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Banh Mi Viet serves up flavorful ingredients on fresh baguettes

By: robin intemann robin.intemann@gazette.com
August 22, 2016 Updated: August 23, 2016 at 8:54 am
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photo - Banh Mi Viet Restaurant "Chicken Breast Sandwich" Thursday August 11, 2016.  Photo by Jeff Kearney.
Banh Mi Viet Restaurant "Chicken Breast Sandwich" Thursday August 11, 2016. Photo by Jeff Kearney. 

No menu, only a few tables, limited choices and an out-of-the-way location should spell doom for Banh Mi Viet, a Vietnamese sandwich shop.

Instead, this is all part of the diminutive diner's appeal, which becomes evident after the first taste. With little more than a handful of options, what Banh Mi Viet serves up are fresh ingredients with lots of texture and flavor in house-baked baguettes. And each one is only $3.95. You practically can't afford not to eat here.

This family-run, order-at-the-counter eatery has four tables (granted, two are for eight while the other two are four tops). That's it: seating for 24.

In lieu of menus, photos of the seven available sandwiches are posted on the wall behind the cash register. Photos of a few boba beverages (referred to as desserts on the restaurant's website) and the spring rolls complete the offerings. That is, unless there's a special. However, these aren't advertised, so you have to know to ask. It could be soup - perhaps even pho - it might be grilled pork with noodles and a small salad, or something else altogether.

Each sandwich photo has a corresponding number. As noted there are seven, but number seven is missing; the count goes from six to eight. It turns out this lucky number is a shrimp Banh mi, which is sometimes available and sometimes not. The man I asked said it is very popular. Again, this something that requires being in the know.

Banh Mi Viet Restaurant "Pork and Shrimp Spring Rolls" Thursday August 11, 2016. Photo by Jeff Kearney. 

If asking about an item that may or may not be available is out of your comfort zone and you're craving shrimp, order the spring rolls ($3). Heck, order these no matter what. Large pieces of shrimp are visible beneath the delicate rice paper wrapping. Cilantro, cucumber, thin carrot sticks and soba noodles are all tightly rolled with the plump shrimp. Further elevating these rolls is the accompanying peanut sauce for dipping. Slightly tangy, obviously nutty and rich, this sauce should be sold by the gallon.

I know cilantro is one of those food items that create a love it or hate it response. I am in the former. For me, it's the essence of garden fresh. Along with it, cucumber and matchstick-size carrots are part of every sandwich. Each Banh mi is also accompanied by a small container of a sweet and barely spicy dipping sauce.

Five of the eight sandwiches showcase pork in various forms. These include ham with head cheese (a terrine made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig), shredded pork, grilled pork, ham with grilled pate and pork meatballs. The shredded chicken and grilled pork were my favorites. These featured hot meats. The ham, also known here as pork roll ham, might have been just an ordinary ham sandwich except for the condiments accompanying it and all the other offerings.

The bread also plays a big role. The baguettes shatter, spreading crumbs with each bite. However, they hold their shape and the contents stay in place. It's perfect ratio of filling to bread; each complements the other.

In addition to the pork and chicken, a roast beef sandwich is also pictured, but we didn't sample. This is one we'll have to return for, although I know the grilled pork, with its diced pieces of caramelized meat, is one I will order over and over again. The chicken is made with a pineapple sauce that adds a layer of tanginess.

In addition to the photos of food, the remainder of the wall decor is composed of stickers of vines and grapes. It's not exactly what comes to mind when thinking about Viet Nam or Banh mi, but that doesn't matter. The staff is friendly and there were a lot of people in the kitchen, so food was quickly served.

A lot about a restaurant can be determined by its clientele. The day of our visit there was a steady stream of people who came in either for carry-out or to grab a seat to dine in.

Banh Mi Viet may be tucked away in the corner of a barely surviving strip mall, but it is clearly flourishing.

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