today. I was very disappointed. The sandwich fillings were not good at all. We ordered #5 and #25, the BBQ pork was dry and very bland. I'm not sure if they normally use cilantro, but that would have helped a bit.

                                      I definitely prefer Saigon Bakery.