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Restaurants & Bars 8

Banh Mi in Sonoma County

Melanie Wong | Nov 10, 201106:16 PM

A few years ago, this linked thread was on the hunt for banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) in Santa Rosa, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/450448 . I’ve since tried a few and thought I’d start a new topic.

January 14 – Stark's Steakhouse, Santa Rosa
An upmarket steakhouse might seem an unlikely spot for a Vietnamese style sandwich. But goes to show how mainstream these bites have become. Fill it with grilled tri-tip, and here’s a $2 banh mi as a happy hour nosh. As is typical once outside the boundaries of San Jose’s Little Saigon, the bread used is more substantial and chewy rather than light and delicate, as well as being too big a proportion of a bite. The tri-tip turned out rather tough and not easy to bite or chew. The garnish included a red and green cabbage slaw with some grated carrot and batons of daikon that lacked the sweetness of Vietnamese pickles. No cilantro, no jalapeños, no cucumber. Not a bad steak sandwich, however, it’s won’t scratch that banh mi itch.

February 18 – Noodle Bowl, Santa Rosa
A new Southeast Asian eatery, Cambodian-owned Noodle Bowl, opened with a bang on the local scene when BiteClubEats.com reported banh mi on the menu using Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery sweet French rolls. I’ve heard that Costeaux was supplying more than 100 rolls daily. I was in there soon after launch to try the Grilled pork Asian sandwich, $3 (now increased to $3.95). Tasty enough, but again, too much bread since none of the crumb was removed from the large roll. The grilled pork was low on char factor and too sweet from heavy application of hoisin sauce throwing the gestalt of the sandwich out of balance. Limp daikon and carrots were underseasoned and tired. Thinly shaved onions, cilantro, and jalapeño slices and a dab of pate filled out the sandwich.

February 28 - Lee's Noodle House, Santa Rosa.
Lee’s Noodle House (mentioned in the earlier discussion) has been perfecting its sandwich the longest, and the extra experience shows through in higher quality. When I ordered, I asked for some of the crumb to be pulled out. The cashier looked at me and said, “You no Vietnamese, where you from?” and I felt like I had the insider’s passcode to authenticity. The biggest in size utilizing hoagie rolls from G & G Supermarket's in-house bakery, the $4.50 Grilled pork sandwich (banh mi thit nuong), Lee’s banh mi comes the closest to taste found in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. Cooked-to-order marinated pork with the scent of the grill, tart/sweet pickled carrots and daikon for juicy crunch, fresh jalapeños, and cilantro were assembled with care, layered precisely over a flat base of scored and coin-sliced cucumbers in the hollowed out roll. Barely toasted, that first bite rewarded with warm crusty bread, the cool contrast of the vegetable garnishes, and the hot-from-the-grill tender pork for an added multi-temperature dimension. Each component spoke for itself, hitting all the flavor points that make us love Viet sandwiches so much.

July 7 – Malaysia Mei, Saturday farmers market, Santa Rosa
Last summer I loved the “Hot Cheese” grilled wonders Mei and partners served up at Windsor’s Thursday night market. This year, she went solo selling a range of sauces and the banh mi that I tried in Windsor. Per her website, Malaysia Mei is selling them at the farmers market at the Vets building on Saturday mornings. Here’s the menu board:

The Pulled pork ordered with peanut sauce instead of curry, $6.50, was the most I’ve paid for a banh mi. Expecting premium ingredients and flavors, I was not a happy camper to find watery cabbage filler inside that was not mentioned on the menu’s ingredients. Not a complimentary flavor, the peppery earthy cabbage clashed with the under-pickled carrots and daikon. Further, the tough and stale bread was too hard to bite through. The sandwich was not heated to freshen up the bread. I removed the top part of the roll and tried eating the sandwich open-face, but the tasty peanut sauce and signature mushroom pate could not salvage the mushy-textured pork. This concept sandwich failed to honor the textures or salty/spicy/sweet/sour elements of Southeast Asia. A waste of money.

Aroon Thai Market imports banh mi from Oakland Chinatown on Fridays. I asked the clerk if they were from Ba Le or Cam Huong but she was not sure. I haven’t tried one to see how they weather the travel.

What else have ‘hounds found in SoCo?

Costeaux French Bakery Cafe
417 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Lee's Noodle House
1010 Hopper Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Stark's Steakhouse
521 Adams Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

G & G Supermarket
1211 W College Ave, Santa Rosa, CA

Aroon Thai Market
2770 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Noodle Bowl
821 Russell Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Malaysia Mei
Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa, CA

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