Banh mi are more or less Vietnamese hoagies, meat and vegetables daubed with mayonnaise, crammed into a lightly toasted French roll and wrapped in a neatly folded sheet of butcher's tissue. The king of banh mi is the combination sandwich usual-
ly referred to as banh mi dac biet (house-special banh mi), which is little more than a French-style best-of-pig sandwich -- ham, headcheese, liver pâté, and sometimes a sort of sour ham, a fillet of fresh cucumber, pickled slivers of vegetables, sliced chiles and a handful of cilantro. Ba Le's banh mi come on French rolls that are a couple of degrees softer and wider than the rolls at other banh mi stores, the pickles are crunchy, and the meat is arranged so that you get a taste of everything in each bite -- a spectacular construction. 1426 S. Atlantic Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 308-3003. Also 18625 Sherman Way, Reseda; (818) 342-9380. Open daily 8 a.m.8 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $5 - $10. Cash only.
The Gumbo Pot's catfish po' boy is a dainty thing, really, belonging less to the maximum-crunch than the lightly fried school, so you actually taste the clean muddiness of the fish before you taste the oil in which it has fried. Like most of the sandwiches here, the catfish po' boy is served on an untoasted French roll and garnished with enough tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise to populate a small salad bowl, but it is also â layered with wafer-thin lemon slices -- rind and all -- which add a certain bitter piquancy to the sandwich that is not entirely unpleasant: as ladylike a fried-catfish chew as you are likely to encounter. The fried-oyster po' boys aren't what you get at 5C's down on 54th Street, but they're fine; the cold blackened chicken po' boys are gritty with spice; blackened catfish po' boys -- fillets coated with spices and cooked over great heat in a skillet -- aren't as good as the fried-cat po' boys, but will do in a pinch. In the Farmers Market, Third Street at Fairfax Avenue; (323) 933-0358. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Lunch for two, food only, $9 - $15. No alcohol, technically speaking (beer and wine are sold a few yards away in the market). Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
The Jolly Jug has Miller on tap, creditable patty melts, and any number of sandwiches with thinly shaved roast beef and gobs of melted cheese. The Spencer-steak sandwich is the sort of thing you might find at an American-style restaurant in someplace like Spain: griddled slices of meat, a little rarer -- and tastier -- than you think they would be, tucked into a roll with sweet mayonnaise. Jolly Jug's "Most Honored Sandwich" is a hi-cal version of the French-dip sandwiches served at old-line L.A. places like Philippe's (below): a crisp, light French roll sliced in two, dipped in gravy, and stuffed with thinly sliced beef, pork or pastrami. 4264 N. Peck Road, El Monte; (626) 444-8425. Open Sun. - Thurs. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. - Sat. till mid. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9 - $14. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
Philippe the Original
Everybody who has lived in Los Angeles more than a year has heard how it was Philippe himself who invented the French-dip sandwich -- 80 years ago, when he accidentally dropped a sandwich into some gravy. The place is so much a part of old Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn't really a part of Los Angeles, as if it belongs to a city much older and much more attached to its distant past. The lamb sandwich is wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat, while all around the restaurant you can see nostrils flare as people hit a little depth charge of Philippe's hot mustard in their sandwiches. Philippe's is a fine place, too, for lunch, dinner or breakfast: crisp doughnuts, decent cinnamon rolls, and coffee for 10 cents a cup. 1001 N. Alameda St.; (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m. - 10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7 - $12. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
The Armenian cured beef called basturma may be the most powerfully flavored cold cut in the world, less a foodstuff than a force of nature, with a bit of the chewy translucence of first-rate Italian prosciutto, a ripe, almost gamy back taste, and then -- pow! -- the onslaught of the seasoning, a caustic, bright-red slurry of hot pepper, fenugreek and a truly heroic amount of garlic that hits the palate with all the subtle elegance of a detonated land mine. Said meat may be consumed in pita, alone or slicked with olive oil like carpaccio, but the best way here is layered on freshly toasted French bread, garnished with tomatoes and pickle wedges. Sahag makes other kinds of sandwiches, too, including the grilled Lebanese link sausage ma'ane, strongly flavored with spices and pine nuts, and sujuk, a rich, coarse-ground Armenian dried sausage, ruddy with red peppers and pungent with the exotic sourness of Middle Eastern herbs. 5183 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 661-5311. Open Mon. - Sat. 8 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun. till 4 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, around $6. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
Sandwich by Connal
At Connal's, you'll basically find everything you can deep-fry, whir together with a Mixmaster or slap between two slices of bread. Mostly, though, Connal's does grinders, the nearly forgotten West Coast equivalent (perhaps by way of New England) of the submarine sandwich, with wads of rare roast beef, pastrami or sliced turkey packed into a chewy 7-inch roll with lettuce, ripe tomato and a powerful Italian vinaigrette. A Connal's grinder is a carefully constructed thing, assembled with architectonic precision and tightly burrito-wrapped in several sheets of sandwich paper. You can eat even a drippy avocado grinder in your car without dripping green stuff on your lap. 1505 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 794-5018. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $14 - $20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.