What the hell is a bánh mì these days? The sandwich, derived from the Vietnamese term for bread, was once a cheap, quick, portable fix. Now, every upscale sandwich shop worth its weight in double-smoked bacon and housemade aioli is throwing cold cuts and chopped cilantro on a baguette and anointing it a bánh mì. Even the lexical arbiters jumped on the bandwagon when they added the term (sans accents) to the Oxford English Dictionary in March of this year. The Spice Table makes a highbrow bánh mì that's worthy of the name.

The burger (left) and catfish banh mi (right) at Spice Table; Credit: Guzzle & Nosh

The burger (left) and catfish banh mi (right) at Spice Table; Credit: Guzzle & Nosh

In the evening, Spice Table is all laksa and marrow bones, a Southeast Asian bistro that “seems to gather half the strands of contemporary cooking into a single, weathered-brick restaurant.” In the daytime, it's a casual lunch spot, where patrons tuck themselves into sunny patio tables after ordering at the counter: rice bowls of curry chicken or ground pork, a cheeseburger or, most likely, one of the four light, clean bánh mì on offer ($7-9).

The fried catfish sandwich with a hint of sweetness, a crust as crisp as it has to be and a potent though not overpowering piscine flavor, is a hit, but the cold cut bánh mì is the classic choice. Smeared with a mellow pâté and piled with thin, cool layers of housemade charcuterie (that word sounds better than head cheese, doesn't it?), it's wrapped in airy, chewy French bread. It's not the inexpensive but garden variety bánh mì you'll find throughout Orange County or the San Gabriel Valley, but for downtown L.A., it's an ideal lunch.


Elina Shatkin is a staff writer at LA Weekly. Follow her at @elinashatkin or contact her at eshatkin@laweekly.com.

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