SO was having a serious banh mi craving yesterday and I was intrigued by the many CH recommendations of Mr. Baguette - so we headed out to beautiful Rosemead. We were pleased to see an entirely Vietnamese clientele - always a good sign at an ethnic restaurant. The blow-up of the LA Times rave review on the wall was reassuring too. We moseyed right in and ordered one chicken and one grilled beef sandwich. So far so good. Then we got our sandwiches, and the confusion began. Where was the cilantro? Where were the hot peppers? Where were the pickled vegetables? Nowehere to be found. Both sandwiches had iceberg lettuce and tomatoes on them. They seemed to both have - could this be - mayonnaise? And the chicken sandwich had...cue the Jaws theme music...American cheese. Yes, you heard me correct - American cheese. As in Kraft singles.
Well, we said, perhaps this is a different kind of banh mi. Mayonnaise, after all, is a French invention, as are baguettes - perhaps this is not as incongruous as it seems. We started eating - and ate our way politely through one and a half sandwiches. We were trying to stay positive - but at the end of our meal, SO looked at me plaintively and said in a small voice, "Can we go to Lee's now?" One of the many Lee's outposts, it turns out, is just up the block from Mr. Baguette. So off we went, and SO got the banh mi he wanted, fresh and delicious, complete with cilantro, peppers, and pickled vegetables. Happiness was restored.
Now, I'm the first to make the disclaimer - I'm not Vietnamese, I've never been to Vietnam, and I had my first banh mi only a couple years ago. So I'm no expert. But I do know food, and objectively, Lee's banh mi is just better food - fresher, tastier, more unique, more satisfying. And - though again, I can't claim to be an expert - I have to believe that it is more authentic as well (American cheese - WTF?!). And, to top it all off, Lee's sandwiches cost half as much! So I won't be going back to Mr. Baguette - and I will continue to go to Lee's whenever possible!