Have you ever experienced a banh mi before? If not, you should drop what you’re doing and seek one out as a soon as possible. These flavorful but unassuming sandwiches can change your life! Like many amazing dishes that are popular in modern times, these sandwiches have an unusual history. They are a modern dish that resulted from the French colonization of Vietnam. In some ways, that makes these sandwiches different from other Vietnamese foods, like pho.
Bahn mi sandwiches are named for the rolls used as the bread. Based on French baguettes, the bread should be made from white flour with a soft interior and a crusty outside. A seasoned and sliced meat is usually added, as well as mayo. Other traditional toppings include fresh cilantro, sliced cucumbers and pickles made from daikon radishes and carrots.
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A well-made banh mi has a symphony of flavors in every bite. It should be crisp but also tender. The meat should have flavor on its own, as should the bread and pickles. However, everything blends together for a flavor that is at once savory and sweet, salty and fresh.
A bahn mi can be a very filling dish on its own, though some people enjoy it with a salad or soup. Whether you’re hoping to get out of your take-out rut or impress your new co-worker with a unique suggestion for lunch, a bahn mi is always a good choice. Instead of hunting around the city for them, you can check out our list of four of the best options around San Diego.
Bahn Mi Steals the Show
Cali Banh Mi
Location: 4425 Convoy Street, Suite 200A
Hours: Seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If you’re in Kearny Mesa when your banh mi craving hits, head right over to Cali Banh Mi. You won’t be disappointed that you did! In addition to having sandwiches, this place also serves up soup, bowls and rolls. If you’re thirsty, you can order a Vietnamese Iced Milk Coffee, a Taro Milk Tea or a Thai Iced Tea. They make all kinds of spring rolls here, from Cajun shrimp to BBQ pork and tofu. You can also have your choice of fried rice, or rice or noodle bowls, piled high with meats and veggies.
Of course, the sandwich is the star of the show. Their Cali Special is a fresh take on the traditional bahn mi, adding pate and garlic mayo, as well as jalapenos for some extra kick. Other options include sardines, pork load, grilled chicken, BBQ pork, vegetarian soy loaf or an Asian style sweet sausage. You can order more traditional sandwiches, like Black Forest Ham, turkey and pesto or a tuna salad sandwich. The toppings are fresh, the daikon and carrot pickles are flavorful, and the bread is soft but crusty. You’ll definitely be coming back for more after your first visit to Cali Banh Mi.
Fresh Bread, Fresh Food
Cali Baguette Express
Location: 9225 Mira Mesa Blvd., Suite 106
Hours: Seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Cali Baguette Express bakes their bread fresh daily. That alone helps them stand out from other places that make great sandwiches in the area. This could help explain how such a simple business model has managed to expand to three different locations and a complementary nearby business in only a decade. Of course, the quality and flavor of their sandwiches probably helped, too!
Their standard bahn mi features pickled carrots and daikon radishes, fresh cucumbers, sliced jalapenos and cilantro. You can order a range of meats, including sardines, pork loaf, grilled pork loaf, chicken, BBQ pork, fried egg, meatball, Vietnamese ham, Spam, grilled beef and tofu. They also make a few American-style sandwiches on those incredible, fresh-baked baguettes.
They make Asian teas, including milk tea, green tea and Boba teas. You can order up smoothies with all kinds of fruit, from mango and avocado to jackfruit and durian. Cali Baguette Express also offers Vietnamese Pho bowls, including vegetarian pho and a house special pho, with streak, tripe, tendon and brisket. You can even build your own pho by selecting your broth, whether you want rice or egg noodles and two or three meats. Whether you build your own or order straight from the menu, you can expect rich, authentic flavors at a very reasonable price.
Everything Under 10
Bale French Sandwiches
Location: 9396 Mira Mesa Blvd., Suite C
Hours: Seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Mira Mesa is home to several excellent banh mi shops. One of them is Bale French Sandwiches. This place has incredibly low prices (everything but group dishes are under $10) and amazing dishes. Customers often rave about their egg rolls and spring rolls, which are fresh and stuffed with awesome ingredients. Save a little room after you eat for either sesame seed balls, which are sweet and chewy, or a fresh fruit smoothie.
I'm always on the hunt for the best tasting baguette or "banh mi" sandwiches in San Diego, I am OBSESSED to say the least. This veggie option from Bale in San Diego off Mira Mesa Blvd. was good but I would have preferred an option with some chunks of tofu instead 😬 #sandiegofood #meatfree #bestfoodsandiego #sandiegofood #foodie #foodblogger #baguette #banhmi #vegetarian #vegetarianfood #vegetarianfoodshare #asianfood #balefrenchsandwichandbakery
Each of their sandwiches come on a foot-long baguette and start at under $3.00 each. Topping options include ham, meatloaf, head cheese, fried eggs, BBQ pork, BBQ chicken, sardines, pork Shui-Mai (a mixture of pork and shrimp) and even veggie ham. You can add avocado or cheese to any of their sandwiches for just $1 more.
This is a small shop, but they do have room for you to sit down and enjoy your sandwich while it’s nice and hot. You may find yourself waiting a bit, however, as the popularity of this shop sometimes results in a line out the door for bahn mi sandwiches. Use that time to look over their impressive fruit smoothie menu (which includes soursop) or peruse any ready-to-purchase treats, like their sesame balls.
The Paris Bakery
Location: 4616 El Cajon Blvd., Suite 15
Hours: Monday-Friday: 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday: 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday: 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Paris Bakery knows that the size and price of their offerings is what draws in the customers. That’s why they brag about offering the $3.75 bahn mi. They also offer catering and even online ordering via Amazon Restaurant. That means for people in the right zip codes, you can order online and have it delivered in about half an hour!
Of course, you can just stop in and order some amazing dishes. You can get pork skin rolls, egg rolls, steamed sticky rice, raisin sweet bread, and various French pastries and baked goods. A word of caution, however: The Paris Bakery does not accept credit cards. Come packing cash or you’ll leave disappointed.
They have a dozen different options for banh mi, including the house special, grilled pork, grilled chicken, pork roll, meatball, pork skin, pork belly, and sausage and egg. For drinks, you can find a range of smoothies, as well as Boba tea and various coffee and tea drinks. There are even basil seed and grass jelly drinks. Whether you need a lunch break, a coffee drink to get you through the day or just a quick carb fix, you’ll find something delectable at The Paris Bakery.