From the Serious Eats inbox, a moving story of one man's longing for banh mi fulfilled.
Dear Serious Eats,
Everyone in Serious Eats land has mentioned or had a banh mi at some point or another, but I’ve never been able to chime in because I have had no such luck. With folks in New York and California having an abundance of restaurants to choose from to find these tasty treats, it makes us folks down in Texas a bit jealous, until now. [Jealous? What about your awesome barbecue? —Ed.]
Believe it or not there is a rather large Vietnamese population here in the Richardson and Carrollton areas (both cities are suburbs north of Dallas) and I don’t live far from either. On the off chance of finding a sandwich shop, I took a ride down the road to the corner of Beltline Road and Josey Lane where there is a Vietnamese food market and several pho restaurants, and I stumbled upon the place I was looking for.
It was a small sandwich and deli called Ba Lee. There were a couple of refrigerated display counters with steamed buns and sweet and sour pork wrapped in cellophane, cases with yogurt and other treats, and several baskets filled with bread or pork wrapped in leaves. Up on the wall was the small list of sandwiches with pictures. I had a choice of eight to select from. There were two different pork, two chickens, pâté, meatball, a combo, and a vegetarian option to choose from. I went with roast pork and the meatball banh mi. All of the choices came with the same veggies: pickled carrots, pickled cabbage, cilantro, cucumber, and fresh jalapeños.
Each sandwich cost only $2, and they are some pretty healthy-sized sandwiches. It took a few minutes to get them and it was definitely worth it. The bread was fresh, crisp, and chewy all at the same time, and with all the textures of the veggies and meat it was finally something I could talk about when all of you post about it. I have nothing else to compare it to because this was all new to me.
The only way to describe the roast pork banh mi was like Chinese food on a roll. The pork had a sweet soy sauce flavor with a little sugar kick, and it worked well with the vinegar flavor from the pickled carrots and cabbage. There were only a few slices of jalapeños, so the spice wasn’t overpowering (even though I am a spicy food addict), and the cilantro didn’t get in the way. As for the meatball banh mi, all the veggies were great, but they did overpower the meat because it wasn’t seasoned enough—and there could have been a little more meat added to the sandwich. But it was passable.
The one other item I tried was a steamed bun, and this also was a new flavor for me. The bun itself was very sweet, which made it almost dessertlike even though it contained meat and eggs. Inside the bun was a rather overdone hard-boiled egg, pork, and some other meat that I was told was the same meat used for the meatballs. As a whole, the bun was great, but as individual elements some of them were lacking.
I do intend to go back to this place to try some of the other foods they have on display, including mung beans wrapped in leaves and a dessert that had tapioca, bananas, and coconut milk, and of course another banh mi. It was a very good experience and I’m glad that I found a place near me that I can try many new foods to add to my palate.
Ba Lee Sandwich Shop
1927 East Beltline Rd #125, Carrollton TX 75006 (map) $2 per sandwich (buy four, get the fifth free) 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week