The bánh mì is a delicious byproduct of French colonialism in Vietnam (which officially lasted from 1887 to 1954). The French brought baguettes to help fuel sandwiches, which were filled with French meats like pâtés and eventually incorporated Vietnamese proteins and flavors.
The prototypical bánh mì incorporates a crusty baguette with protein, pickled carrot and daikon, sliced chile, cilantro and mayo. Of course, plenty of versions have departed from this vision, especially in L.A., which is far removed from the food traditions that permeate Little Saigon in Orange County. From old-school to new wave, here are the 10 best bánh mì sandwiches in L.A.
10. Coffee Commissary
This studio-friendly outpost of Tyler King’s burgeoning specialty coffeehouse empire is the only branch with an in-house bakery and kitchen. Chef Todd Merkel created an atypical bánh mì ($10) with thin, meaty pork belly that’s rubbed with brown sugar and spices, braised in mirin and soy, and seared to order on the griddle. Radishes, jalapeños, cucumbers and pickles combine to deliver a tart crunch. Cilantro and aioli round out the toasted ciabatta fillings. Bonus: Each bánh mì comes with house-made potato chips. 3121 W. Olive Ave., Burbank; (818) 556-6055, coffeecommissary.com.
9. Bánh Mì
Heidi Huynh opened this contemporary bánh mì shop in a Venice strip mall. The space features a counter fronted by fashionable black and white tiles, aqua walls, mismatched vintage wood tables and bench seating. The restaurant makes its bánh mì using soft baguettes baked daily. Huynh divides her menu by key ingredient, including Wake Mi (egg), Oink Mi (pork), Moo Mi (beef), Cluck Mi (chicken), Veg Mi (vegetables) and Go Fish Mi (fish). The latter ($13) is based on a dish made famous at Hanoi’s Cha Ca La Vong. In this case, flaky lingcod braised with turmeric and dill joins tangy yogurt, spring onion, garlic and crunchy bean sprouts, all drizzled in lemon juice. 307 Lincoln Blvd., Venice; (310) 429-1959, banhmivenice.com.
Leave it to Sang Yoon to get creative with his bánh mì. The chef, who developed a completely original burger at sister establishment Father's Office, took bánh mì in a new direction at his modern pan-Asian restaurant in Culver City's Helms Bakery complex. Lukshon's Lobster Roll Banh Mi ($16) features buttery toasted pain au lait (milk bread) lined with thin-shaved pig ear terrine, which cradles a mix of sweet cooked lobster meat, celery, onion, lemongrass and Kewpie mayonnaise. Yoon also plates his bánh mì with spicy green papaya slaw. 3239 Helms Ave., Culver City; (310) 202-6808, lukshon.com.
7. Mendocino Farms
The sandwich-focused chain founded by husband and wife Mario del Pero and Ellen Chen, along with former chef Judy Han, started in downtown's California Plaza and now has branches as far away as Costa Mesa. Its Kurobuta pork belly bánh mì ($10.45) has been a signature sandwich since day one. The untraditional but still impressive bánh mì features meaty chunks of braised and caramelized pork belly with house-made pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapeños and chile aioli on chewy ciabatta. 175 S. Fairfax Ave., Beverly Grove (and other locations); (323) 934-4261, mendocinofarms.com.
6. Kien Giang
This Echo Park institution, named for the city in Vietnam where owner Henry Wong's parents are from, has been in business since 1980. The bakery originally was located closer to Dodger Stadium; now it's just north of Sunset Boulevard. The space features marble counters and cases devoted to cakes, moon cakes and more. The Vietnamese Sandwich ($5) is a high-value gem with Vietnamese ham, regular ham, cucumbers, jalapeños, cilantro, tangy homemade pickles, seasoned mayonnaise and pâté on a soft, chewy house-baked baguette. 1471 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park; (213) 250-0159, kgbakery.com.
5. ASAP Phorage
This Phorage spinoff from chef Perry Cheung and his partners resides in back of Playa del Rey's Alka Water market. Order at a bolted stainless-steel counter and sit either at the single indoor picnic table or outside. Bánh mì sandwiches range from simple to experimental. For instance, the Jungle showcases surf-and-turf, with five-spice smoked brisket paired with tangy fish and shrimp ceviche. The Shaking Cheese Steak ($11) is a Vietnamese-Philly hybrid with pho-soaked brisket topped with pepperoncini and a blend of manchego, provolone, jack and Swiss cheeses. Each dripping sandwich comes with one of two house sauces, either smoky house-made Sriracha, which blends six chilies, or spicy green Serrano-jalapeño. 303 Culver Blvd., Playa Del Rey; (310) 823-0183, asap.phoragela.com.
4. East Borough
This downtown Culver City restaurant from chef Chloe Tran, partner John Vu Cao and American Gonzo Food Corp. is rooted in Vietnamese traditions but takes the menu in surprising directions. The Pho Baguette ($13) is a Vietnamese French dip that resembles what you'd find at the Pig & the Lady in Honolulu. In this case, beef brisket joins basil, onions, bean sprouts and hoisin-Sriracha aioli in a sturdy baguette. Each sandwich comes with shrimp chips and a sidecar of dark, murky pho crafted from roasted oxtail and brisket, charred onion and ginger, cinnamon, star anise and fish sauce, bobbing with bean sprouts. Dip your sandwich and repeat. If you prefer a spicier experience, add "straight fire," a squeeze bottle of house Sriracha with a lightning bolt–framed rooster logo. 9810 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 596-8266, east-borough.com.
The latest venture from Fran Camaj and chef-partner Travis Lett, who also own Gjelina and Gjelina Take Away, is on a Venice side street across from famed Gold's Gym. It's essentially a bakery and supercharged deli, and its bánh mì ($16) is available with either porchetta or rotisserie chicken. Clearly, the thin-shaved porchetta is the best play. The savory cold cut joins rich duck liver pâté, Sriracha-like house-fermented hot sauce, pickled daikon and carrot that bleed pickling liquid, and aioli and cilantro on crusty house-baked baguette. 320 Sunset Ave., Venice; (310) 314-0320, gjusta.com.
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2. Little Shop of Mary
This tiny Torrance bánh mì shop from Mary Chau Truong-Ngo features a yellow awning, black and white tile floors, blue benches, photos of Vietnam farmers and Parisian posters. Order at the counter from a tight menu of sandwiches ($7 each) that stars lemongrass chicken, sesame beef, classic cold cuts and a vegetarian option with soy protein. Still, the roasted pork bánh mì occupies the menu's top slot, for good reason. Juicy pulled pork, slick with jus, joins punchy garlic aioli, pickled red onion, roasted jalapeños and cilantro on a warm, soft baguette. 2205 Torrance Blvd., Torrance; (424) 558-8198, littleshopofmary.com.
1. Tip Top Sandwiches
This bánh mì destination started in Garden Grove back in 1988 and expanded to a former Rosemead car dealership in 2010. The sprawling San Gabriel Valley location with both indoor and sidewalk seating more or less matches the Little Saigon original. Order at the counter from an overhead menu that touts both "Euro" and "Asian" sandwiches ($2.95 to $4.25). By all means, side with Asia. Tip Top bakes torpedo-shaped baguettes in-house and fills the soft bread with ingredients such as barbecue pork, pâté, grilled beef meatballs, even pungent sardines. Is it wrong to eat a sardine bánh mì for breakfast? Not if you get it from Tip Top, which delivers unparalleled bánh mì quality for the price. 8522 Valley Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 280-8883.