Before Vietnamese sandwich shops became so ubiquitous, there were specific places I'd always go. Well, I still do but I hadn't visited this location in a while. When I used to work in Orange County, whenever cousin Q came home from college, his mom would give me $3 and ask that I buy him sandwiches on my way home. Buy 2, get 1 free on sandwiches and desserts. So three Vietnamese sandwiches were only $3. I'd end up buying a set for me too and often gave one to whichever homeless person was waiting in front.
I was always amused that white homeless men chose to park themselves in front of this very Vietnamese strip mall in the heart of Little Saigon. I guess they liked their banh mi! Once, one of them specifically asked me to get him the #4. I can't remember if it was the Banh Mi Xa Xiu (Vietnamese Barbecued Pork Sandwich) or Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Vietnamese Meatball Sandwich). The menu board has changed since then, but I was still tickled that he had a preference.
It was also here that on another visit, when I asked yet another white homeless man if he'd like a sandwich, he said someone already bought him one, but he'd like a Che Dau Trang (Vietnamese Pudding with White Beans and Sticky Rice in Coconut Milk). I hadn't planned on getting dessert, but how could I resist not buying him one?
Sure it can be a madhouse. You have to fend off older Vietnamese people selling plants and herbs from their backyard or various magazines and newspapers. Once inside, no one seems to know how to line up so it's a free for all. During peak times at this location, don't even bother being polite. The person who shoves herself to the front of the line gets her order.
Besides sandwiches and desserts, there's the usual assortment of Vietnamese snacks and pastries. But on this day, it was just three sandwiches for $5 for me. Yeah, the price has gone up a little since then, but it's still a great bargain. I usually just default to the Banh Mi & Che Cali Restaurant - Alhambra these days because it's closest, so I had forgotten how good these sandwiches could be.
The Vietnamese French bread was just light enough with just enough crackly crust. They still automatically give you cilantro here.
The pate, the meats, the pickles, the whole combo of how everything came together was just sooo good!
Compared to the Tip Top Sandwiches banh mi, which I tried first and which cost me $6 for two, the middle '87, younger '88, and I declared Banh Mi & Che CALI's sandwiches the clear winner.
This still is my favorite Vietnamese banh mi shop by far. Other places might have good bread, or a lot of filling, but no other place has them together in the right combination. Is it because this location is mainly staffed by little old Vietnamese ladies? Because they know how to do it right? Or is it because I have to make my way through the hawkers and crowds before getting my sandwich so I had to work for it?
Regardless, whenever I come here, I can't resist helping out a little old Vietnamese lady by buying her herbs. I always feel like I'm helping my ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother) when I do. Then, fighting my way to the front to get these lovely sandwiches.
The stops as we built our picnic at the Great Balloon at the Orange County Great Park:
Tip Top Sandwiches - Garden Grove (Little Saigon)
Thai Son Lo Banh Cuon - Westminster (Little Saigon)
Hot Vit Lon Long An - Westminster (Little Saigon)
Banh Mi & Che CALI Bakery
8948 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
1 year ago today, fall-apart tender Buta No Kakuni (Japanese Braised Pork).
2 years ago today, Langer's Delicatessen - Restaurant - Los Angeles (Westlake).