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Nov 10, 2011 06:16 PM

Banh Mi in Sonoma County

A few years ago, this linked thread was on the hunt for banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) in Santa Rosa, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/450448 . I’ve since tried a few and thought I’d start a new topic.

January 14 – Stark's Steakhouse, Santa Rosa
An upmarket steakhouse might seem an unlikely spot for a Vietnamese style sandwich. But goes to show how mainstream these bites have become. Fill it with grilled tri-tip, and here’s a $2 banh mi as a happy hour nosh. As is typical once outside the boundaries of San Jose’s Little Saigon, the bread used is more substantial and chewy rather than light and delicate, as well as being too big a proportion of a bite. The tri-tip turned out rather tough and not easy to bite or chew. The garnish included a red and green cabbage slaw with some grated carrot and batons of daikon that lacked the sweetness of Vietnamese pickles. No cilantro, no jalapeños, no cucumber. Not a bad steak sandwich, however, it’s won’t scratch that banh mi itch.

February 18 – Noodle Bowl, Santa Rosa
A new Southeast Asian eatery, Cambodian-owned Noodle Bowl, opened with a bang on the local scene when BiteClubEats.com reported banh mi on the menu using Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery sweet French rolls. I’ve heard that Costeaux was supplying more than 100 rolls daily. I was in there soon after launch to try the Grilled pork Asian sandwich, $3 (now increased to $3.95). Tasty enough, but again, too much bread since none of the crumb was removed from the large roll. The grilled pork was low on char factor and too sweet from heavy application of hoisin sauce throwing the gestalt of the sandwich out of balance. Limp daikon and carrots were underseasoned and tired. Thinly shaved onions, cilantro, and jalapeño slices and a dab of pate filled out the sandwich.

February 28 - Lee's Noodle House, Santa Rosa.
Lee’s Noodle House (mentioned in the earlier discussion) has been perfecting its sandwich the longest, and the extra experience shows through in higher quality. When I ordered, I asked for some of the crumb to be pulled out. The cashier looked at me and said, “You no Vietnamese, where you from?” and I felt like I had the insider’s passcode to authenticity. The biggest in size utilizing hoagie rolls from G & G Supermarket's in-house bakery, the $4.50 Grilled pork sandwich (banh mi thit nuong), Lee’s banh mi comes the closest to taste found in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. Cooked-to-order marinated pork with the scent of the grill, tart/sweet pickled carrots and daikon for juicy crunch, fresh jalapeños, and cilantro were assembled with care, layered precisely over a flat base of scored and coin-sliced cucumbers in the hollowed out roll. Barely toasted, that first bite rewarded with warm crusty bread, the cool contrast of the vegetable garnishes, and the hot-from-the-grill tender pork for an added multi-temperature dimension. Each component spoke for itself, hitting all the flavor points that make us love Viet sandwiches so much.

July 7 – Malaysia Mei, Saturday farmers market, Santa Rosa
Last summer I loved the “Hot Cheese” grilled wonders Mei and partners served up at Windsor’s Thursday night market. This year, she went solo selling a range of sauces and the banh mi that I tried in Windsor. Per her website, Malaysia Mei is selling them at the farmers market at the Vets building on Saturday mornings. Here’s the menu board:

The Pulled pork ordered with peanut sauce instead of curry, $6.50, was the most I’ve paid for a banh mi. Expecting premium ingredients and flavors, I was not a happy camper to find watery cabbage filler inside that was not mentioned on the menu’s ingredients. Not a complimentary flavor, the peppery earthy cabbage clashed with the under-pickled carrots and daikon. Further, the tough and stale bread was too hard to bite through. The sandwich was not heated to freshen up the bread. I removed the top part of the roll and tried eating the sandwich open-face, but the tasty peanut sauce and signature mushroom pate could not salvage the mushy-textured pork. This concept sandwich failed to honor the textures or salty/spicy/sweet/sour elements of Southeast Asia. A waste of money.

Aroon Thai Market imports banh mi from Oakland Chinatown on Fridays. I asked the clerk if they were from Ba Le or Cam Huong but she was not sure. I haven’t tried one to see how they weather the travel.

What else have ‘hounds found in SoCo?

Costeaux French Bakery Cafe
417 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Lee's Noodle House
1010 Hopper Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Stark's Steakhouse
521 Adams Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

G & G Supermarket
1211 W College Ave, Santa Rosa, CA

Aroon Thai Market
2770 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Noodle Bowl
821 Russell Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Malaysia Mei
Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa, CA

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  1. Thanks Melanie, great information. Look forward to trying out the banh mi at Lee's Noodle House!

    3 Replies
    1. re: tom246

      I liked the grilled pork so much, I want to try bun or a rice plate at Lee's Noodle House some time.

      A new spot, Bastoni (actually Forchetta/Bastoni) opened last week in Sebastopol and reportedly has banh mi and other street-y Asian eats on the menu.

      A friend mentioned that Hot Box Grill in Sonoma was serving banh mi and Cuban sandwiches. But now that's it's dinner only and not serving lunch, looks like they've been discontinued. Maybe they'll return to the menu in the summer.

      I still haven't tried the sandwich from Thang Long in Petaluma, mentioned in the earlier thread.

      Would love to hear about any others.

      Thang Long Restaurant
      175 N McDowell Blvd, Petaluma, CA 94954

      Lee's Noodle House
      1010 Hopper Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

      Hot Box Grill
      18350 Hwy 12, Sonoma, CA 95476

      6948 Sebastopol Ave, Sebastopol, CA 95472

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Banh mi at Crisp Bakery was excellent!

        Hot Box isn't open for lunch any longer.

        Phnom Penh at Santa Rosa Avenue and Petaluma Hill Road had a more traditional sandwich on Tuesday (possibly other weekdays, but not today). On Saturdays, they've had a good selection of prepared foods near the register – fresh noodles, rolls and other tasty treats at very reasonable prices.

        1. re: Stephanie Sugars

          Thank you (and to sonomajom), sounds like Crisp is worth checking out.


    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. Haven't tried one yet . . . Divewalk Cafe in Sonoma has banh mi on the menu for $7.


          3 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I havent tried Bahn Mi there - not around at lunch time, but I can vouch for some of the breakfast crepes. Been there twice and delicious both times
            Also saw Bahn mi is on sandwich menu at Crisp Bakery on west Napa st. Their patisserie and cakes are delicious so would imagine bhn mi is worth while

            1. re: sonomajom

              Thanks, when I saw your other post about Divewalk I had hoped you would comment, and here you are.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              I am certainly no Banh Mi expert, but I enjoy the version at Divewalk cafe. Only open for lunch Thursday through Saturday (I think). Good vegies, good flavor, but the meat is a chicken meatball type thing. I like it, but not sure if it is "authentic" enough for some.