Every weekend, I have a work-related obligation that requires me to drive from my home in Costa Mesa to Santa Monica for an early-to-mid morning meeting. By the time I finish my meeting and get back to central Orange County, it's nearly lunchtime, so I've taken to stopping at the Bahn Mi Che Cali outlet on Brookhurst to pick up a sandwich (or two or three) for lunch. After doing this a couple of times, my husband now automatically expects me to return from these meeetings with sandwiches in hand for him! Seesh!
So in order to avoid boredom, I've assigned myself a new project: to try every one of the sandwiches they offer. Here are my findings so far...
1. The "mixed" (aka ham, meatloaf, and headcheese) sandwich: The canonical bahn mi: I've had this so many times before I started my "project" that I'm afraid I've totally taken the flavor of the thing for granted; will have to try and and report back. But I do remember that I really enjoyed it.
2. Sardine: Not as weird or daunting as one might fear (no worries about little fish heads sticking out of the sides of your baguette or anything) Rather, the sardines are mashed/flaked and utterly boneless) and layered with the usual cucumber, cilantro, chile, and pickled veggie topping. The garnishes balance out the richness of the fish nicely--it's rather like a light,mayo-less tuna salad on steroids.
3. Veggie ham: This is what I always get for my now-vegan hubby, who used to be addicted to the "mixed" filling. (I'm *assuming* it's fully vegan, but if it's not, let that be our secret ;-) ) Whatever it is, it tastes like fluffy ground ham (slightly smoky and porky, kind of like the canned deviled ham my mom used to make our school sandwiches with), but with a softer texture, which I suspect is due to it's being a form of flavored, ground tofu. It's not bad--just rich, soft, and fattty enough to contrast nicely with the crispy bread and garnishes.
4. Beef. While waiting for my sandwiches today, I noticed that there are actually two beef sandwiches on offer: one called "BBQ beef" and one simply called "beef". The latter is the one I tried, and it's my favorite so far. I had no idea what to expect when I ordered the thing, and I was *really* pleasantly surprised: the "beef" consisted of a brace of fat little lemongrass-flavored grilled mini-hamburgers lashed with a sweet, hoisin (I think)-based sauce, plus the usual tangy bahn mi veggies. AWESOME! And a *lot* more filling than any of the other varieties I've tried so far, at exactly the same price. My only issue with this was that I enjoyed it so much, it made it hard to keep to my original pledge to order a different sandwich the next time I went by...
My only other minor issue with this sandwich was that since the mini-burgers are hot when the sandwich is assembled, this particular filling does not travel well: even on the short drive home (I live only 3 freeway exits away) the bread was ever so slightly soggy by the time I sat down to eat it.
5. Chicken. Another boring-sounding item that turned out to be quite flavorful. I feared it would involve bland slices of boiled/baked chicken, but instead, it consisted of generous quantities of finely shredded, moist dark-meat chicken that tasted slightly sweet and spiced (the flavorings reminded a bit of those use on cha siu, the Cantonese marinated barbequed pork.) . I'm pretty sure the chicken had been marinated before being cooked. Not my favorite, but still a pleasant surprise.
5 down, about 6 more to go...Yes, I know that there are *technically* about 22 sandwiches (each filling can be served up on either an individual-sized roll, or on a third of a full-size baguette) But I figure the choice of bread won't affect the flavor of the fillings all that much. And for the record, I prefer the "long" sandwiches (served on full-size baguette portions) to the "short" ones (served on individual-sized hoagie rolls): the baguette sandwiches, IMO, are crustier and have a nicer texture. (On the other hand, the individual-hoagie sandwiches can be had 3 for $3...)