On the Eastside, finding a place that sells good bánh mì is a challenge. The choices are much better in Seattle where the concentration of Vietnamese communities and businesses makes it more likely you’d find very good examples of the classic Vietnamese sandwiches. Not too long ago, a friend and I ate at Yeh Yeh in Bellevue that made a pretty good one. Today, we decided to find out what Saigon Cafe & Deli (not related to Saigon Deli in Seattle) had to offer.
The place is tiny, wedged between a dry cleaner and a teriyaki joint in the Factoria commercial area. Inside, there is a short bar with stools, so it would be a stretch to consider Saigon Café a restaurant. Besides bánh mì, the menu lists phở, bún, rice bowls, salads, bubble tea and French drip coffee. I would imagine that most customers do take-out here, so I ordered grilled pork bánh mì (bánh mì thịt nướng) to-go. At $4, it’s a little more expensive than its Seattle brethren’s.
The sandwich is about 8″ long, the bread cut horizontally down its length except along one edge and stuffed with the grilled pork, đồ chua (carrot and radish pickles), sliced jalapeños, large julienned slices of cucumber, and a liberal amount of cilantro sprigs. The bread itself is thinner than those used at Saigon Deli and Seattle Deli in Little Saigon (Seattle) and softer, with a slight crackly crust. It was also a tad tough as if it spent a little time in the microwave before being wrapped. A clean bite required a good pull between teeth and hands. For that, I downgrade the sandwich. Every other ingredient was top-notch, from the crunch and sweet tartness of the đồ chua, fresh vegetables and a superior and tender grilled pork that filled the mouth with lemongrass, pronounced garlic, honey (or sugar), fish sauce and sesame oil flavors. This bánh mì was one of the better ones (☆☆☆) I’ve had, short of the highest rating only for the less-than-ideal bread issue.
Whether Saigon Café is related or otherwise involved, business cards for The Lemongrass in Little Saigon, where I had an outstanding beef stew, were displayed next to its own.
Update (3-7-14): Saigon’s grilled chicken bánh mì (☆☆☆), like its pork cousin, has a superbly tasty filling, liberal with seasoned garlicky chicken, đồ chua, jalapeño slices, cucumbers and cilantro. It was certainly not lacking in the quantity department. The cilantro was left in sprigs which were pulled out entirely when taking bites. The bread was equally chewy like the pork sandwich, a decided shortcoming compared to the Little Saigon examples. If this is not a big concern, you can do no better than the bành mì here.
Saigon Café & Deli
12815 SE 38th St
Bellevue, WA 98006