Restaurants & Bars

Los Angeles Area Banh Mi

Banh Mi Goes Mobile: A Nom Nom Truck Review


More from Restaurants & Bars

Restaurants & Bars Los Angeles Area Banh Mi

Banh Mi Goes Mobile: A Nom Nom Truck Review

odub | | Sep 9, 2009 08:33 PM

(Sorry, no pictures - I'm not quite at that level of food blogging...yet)

LIKE all those of us who bemoan the lack of decent Vietnamese on the Westside, the announcement a few months back of a banh mi truck was met with intrigue and anticipation.


Banh mi makes good sense for a post-Kogi truck operation; its ingredients aren't difficult to take on the road and given the geography of Vietnamese food in Los Angeles, relatively isolated in either parts of the SGV or Westminster, the potential for the truck is high.

The wife and I went today, when they were set up on Olympic, near Butler. Technically, it was about two blocks away from Butler but this was a good thing since they picked a spot that was totally shaded and had a cement fence you could sit on.

The NNT is clearly going through some...transitions, given the high number of corrections and crossed-out items on their menu. No more spring rolls. Apparently, the Vietnamese coffee was out. They ran out of tofu while I was there. Etc. It was basically...a mess. I feel like they'd be better off investing in a dry erase board.

Their menu is here: but here are the basics:

A 12" banh mi = $5. Tacos (with various fillings, see below) are 1 for $2.50 (rather high) or 2 for $4 (Kogi-comparable). They also do combos, which I thought were priced well. We got the "6-inch combo" which includes a 6" banh mi (we got grilled pork) plus two tacos (we got lemongrass chicken and bbq pork) plus a drink, all for $7.

There's also a 12" combo which comes with one taco but a foot-long sandwich.

THE BANH MI w/ grilled pork was, in both our estimation, pretty good. This was NOT a haute cuisine take on the sandwich; it was a classic banh mi with all the flavors you expect: each bite gets you a pleasing crunch of warm bread (this is *key*), then a bite of vinegar from the marinated vegetables, followed by the salty, fatty goodness of grilled pork mixed in with the subtle tang of mayo.

I should say though, it's definitely not haute cuisine. That's not a criticism but I thought it'd be important to just note that what they're serving up, sandwich-wise, is quite traditional. It's not reimagining the banh mi or doing anything particularly innovative EXCEPT the delivery system.

Whatever the case, it was a good sandwich. Very good. As noted, the warm bread makes a huge difference, especially when it's around the same temp as the meat. And all the flavors I've come to expect from a banh mi were there. Exactly what you'd expect is what you get - that's a good thing.

Of course, you're also paying about double what a banh mi would run in Alhambra. And while it's true that I didn't have to drive 20+ miles to get to Alhambra, I did have to wait 30 minutes to order and get the food. This is an aside but I do find it interesting that while the conventional taco trucks are meant to make food affordable, the haute mobiles go in the reverse direction. I'm not complaining, mind you, but I do think it's an interesting reversal of the traditional taco truck model.

Speaking of tacos...

THE VIETNAMESE TACOS were not impressive. They felt like an afterthought, ala "hey, we should do some fusion tacos too since everyone else is." Hear me out on this for a moment - partly what makes a good taco-truck-taco work is a combination of heat, greasiness and filling. I feel like Kogi, for example, gets this. Their tacos may use different fillings from a Mexican truck but they understand the essence of what makes a good taco.

In comparison, the Nom Nom tacos seem more like a formula - take Vietnamese fillings, place in tortilla, voila! Either there was a lack of effort to really perfect a better fusion OR Vietnamese flavors don't work in a taco. I'd hate to think it was the latter; I think the potential is there but what I tasted didn't achieve that.

It's not that the fillings were bad - the lemongrass chicken was very lemongrass-y. The BBQ pork was sweet and salty (perhaps a little too sweet). The vegetables they include add texture and flavor contrasts. But the sum of the whole just didn't feel very taco-y. It might have worked on a plate of rice but not in a tortilla.

FINAL VERDICT: I think Nom Nom makes a valuable contribution to the new mobile movement. I think their sandwich is pretty solid; I'd be tempted to go out to them again if they're in the neighborhood (I'd just get a foot-long and skip the tacos). I do think their tacos could use some tinkering and while I think their execution on their banh mi is quite good, it might be interesting to come out with an additional sandwich which is more left-of-field. (Speaking of which, they have a "Deli Special" sandwich which I didn't try but it sounded intriguing.

They should also consider fixing their menu issue; it's just confusing to decipher despite it being a fairly limited menu.

I'm an educator by profession so if I had to grade it, I'd give Nom Nom a solid B, maybe a B+ if I were feeling really generous (I have had the reputation of being an easy grader).

BONUS ROUND: The Get Shaved Truck

Nom Nom and the Get Shaved ice truck ( teamed up for this location and of course, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try them too.

To make a long story short, they're not about to negate my memory of Matsumoto (North Shore Oahu) but they did seem to capture what makes Hawaiian style shaved ice so good. To me, it's about the texture of really finely shaved ice (finer than the Taiwanese equivalent) that melts instantly when it hits your mouth. Quite lovely, even if the risk of brainfreeze is high.

The flavoring is pretty much what you'd expect - I do NOT recommend the lychee (way too cloying). I thought the cherry was good, my wife said, "this tastes like cough syrup" but hey, artificial cherry is usually like that to some degree. What I didn't try but what they have are things like sweet cream (I'm assuming condensed milk) and pickled plum sauce (plus powdered pickled plum) for those who like their Hawaiian flavors real old school.

Plus, no line = big bonus.