Humble to Haute: A Bánh Mì Boom

The Vietnamese subs called bánh mì have hit the big time, showing up everywhere from fast-lunch spots to fancy steakhouses.

The “#1” at the Nhu Lan deli in the Eden Center. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The Vietnamese subs called bánh mì—airy baguettes filled with grilled meats and terrines, then layered with rich mayonnaise or butter, jalapeños and herbs, and tangy pickled daikon—are beloved by chefs, who routinely trek to the delis at Falls Church’s Eden Center to pick them up. Now the subs have hit the big time, showing up everywhere from fast-lunch spots to fancy steakhouses. 

Nhu Lan (6763 Wilson Blvd., Suite 14, Falls Church; 703-532-9009). There’s bánh mì aplenty in the Eden Center—a mall filled with Vietnamese restaurants and coffeeshops—and one of the best versions can be found at this tiny deli. The popular “#1” comes layered with cold cuts, head cheese, and eggy house-made mayo. For the less adventurous, there’s sweetly glazed grilled pork. They’re a steal at $3.15 each—buy five and get one free.

Redwood (7121 Bethesda La., Bethesda; 301-656-5515). This glammed-up dining room on Bethesda Row puts a cheffy spin on the sandwich. Both the fatty spread and the meat are taken care of with a helping of duck confit. That gets layered with a sprightly mix of pickled carrots and cucumbers, chilies, and butter lettuce.

Bourbon Steak (Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-944-2026). Fifty-cent baguettes from Falls Church bakery Bánh Mì DC meet artisan farmer Bev Eggleston’s luscious pork belly in this Georgetown steakhouse’s lunchtime sandwich. Chef David Varley says the bread is the most important ingredient: “It should be soft as Wonder Bread inside, crackly like an M&M outside.”

The Source lounge menu features a pair of bánh mì. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The Source (575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-6100). The lounge at Wolfgang Puck’s Penn Quarter restaurant offers a $9 duo of miniature—but filling—sandwiches on its bar menu. To counter the richness of country-style pâté, grilled pork tenderloin, and jalapeño aïoli, there’s a sprinkling of pickled daikon and carrots, plus cilantro and scallions tossed in vinaigrette. Chef Scott Drewno added bánh mì to the menu because he’s always been a fan. His favorite? The #1 at Nhu Lan.

This article appears in the April, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.


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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.