A Vietnamese-style breakfast really is not so different than one you would find at, say, Denny's: scrambled or sunny-side up eggs, meat (usually cha lua or other Vietnamese sausage), and bread (ideally, a hot, buttered bánh mì). Turn the above ingredients into a breakfast sandwich perfect for the American to-go culture, and you have bánh mì op la: all the traditional ingredients of the classic Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich (jalapeño, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, cucumber), with an egg instead of, or on top of, the meat.
For this edition of Food Fight, we pit the bánh mì op la sandwiches from Bánh Mì & Chè Cali and Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho against each other. Mere blocks apart in Alhambra, what separates them is not so much the geography as much as the incredible, edible egg.
Banh Mi & Chè Cali is a fairly well-known banh mi shop (that is, to everyone but The New York Times), and is rightfully famous for a few things: wonderful sandwiches, its buy-two-get-one-free special, its long lines.
The bánh mì op la at Bánh Mì & Chè Cali comes on a French roll, though if you like your bánh mì bread less dense, ask for the baguette instead. Inside the sandwich, you'll find a few thin slices of cha lua, the veggies, and slightly runny, scrambled eggs. Indeed, these undercooked eggs add a subtle depth to an otherwise exceedingly simple sandwich. The thick bread serves as a perfect sponge so you can munch drip-free as you crawl your way through town.
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On the other side of the street and a few blocks down, Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho is decidedly less converted-Taco-Bell and more hole-in-the-wall than Bánh Mì & Chè Cali, but don't let that put you off: it's a worthy David to Bánh Mì & Chè Cali's Goliath. The ammo in Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho's slingshot is its baguette: made in-house, the aroma of its freshly baked bread permeates the tiny space the second you walk in. In fact, on any other Food Fight day, its bánh mì đặc biệt (essentially, the bánh mì version of the Godmother) would give Bánh Mì & Chè Cali's version a run for its money based just on its perfectly crispy, fluffy bread.
Today, however, the chicken crossed road in search of eggs, and so the bánh mì op la was ordered. The egg here too is scrambled but, unlike Bánh Mì & Chè Cali, is fully cooked. The basic bánh mì op la does not come with meat, so order accordingly. Try it with cha lua, thit nuong (for those who don't mind BBQ pork in the morning), or ga (chicken, if you'd like to recreate the circle of life).
Meat or no meat, Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho's bánh mì op la is a solid morning sandwich. Nonetheless, Bánh Mì & Chè Cali's medium-cooked eggs yoke the sandwich fillings together in a way that sets it uniquely apart from Bánh Mì My Tho's version, and so barely, just barely, ekes out a win. Our guess, though, is that the kind folks at Bánh Mì My Tho will ever so slightly undercook that egg if you ask nicely.
Given how close this food fight was, though, you really can't lose if you end up at either bánh mì shop. In fact, the only way you lose is if you end up at Denny's.