Back in 2000, I visited a friend of mine in San Francisco. Well, Oakland, but close enough. As part of the 50 cent tour, we decided to go see the redwoods in Muir Woods north of the Golden Gate Bridge. On our way through Oakland's Chinatown, my friend stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant and grabbed us some sandwiches. This was my first time trying banh mi, but I was hooked. I've been looking for a good place to get them here in Phoenix. When I first moved here, I used to go to Avina's Restaurant at 43rd Ave and Bell. The problem is, for some odd reason, they only had banh mi on Wednesdays. There were other things on the menu that I liked, so I'd go back for lunch. The owner took a vacation to Vietnam, and after they came back, they started using frozen vegetables and that pretty much killed it for me. My girlfriend went there with one of her friends and she ordered something different that scared her, and after that, she wouldn't go back. I found some other places that I liked better and Avina's faded from my rotation.
A couple months back, I decided to try them again. I didn't recognize anyone working there, which struck me as odd, since it was usually Avina and her grandmother. Afterwards, I found that they'd sold that location (despite the sign out front still saying Avina's to this day) and moved into the old Pho Pat location at 49th Ave and Thunderbird.
Today I was in the mood for either banh mi or maybe Thai. Since Chanpen is just down the road from Pho Avina, I decided to decide on my way. Pho Avina was closer, so I went there. The new place is worlds above the old location. Nice dark wood tables and newly done walls. I got there around 1pm and there was only one person eating. There are maybe 12 or so tables. I walked up to the counter as everyone was in the back and waited. Much to my joy, they now apparently specialize in serving banh mi at lunch. They had a huge poster behind the counter with the various sandwiches and pictures. They ONLY serve them M-F, 11am-3pm. Avina came out of the kitchen, so I knew it was the right place. I sat at a table and perused the menu. They have a very extensive menu of Vietnamese food, but I wanted banh mi. I decided to get the grilled pork one ($3.50), along with an order of spring rolls ($3.00) and an order of egg rolls ($2.00). I stuck with water for a drink.
The spring rolls came out in a few minutes. They were freshly rolled, with lots of shrimp and pork. They came with a homemade peanut sauce. They were very good. I finished them and tried to ignore what appeared to be a Vietnamese version of American Idol by installing BlackBerry Maps on my Blackberry.
After 10 or 15 minutes, my sandwich arrived. I thought this odd, since they usually bring out the egg rolls right after the spring rolls. I figured they forgot them. It happens. The sandwich was great. It was a good-sized crusty French bread roll, with lots of pork, a mayonaisey sauce, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro sprigs, and three slices of jalapeno on top. If you haven't had banh mi, you need to track down a place that makes them well and try one. So many different flavors and textures. For $3.50, you can't go wrong.
After scarfing down the sandwich, I waited a few more minutes. Two other people were eating, so the kitchen wasn't too busy. I gave up on the egg rolls, and went to pay. The older lady who owns it said that my rolls were on the way and said something about the fryer. I paid and my rolls came right out. They were good, but I prefer more meat in mine. But for $2.00 a pair, they are still a good deal. I love the ones at Noodles Ranch, but they are also $5.00 for three. For a cheap lunch, I made out well. With tax, it came to $9.18. I liked the sandwich much better than the ones at Da Vang. Other than the pacing, it was a great meal.
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