Saigon Deli Sandwich & Taco Valparaiso has been written up in the local and national media, but I don't see any posts about it here.
A visiting friend had seen the East Bay Express article (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland...) and wanted to check it out, so we headed over there for lunch.
This is the most chowhoundy place I've been to in a long time, not so much the food (although it is very good) but the passion that goes into it. My friend and I ordered and sat down. A few minutes later Dieu set a couple of small plates containing an al pastor taco in front of us. I hadn't ordered a taco at all, and my friend had ordered a fish taco, so I took them back to the counter saying it wasn't our order. Oh, yes, they're just samples, we want you to try our tacos. Alrighty, then. Who am I to turn down a free taco?! Especially when it comes with grilled onions and a grilled jalapeno. It was a good but not great version of al pastor, but the quality of the tortilla and the accompaniments really elevated it.
Pretty soon Tony brought out our actual orders. Mine was the now-famous al-pastor banh mi. It really is a good synergy, with the cool pickled veggies and the warm, spicy meat. For my tastes the roll could have been hollowed out a bit more, but then, I'm not a fan of chomping down on a big sandwich. My friend really liked her fish taco, which was a solid piece of fish fillet, lightly battered and fried crisp.
Meanwhile, customers are coming in and out, all warmly greeted (Tony had greeted me with "I haven't seen you in a long time" to which I replied I'd never been there before, so I guess that counted as a long time!). Tony finds out that my friend has come all the way from Pennsylvania and tells us about other customers who have come from far outside the Bay Area (after seeing the mention in the NYTimes 36 hours in Oakland piece).The he tells us he's from Zacatecas and says if we ever go there, we have a place to stay.
The he starts telling us about how this partnership came to be, that he'd initially considered partnering with a friend who had a Korean restaurant, but thought the fast-casual styles of the Vietnamese sandwich-rice plates cafe was a better match with taqueria fare. And I quip "and you got the girl" -- he grins and says "she got me!"
He insists that we should come back for dinner and he'll cook for us. Sadly, we cannot squeeze in another visit. As we are leaving, he presses a card into my hand and says that should I come back and bring my friends and he will make food for us -- not to pay, just to have us try it. At that very moment, I realize I have met a man who truly embodies Jim Leff's ideal of a chowhound.
Saigon Deli Sandwich & Taco Valparaiso
1400 14th Ave., Oakland
Hours: Thu.–Tue. 8:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m.