Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches

Lizzy Caston

banh mi 1

Location: SW 4th near College St. (Portland State University area)

Description: I love Banh Mi, those distinctive Vietnamese sandwiches that cause people all over to swoon. In Florida I’ve heard they are often called, the “Saigon Sub”, while in New Orleans they are known as the “Vietnamese Po-Boy.” As poetic love letters to this humble sandwich, there exist essays*, articles and even websites in homage to what has to be one of Vietnam’s great French/Asian hybrid exports.

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Portlanders also love the Banh Mi, and our city has several different Banh Mi shops, from the hidden hole-in-the-walls, to the elaborate fast food style California Banh Mi chains. Yet  until this colorful little cart popped up a couple of months ago at the PSU “cart row” on SW 4th, there were oddly few Banh Mi specialty shops to be found anywhere in downtown Portland.

Glad someone finally figured out there is a demand for them downtown, because Banh Mi makes for the perfect office workers lunch; cheap, quick, easy to transport, and substantial enough to be filling, but never overly heavy like a “foot long” from that certain sub-sandwich chain that shall not be named.

The no-nonsense named Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches cart does the Bahn Mi right. No stale, refrigerated and shrink wrapped versions here; these are freshly baked french bread rolls, slightly crackly on the outside and soft within. Made to order sandwiches come stuffed with one of eight choices of fillings such as traditional “pic-nic” pork pate and other Vietnamese “deli” meats, grilled chicken, or an occasional Vietnamese meatball special. However, the Banh Mi here are not as generously “stuffed” as others I’ve encountered and sometimes seem a bit toned down for American palates; some are missing some of the funky, fish sauce taste or lemongrass and other aromatic herbs found in many other Banh Mi. Still, these are still all very good and tasty sandwiches indeed.

banh mi 3

A bargain at $3.50, all come dressed with the traditional condiments of mayo, shredded and pickled carrots and daikon radish, sliced cucumbers, cilantro, and jalapeño peppers. Vietnamese Cafe Sua Da – iced coffee with condensed milk, a choice of three rice and meat plates, and a few other drinks round out the simple menu.

(End Note* My favorite essay on the Banh Mi is by one of my favorite food writers, John Thorne. It isn’t available online, but is available in his outstanding book, Pot on the Fire. If you want to know what makes Cuisine Bonne Femme tick, buy this book and read it.)

Menu:

(Their words, not mine)

1. Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi Thit – bacon and pork roll)

2. Beef Sandwich (Banh Mi Thit Bo – Teriyaki Beef)

3. Chicken Sandwich (Banh Mi Thit Ga – Teriyaki Chicken)

4. BBQ Pork Sandwich (Banh Mi Xa Xiu)

5. Vegetarian Sandwich (Banh Mi Chay – with tofu)

6. Pork Roll Sandwich (Banh Mi Cha Lua)

7. Grilled Pork Sandwich (Banh Mi Thit Nuang)

8. Shredded Pork Sandwich (Banh Mi Bi)

Rice Plates – $5.0o – Grilled Chicken, Grilled Pork, or BBQ Pork

Cafe Sua Da – Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk – (I forgot to write down the price)

Other Beverages such as green or black iced teas, or juices $1.00 – 1.25

Hours: Lunchtime Mon-Fri

Phone: 503-927-0896

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Comments

  1. Awesome! That’s funny timing that you were just reviewing this place. Banh mi is perfect cart food – I like it as it’s one of the few foods you can eat while you walk. Sometimes I’m in a hurry (or starving or there’s bad weather) and many dishes require sitting down to eat properly. I think I’ve seen banh mi at a cart in the 5th/Stark pod as a side item, but never a cart focused on them.

    Plus one of the reasons I started eating at the carts was the goal of eating lunch for around $5. Many carts are now inching up to the $6.50-8 range. I understand food costs, rents, etc have risen, but still, cart food should be somewhat cheap. So $3.50 for a great sandwich leaves me some extra $ for chips!

  2. I have gotten the #1 Vietnamese Sandwich (Banh Mi Thit – bacon and pork roll) several times, and love it. It is a great deal — a single sandwich for $3.50 is a great light lunch, and is especially great because it can be eaten while walking back to the office, making for a quick lunch on the run. If you are real hungry, you can get 2 for $6, although you might save a few bucks, eat healthier, and give the second one to a friend or co-worker. It has just a tiny bit of spiciness, but is definitely not hot. Give it a shot – you won’t be dissapointed!

  3. The baguette at Vietnamese Banh Mi is just fabulous. Beautifully crusty, light as air inside, delicious. I have only had two of their banh mi, the the Vietnamese, and the pork meatball, both were delicious.

  4. Actually, I’d be happy just to get a whole baguette and slather it with gorgeous fresh butter.

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