Rather than make this but one man's quest for banh mi excellence, I thought it'd be fun and more effective to include you, dear reader, to join the 2004 Westminster banh mi crawl. The power of this site, after all, lies in the community rather than the individual.
Today, SandraW, Russkar, and I perambulated amid the bakeries and restaurants of Little Saigon with a brief cameo by guest star Dorothy. I invite you to play along at home and post your feedback as this crawl expands. Maybe it'll be like the old Akroyd / Curtin skit on SNL, Point / Counterpoint: "Professor Salt, you ignorant slut..."
Some of the places in Westminster cater to a Vietnamese clientele, which you'd think a good thing, until you try to order off an untranslated menu from staff that may not speak English well. For other non-Vietnamese speakers, I include this translation. There are far more varieties, but these are common fillings you'll find everywhere. Banh mi translates as "bread with..." and is the generic term for sandwich, so banh mi thit is a pork sandwich.
Thit - pork
Ga - chicken
Xiu Mai - meatball
Thit Nuong - BBQ pork
Bi - shredded pork
Cha - pork roll (a sliced cold cut, from pressed & formed white meat)
Ca Moi - sardine
Pate - pate
Dac Biet - special combo (usually a mix of cold cuts, roast pork, occasionally headcheese)
Opened in the past couple of weeks, Top Baguette may be the young Cassius Clay of banh mi. Stop by to marvel at a potential heavyweight champion in the making before the lines get ridiculously long. Naming a shop Top Baguette might sound boastful, but it's not arrogant because they back it up. Excellent baguette; so far the best I've found in Little Saigon. Beautiful baguettes that approach the ideal I described in the last installment. Great fillings, too. A man named Long runs the joint and graciously guided us to order Xiu Mai (meatball), and Ga (chicken). I took home a Heo Nuong (BBQ pork) and Dac Biet (combination), and all were top notch. The unique BBQ pork, ruddy and well flavored, tastes almost like a moist pork jerky. The meatball, well flavored, comes in a mildly sweet sauce that didn't overpower the sandwich. The chicken, moist & flavorful, generously fills the baguette and needed no mayo or sauce. Lesser places tend to slather mayo to cover up their lame fillings. No need for that here.
We crossed the street to Hoa Bin, which buys baguettes elsewhere and stores them in plastic bags. Beware of shops that don't bake their own baguettes. While it's possible to reheat a baguette and make a good sandwich, I'm not going to buy from a shop (another is Tai Co on Harbor Blvd) that stores bread in plastic bags and destroys the baguette's crisp crust. Hoa Bin's fillings were pretty weak and swimming in mayo. Won't be going back here any time soon.
After one visit at each, Top Baguette and Tai Buu, its neighbor across the street, stand toe to toe in the heavyweight championship bout. I plan on going back for a full 15 rounds and sample the depth of their menus.
In the meantime, here is the list of places I've visited thus far. I'll post detailed reviews after I've given each shop a few more tries. There are probably half a dozen other shops I know about which I haven't been to yet, and even more I'm not aware of. If you have a favorite, please tell us about it!
9062 Bolsa Ave (south side of street)
Tai Buu Paris Bakery
9039 Bolsa Ave #101-102 (NE corner of Magnolia)
Banh Mi Cho Cu
14520 Magnolia St # B (SE corner of Hazard)
14570 Brookhurst Street (SE corner of Hazard)
10161 Bolsa Ave Suite 109B (East of Brookhurst)
10872 Forbes Ave Suite B2 (off of Euclid south of Westminster Blvd)
13991 Brookhurst Street (NW corner of Westminster Blvd)
Only this location is open 24/7
9261 Bolsa Ave (NW corner of Moran)
9200 Bolsa Ave #305 (Asian Garden Mall)
UC Irvine location opening later 2004
Really, truly, strongly NOT recommended:
9081 Bolsa Ave #104 (north side of street)
Banh Mi Ba Le
9152 Bolsa Ave (south side of street)
Tai Co Food to Go
150 S. Harbor Boulevard (SE corner of 1st St
Tai Co just opened December 2003, maybe I shouldn't rush to judgment, but
Banh Mi & Che Cali
8948 Bolsa Ave (SE corner of Magnolia?)
149-ish Harbor Blvd (SW corner of 1st behind Tacos Mexico)
9433 Bolsa Avenue
PS - Must be banh mi season or something. Jonathon Gold wrote a review of Lee's Sandwiches & Rosemead's Mr. Baguette in today's LA Weekly.
OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano reviewed Banh Mi Cho Cu a few weeks ago: