I've been wanting to check out the Vietnamese places that have sprung up in what is now called the Eastlake Business District (East 12th and International/aka East 14th, east of Lake Merritt). Freshly motivated by the hope of finding new sources for bahn mi, I checked out the blocks between 6th and 8th on East 12th and International.
East 12th was a bust, but in a fascinating way: when I walked into the two cafes and one pho restaurant in the block across from the park, I found no food, no menus, no female patrons, and much cigarette smoke. It appears all three of these establishments are gambling parlors (keno and tv screens showing sports, play slips on every table, unidentifiable board games). Somehow, these places felt very exotic -- like a whole world where I had no place.
The happening block for actual food establishments is the block of International between 7th and 8th: a couple of restaurants, two deli/sandwich places, and a couple of markets, including one small supermarket with full-service butcher and fish counters (lots of live fish, shellfish, etc.), that were clean and appealing.
I got my bahn mi at Cam Huong (a branch of the ones in Oakland Chinatown?) -- the veggies included julienned daikon and a slice of cucumber in addition to the carrots, cilantro and jalapeno. Not quite up to Saigon Sandwich quality, but still a tasty and a bargain at $2.00 for the roast pork. I also bought a vegetarian one, which included a tofu mixture ($1.75). I brought it by my vegetarian sister's house where she and her hubby happily scarfed it down and wanted to know where I got it -- just call me a bahn mi pusher!
The restaurants both looked good, and if you can judge authenticity by the clientele, I can say I don't remember seeing another Anglo anywhere in the neighborhood (on a sunny Saturday afternoon).
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