There are some aches in a chowhound's heart that can only be filled by cheap Vietnamese sandwiches and gloppy coconut pudding. Today, after having vied with the crowds of community-college art students at the Natural History Museum, my wife looked at me with puppy-dog eyes and said, "Banh mi..."
Off we went to Rosemead (what can I say, it's closer than Westminster) to Banh Mi & Che Cali, right next door to 888 Seafood on Valley, between Delta and Walnut Grove.
It's a much more orderly and spacious place than the branch on Bolsa and Magnolia. There is actually a line that people pay attention to (as opposed to Westminster, where the largest and pushiest people get served quickest, which works to my advantage), and there are several tables at which one can sit.
Banh mi, if you don't know, are Vietnamese sandwiches. You either get them on a thin baguette (banh mi) or a crusty French roll (banh mi nho), and they contain the meat of your choice, pickled carrots and radish, cilantro, garlic mayonnaise, and slices of jalapeño. Meat choices include things like thit nuong (grilled pork), xa xiu (barbequed pork), xiu mai (pork meatball), nem nuong (pork meatloaf), ga (chicken) or chay (vegetarian ham, which is texturised vegetable protein).
Banh mi cost $1.50 each; banh mi nho, which I think taste better, cost $1.75 each but are 3 for $3.50.
You can also get freshly made goi cuon (summer rolls -- pork, shrimp, noodles and herbs wrapped inside rice paper, not fried and meant to be dipped in peanut sauce), various kinds of baked goods including pandan leaf bread which, despite being a revolting shade of green, is extremely delicious, banh bun (what the Chinese call baozi) and two dozen kinds of che, or pudding. (My favourite is che chuoi, which is banana, tapioca and coconut pudding.)
Che is $1.50 per serving.
The pace is frenetic -- you have never seen so many people come into a sandwich shop in your life -- but well worth it. My wife and I stuffed ourselves senseless on three banh mi nho, a serving of che chuoi (enough for two) and a coconut juice each, for $7 all told.
Banh Mi & Che Cali
8450 Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770