Bahn Mi Road Trip
Every year my girlfriends Gwen and Valerie and I run the concessions table for the Silverlake Children's Theater performances and we go out of our way to find something unusual and delicious. This year we settled on Bahn Mi, and yesterday, at great personal sacrifice, we headed to the San Gabriel Valley to do some sampling. Thanks so much Chowhounders for your inspirational posts which informed this expedition. I'd like to especially thank Professor Salt for his eloquent Bahn Mi rhapsodies and Robert Lu for a wealth of practical information. I will note that we tried, for the most part, only chicken, beef and vegetarian sandwiches as this is what we'll need for our event. Sorry to all you pork and pate lovers but you'll have to do your own crawl.
301 North Garfield
Closed! Posted hours said they opened at 11:00 a.m. but at 2:00 p.m. Sunday they were sealed up tight. I guess they're closed on Sundays.
Open 7 days 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Big old factory of a place. Very friendly. Fast and efficient. And their sesame bread was the best bread we had all day. The fillings we're rather skimpy and the vegetable garnishes, although nicely marinated, were served separate of the sandwich in a small plastic bag. I liked the vegetarian ham but I sort of like fake meat. The other girls HATED it. The chicken was excellent and the beef was pretty good. Valerie had never had Bahn Mi and I think Gwen had only had a mediocre one I brought her once. Except for the vegetarian sandwich, here at our first stop, Gwen and Val were eating like they were going to the chair. I had to admonish them to remember our scientific objectives.
Vegetarian Ham $2.00
You get a free baguette if you spend over $10.00.
400 E. Valley
Open 7 a.m. 8 p.m. 7 days
The bread here wasn't as great as Mr. Baguette but the ample fillings made up for it. The beef was deliciously marinated. The chicken was a tiny bit dry but still flavorful. Again, I liked the fake meat but the other girls weren't too excited. Of all the places we went, this would be the one I'd choose if I were going to eat AT the restaurant, rather than carry out. It's a cute room, very comfortable and the people were super friendly and accommodating. Again, I tried to get Val and Gwen to moderate their intake, to no avail.
8" Chicken $1.50 Vegetarian $1.50 Beef $2.00
12" Chicken $2.25 Vegetarian $2.25 Beef $2.75
We stopped for a breather at the big Hong Kong Plaza on Valley. The 99 Ranch Market there is amazing and they were giving tons of free samples. We couldn't buy any perishables or we would have done some serious damage but I was thrilled that they have a great assortment of thinly sliced bread that's great for tea sandwiches. I also bought some scallion pancakes and a scallion bread like the one they serve at Tung Lai Shun. I also noticed some gorgeous shiitake mushrooms which were a buck for double the quantity I'd spent 8 bucks on that morning at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. On the way out, a girl was selling fantastic freshly roasted chestnuts. Wonderful!
We hit the candy shop too (Aji Ichiban) and sampled the dried plums and such and I bought these gelatinous coconut cookies which I thought were delightful but Valerie spit out. More for me.
1426 S. Atlantic
Open 7 days 7:30 a.m. --8:00 p.m.
Ba Le was my heavy favorite going into this competition and although Gwen felt they were a teensy bit heavy handed with the mayo, I still feel that over all, Ba Le is the best, although it is strictly a carry out operation and far more humble than the other places we visited. The bread, while not as fantastic as Mr. Baguette, but had the right combo of soft on the inside w/ crunchy crust. The girls liked this vegetarian sandwich the best of all we tried that day because it contained only vegetables, no fake meat. The vegetable garnishes are perfectly marinated. The chicken and beef were both tasty and the sandwiches are filled generously. We were sitting outside dividing our sandwiches and we started conversing with some young Vietnamese hipsters. They were amused by our project but when I mentioned that we were heading next to Lee's they admonished us to avoid it and quit while we were ahead (at Ba Le).
8" Beef & Pork $2.00
5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. 7 days
Kids would like Lee's because it's all hi-tech and futuristic. The bread was spongy and sort of like a subway sandwich. The vegetarian sandwich was weird and we all agreed icky with some sort of strange crunchy flakes. They had no beef sandwich. The chicken was dry and the girls said the pork was just "o.k." They have a selection of products like pates and french butter for sale which looked interesting but the sandwiches were the least inspired we had all day. The kid at Ba Le was right on the money.
8" chicken $1.50
8" pork $1.75
8" vegetarian $1.50
At this point Valerie was rummaging for Tums and Gwen and I were, well, sated. Our cellphones began ringing with our hungry children inquiring about their evening repast. The easy thing would have been to just pick up a few sandwiches at Lee's, being right there at the time and all, BUT, because we LOVE our families we turned ourselves around and headed back to BA LE to pick up items to take home. Valerie stayed in the car whimpering but Gwen and I each bought four sandwiches, one of which Gwen admitted she ate in the middle of the night. The other three were enormously enjoyed by her grateful family. I bought four sandwiches for my husband and 2 boys and they fought bitterly over them. I was sandwiched out but I did polish off most of the free baguette I'd received from Mr. Baguette and about half a pound of chestnuts. I also bought at Ba Le, as a treat for the kids, this pretty three layer jello stuff in little cups which they wrap up with tiny cups of coconut milk. In that the top green layer was composed of a bright green wormy noodles, the middle layer was red beans and the bottom a very rich coconut milk, this was not a big hit with the sprats, but it sure was cool to look at.
Now, if we could find a place that has bread like Mr. Baguette and filling like Ba Le or Baguette Express...