After years of reading on Chowhound about the relative greatness of the banh mi at the Tapioca Express in Gardena, and never getting around to trying it out, I finally dragged my mom with me over there today.
We went in with high hopes of having some great pho and banh mi. The first mistake was my own: I confused "Vietnamese vermicelli" with pho and thus was given a rude surprise when I saw that it had no broth but was basically a salad with noodles. I swear, I didn't see anything else resembling a noodle dish on the menu, though. Still, I should have known better; my mistake. But this review isn't about the vermicelli or pho anyway -- I came here to finally try what was supposed to be the best banh mi in the South Bay (I do realize that doesn't mean *that* much, but it does mean something).
Banh-wise, I ordered the house sandwich and the pork roll. I was asked if I wanted them with or without jalapeños, which I thought was weird because I wasn't used to having them in my banhs. So I took one with, one without. Didn't turn out to make much of a difference, because...
... the banh mis were really truly awful. Not just meh, not just "hmmm, I can take it or leave it" -- they were just short of disgusting. Neither sandwich had much meat in it, and in fact neither sandwich had much of anything inside it. The bread was not a baguette at all but, what do you call them, French rolls?, I'm not sure, but they're shaped like little, skinny footballs and so each sandwich was made from a whole roll, then cut in half. The bread was slightly stale, neither crispy nor soft but rather tough and chewy and starting to get hard. Totally flavorless, too. Clearly grocery-store bought.
The pork roll had meat that looked and tasted like the generic sliced Danish ham you can get in the packaged cold cuts section at Ralphs. There was a sprig of cilantro, no carrots, I can't even remember what veggies were in it because there was just so little of anything in the middle. The sauce was white and salty (let the jokes fly) but otherwise flavorless. The bread was overwhelming in its dryness and the fact that it comprised about 75% of the sandwich.
The house sandwich was maybe one degree better in that it included some other types of cold cuts that tasted like pastrami, and had some sort of sauce that was slightly tastier. Otherwise, it had the same nasty, dry mini-loaf bread that comprised about 75% of the sandwich.
I cannot even begin to express my disappointment with these banh mi. I felt so lame for talking this place up to my mom.
On a side note, even the bobas were barely drinkable because they were completely oversweetened -- my mom had a tapioca latte that tasted like sugar water with a hint of coffee, and my passion fruit boba was mostly syrup with ice and some water. I am totally *not* a hater on sweet things, but the tapioca drinks were way too sugary and totally unrefreshing.
What a waste of money and stomach space and saliva. Don't even bother to step inside this place.
1425 W Artesia Blvd Ste 19, Gardena, CA 90248