Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Banh Mi & Che CALI Bakery - Westminster (Little Saigon)

I have a soft spot for the original Banh Mi and Che CALI Bakery on the corner of Bolsa Avenue and Magnolia Street in Westminster.

Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery - Westminster (Little Saigon) 1

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.

Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery - Westminster (Little Saigon) 2

The pate, the meats, the pickles, the whole combo of how everything came together was just sooo good!

Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery - Westminster (Little Saigon) 3

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).


  1. I really liked this post. I felt like I was there. Funny that the homeless guy had a favorite!

  2. I was able to share banh mi with my husband for the first time in January. He had never had them before. He agreed they are the best and I did not exaggerate. My favorite shop made their own mayo.

  3. 5 bucks!? I haven't been there in a long time either. Maybe it's just me, but I'm afraid to drive around in that plaza. I feel like I'm going to hit somebody or somebody's going to hit me because there are so many people there.

  4. I remember this place! My aunt took us there when we visited. Hehe I like how the area is so much like Vietnam, with actual vendors and no waiting line. It's not really a good thing, though, don't you think?

  5. Hey WC, I'm a newbie to your blog, but I love all your posts and recipes. My husband and I are living in Da Nang right now, so Banh Mi is a very familiar sight. We're vegetarians though, so we get rau with thit chay, still tastes good though. :)

  6. This is and has always been my family's favorite place to get banh mi and che. My parents have been going to that strip mall since before I was born. When my mom was pregnant she would eat at Mi La Cay a few doors down pretty much every week...

  7. One of my favorite place but usually this place is way to packed for me to venture so I head of to the one closer to Fountain Valley.

  8. WeeMo,
    Thanks! I'm sure my family is tired of hearing the same stories, but my blog gives me new people to tell them to! :P

    I think most VNese shops do. I think they do here because the mayo has a yellow tinge to it that makes me think of egg yolks.

    I know! So expensive! :P That's why I avoided it and opted for their other location at Brookhurst. Then when I ate here again, I realized I had forgotten just how good the banh mi really are.

    It's a madhouse! But it's sooo good and cheap.

    The Bakers,
    Lucky you! Bet you're having lots of fun there!

    I think their che are too sweet. I prefer Hien Khanh. But can't beat their prices!

    You mean the one on Brookhurst? There's one in Fountain Valley now too. Further down Brookhurst and Talbert. I can't believe how much the chain has grown.

  9. Yup the one on Brookhurst right after MacFadden; right by KFC and Alertos. I don't think it's exciting like the one in Little Saigon but it sure as heck beat the craziness.

  10. Well, I kind of like the craziness, places get popular for a reason. And the banh mi are SO good (haven't tried the che, always too full from the sandwiches!) I just REALLY wish there was a banh mi shop ANYWHERE around here. You guys are lucky. I have to make my own banh mi, and I am fairly certain they cost more and they aren't as good.

  11. WC -

    I love this post!

    And I"ve already sent it to my dad, an ex-brooklyn boy now living in Ohio. He came out to LA a few years ago for a visit, had his first banh mi - and fell in love. My mom, on the other hand, fell for the shrimp and fresh rice noodle rolls. They got some to take back on the plane!

    I love your posts and your kindness - sharing sandwiches with homeless guys and enjoying that they had preferences!

  12. Bill,
    I've been to that one when I don't want to fight the crowds, but I still think this location makes it better. Hahaha!

    But you can get good baguettes. It's harder to make the baguettes than the fillings. Although, I prefer VNese French bread with the crackly crust and softer crumb than a hard baguette.

    Aww. Thanks! It's not much. I'd rather buy a sandwich than give someone money. But I find it hilarious that they have their specific preferences. :)


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