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Restaurants & Bars 4

Banh Mi in San Rafael

Melanie Wong | Apr 12, 200110:42 PM

A couple months ago while circling for parking to dash into Taqueria San Jose, I spotted this little cafe's signage, "Fresh Coffee and French Sandwiches". Those were code words to me for a potential banh mi stop. I was delighted to discover that was indeed the case. Since then I've had the chance to try three of the five types of sandwiches offered, breakfast pastries and iced Vietnamese coffee here.

My favorite of the sandwiches is the "combo of ham" at $2.50 which has boiled ham, steamed pork roll (that curiously rubbery coldcut), cerise-colored head cheese, and livery pate. The siu mai (ground pork ball) at $2.25 is lighter and not quite enough for lunch. The bbq pork one is also good. All the sandwiches are made on crisp french rolls (lightly toasted), spread with mayonnaise and seasoned sauce, then garnished with fresh cilantro, sweet/sour marinated carrots and daikon and chopped jalapeno peppers. If you don't want it quite so spicy, they'll just dab on a little of the pepper juice. The other sandwiches offered are bbq chicken breast at $3.25 and vegetarian for $2.75.

Of the breakfast pastries, the cheese Danish is the best. No, it's not Nablom's but still very good. The raisin snail is okay. The croissant and the strudel sticks are to be avoided.

In the morning, filter coffees are dripping away in stages so you don't need to wait long for your order to be ready. Finding this place has been a godsend for those high mileage days when I need to eat breakfast in the car and pick up lunch to eat at my desk.

How does this compare to the queen of banh mi in San Francisco, Saigon Sandwiches? Well, the bread isn't as good. It's not as crackly crisp or airy. But what I do like better here are the jalapenos are thinly sliced and then chopped which spreads them around more uniformly to be enjoyed with every bite. These sandwiches don't have as much carrot/daikon. They will hold up the 3 hours or so until lunch time, whereas the ones I've bought from Saigon Sandwiches in the morning are soaked through and soggy by noon. Plus, this place is Marin squeaky clean and the proprietor speaks very good English for those who are leery of venturing into the Tenderloin for banh mi.

The official name of the business is Bahn Mi Thit Nguoi but just look for the sign at the strip mall that says French Sandwiches. Right off the 101 freeway exit, the address is 969 Grand Ave., San Rafael, tel. 415 258 1688.

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