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The Global Diner: Banh Mi
A cultural phenomenon by way of O.C.
Banh mi has long been one of Little Saigon’s most important culinary treasures. Thanks to the neighborhood, it has become a cultural phenomenon in Southern California. You can find this Vietnamese sandwich almost everywhere now, but here are three of our favorites.
Top Baguette is a marvel of efficiency, a neat, modern little restaurant where placing an order is a pleasure, not a scrum. Its lemongrass beef banh mi is so good that you’ll find yourself impulsively singing its praises to anyone who’ll listen. It’s all about the beef: thin, tender slices marinated and caramelized into a blissful, citrus-scented teriyaki. It’s the perfect complement to the bracing bite of those pickled vegetables and fiery jalapeños.
Little Saigon’s top banh mi purveyors all bake their own bread, but few have mastered the art quite like Tan Hoang Huong. The growing minichain’s baguettes are excellent, with the perfect ratio of crunch to chew. You can taste the faintest hint of butter, too. Fill your bread with a fried egg or some great pork meatballs, then grab a potent iced coffee to take on the day.
East Borough, the airy stall at The Camp, presents a more refined banh mi. As with the restaurant’s new sister shop in Culver City, there’s real ambition here. But it doesn’t mean the sandwich’s flavors are muted or altered. In fact, they’re heightened—baguettes are warmed to order, and grilled pork is kissed with char. A braised pork belly version is only offered as a foot-long, and if you find it in your heart to split it, you’ll make a friend for life.
9016 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, 714-379-7726
Tan Hoang Huong
6926 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, 714-891-3344;
15972 Euclid St., Fountain Valley, 714-775-7422;
14081 Newport Ave., Tustin, 714-731-1366;
5015 W. Edinger Ave., Santa Ana, 714-531-2488
2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-641-5010
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue.