Well, this past Sunday a bunch of us PDX Food Group folks ventured out to try several bahn mi joints on the east side. Bahn mi are Vietnamese sandwiches on crispy baguette with pickled carrots/veggies, spreads, cilantro, jalapeno (sometimes) and often pork/pate/ham combinations.
We started at Maxim's on NE Broadway near NE 68th(well, we tried to start at Cali Sandwiches on NE Glisan near NE 66th, but they are closed on Sunday) and it was the most traditional (food and atmosphere-wise) of the lot, as stated by a member who traveled the area and lived there for a time. A tiny place, they have over a dozen choices of bahn mi, plus some stews, bao (steamed pork buns), and some fried (probably spring) rolls. We tried the pate, "special," BBQ pork, lemongrass chicken, fish and possibly others. The pate was great, the lemongrass chicken tasty (and a choice we didn't see elsewhere), the fish was good but fishy (like sardine or mackerel), the others were all good too. Sandwiches were all $2.50 and made on elongated and thin baguette rolls. I'm sure these folks were nice, but I think we kind of overwhelmed them...
Next we went to Be Van on NE Sandy near 68th (across Sandy and a block up from Thien Hong). This was a new and hip and spacious place that also had an extensive selection (over 20 flavors) of bubble/milk teas, tropical frozen treats, and a couple of free internet terminals (and you can play keno!). This is in addition to the long list of bahn mi, including a vegetarian one made with tofu, one with pork sausage (very tasty), and the other various BBQ pork, ham, shredded pork, etc. choices, and of course, the required bao. The bread they use is different, reminded me of the seeded Italian hero rolls the bakeries in my Brooklyn, NY nabe would bake and they were delicious, if not traditional. They were also larger, making these sandwiches a better deal pricewise - though they were all only $2 or $2.50 each. Also of note was the fresh sugar cane juice ($3/16oz., $5/32 oz.) which had some fresh orange juice in it - so yummy. We also tried a durian frozen fruit pop - and we mostly decided it tasted funky, if not nasty, with a floral note to it. The guy there was really nice and he enjoyed us tasting everything in sight - the durian pop escapade amused him especially (he readily admitted that he hated it, but that his wife loved it). ;o)
We then ventured to An Xuyen, a bakery (with no tables) tucked back into a spot on SE Foster at SE 53rd. There are no signs regarding bahn mi - I guess you just have to know they have it. They offer 3 choices - the special (pate, pork, ham), BBQ pork, and another one ;o). The bread was closer to the traditional thin baguette roll and very good - the special one was very good. They also had bao (too much starch for me around too little meat overall but the filling was tasty and very 5-spicey) and pate chaud. The pate chaud was a savory ground pork filling inside what is an outrageously flaky, croissant-like pastry. They were simply awesome - soooo flaky! But this is really a bakery and there were good looking cookies and sweet (Hawaiian-like) breads and cakes and pastries. There were Hawaiian-like breads and rolls filled with various bean pastes, some made with pandan leaf (and there were cakes made with pandan leaf, too - pretty green color!) baked into the bread. I bought a pack of 3 "pineapple pastry" which were very delicate crumbly cookies with a pineapple filling for $1.89. The cookie just melted away in your mouth leaving a sweet but bright tasting pineapple filling to enjoy. YUM, I thought they were very tasty!
The young couple who own the place (with their precocious girlchild!) actually asked me what was going on and who we were (hee!). They were proud to be a part of our itinerary and asked how they compared and I honestly told them that their pate chaud and pineapple pastries were fabulous and that their bahn mi were very good too.
So, I guess that I would go back to any of the 3, depending on where I was at the time and what I wanted, specifically, if anything. I could see needing some of that sugar cane juice at Be Van, but I don't know if the bahn mi would bring me there from afar. It is probably where I would go to take someone who couldn't deal with the "authenticity" of Maxim's, but Maxim's would probably be my choice if my dining partner was a true chowhound. An Xuyen is a take-out only proposition, so if I didn't want to sit and eat and I was in SE, it would be my choice...but those pineapple things might make me stop there by themselves! ;o)
I'd like to try Cali Sanwiches at some point, though, and any other place anyone would like to recommend. Thanks to the PDX Food Group folks for another great eat-around!!
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