Is the bánh mì over? Lee’s Sandwiches locations now sit snug next to the 5 freeway, and many office luncheons now feature the Vietnamese sandwich as a catering option. They’re so ubiquitous now that hipster Asian chefs seem to prefer churros, cookies, fried chicken and other Americana staples for their “concepts” instead of trying to trick up the bánh mì, content to let the Che Calis and Top Baguettes of Little Saigon monopolize the market.
Perhaps the bánh mì is a victim of its own success—it’s even more mainstream-friendly than pho. Perhaps its seeming simplicity—baguette, an aioli, some veggies and meat—intimidates aspiring restaurateurs from tackling it. But the fact remains fewer bánh mì shops are opening. And while the sandwich isn’t at all endangered, its day in the foodie sun has gone the way of the Gypsy Den.
But, damn, a great bánh mì still has the capacity to wow. Consider those served at Au Coeur de Paris, which also happens to be the best French-style bakery in Little Saigon. Even in the world of austere Vietnamese strip-mall restaurants, Au Coeur is simple: some tables inside and out and pastry cases. The latter are filled with delicate macarons and perfect éclairs and long jésuites that are all about the almond paste and flaky crust. There’s a separate case for the pâté chaud, the meatball-stuffed puff pastry that tastes like an especially buttery croissant sandwich. Order them all, order them to go, and then enjoy the bánh mì, which isn’t even labeled as such (“sandwich on baguette”).
There’s only three versions regularly available: chicken, Vietnamienne (pâté, pork and meatloaf) and the Française, which is ham and cheese. Order a dozen if Au Coeur is offering the pâté chaud bánh mì, but all are spectacular thanks to the in-house baguette, a sturdy, chewy thing that absorbs all the juices of the ingredients. These bánh mìs are smaller and more expensive than the competition, but that’s fine: outside of the lemongrass beef bánh mì at Bánh Mì Cho Cu, I can’t think of any better. Bánh mìs are over? Just means more for me!
Au Coeur de Paris, 9441 Edinger Ave., Westminster, (714) 775-8465. Instagram: @bakery_au.coeur.de.paris .