Q Bakery: Is There a Better Bánh Mì Baguette?

Is it possible that there is a better place in Seattle that serves better bành mì than either Saigon Deli or Seattle Deli? A provocative question here in the Seattle area where the sheer number of places that serve the sandwich means everyone has his or her own favorite. I can say this though. I might’ve found the best place for the Vietnamese baguette. Tucked away in the far corner of a strip mall in Rainier Beach right off MLK Jr Way that also has a Viet Wah supermarket and several Vietnamese-Chinese restaurants, Q Bakery sells bành mì rolls second to none. If there is a lighter, crispier bread—some might argue the most important part of the sandwich—I have yet to find it. With ample parking, it’s a sight easier to pick up a sandwich there than in Little Saigon.

Customers most certainly do come here to buy the bread, many in bulk. Baskets and trays of various kinds of bread greet you at the entrance.

Toward the back is the food service area where prepared hot foods can be ordered and sandwiches made. A few tables inside let customers eat there instead of do take-out. A quick glance at the menu shows kinds of bành mì not readily found in other Vietnamese delis and bakeries. Some of the fillings include head cheese, shredded pork skin and, yes, teriyaki chicken.

Rather than requesting the usual grilled pork, my wife and I decided to try the liver paté and meatball (xíu mại) fillings. Both of them were good (☆☆☆), the meatball mashed and spread rather than left whole or sliced. The pickled vegetables were not as vinegary as we would’ve liked. But, oh, that bread—so airy, light enough that it compressed with ease around the fillings, crackly enough on the outside to send shards of crust raining down on our clothes with every bite. Messy, but ethereal.

Paté bành mì

Paté bành mì

Meatball (xíu mại) bành mì

Meatball (xíu mại) bành mì

If I find my perfect filling at Q Bakery, the bành mì there would supplant Saigon Deli and Seattle Deli as my favorite.

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Q Bakery
3818 S Graham St
Seattle, WA 98118

Café Besalu (Seattle)

There seems to be general agreement that Café Besalu in the Ballard neighborhood is the best croissant bakery in town. James Miller consistently has been a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef. There have also been some claims that Besalu ranks right up there with France’s finest. I’m not in a position to take sides on that last opinion. If you don’t get there early (7am-3pm, W-Su only), lines frequently form pretty quickly, often out the door. Later in the day, croissants can run out though in the morning the kitchen does churn out popular ones as fast as it can make them. My daughter swoons over the almond croissant. With over 400 reviews on Yelp, the average score is astonishingly high.

I was here at 8:20am, more than an hour after Besalu opens. Fortunately, there were only three customers ahead of me. As I’ve said before, I prefer savory over sweet breakfasts, so my choice this morning was the ham and cheese croissant (☆☆☆). I’ll say this, the croissant itself is perfect—buttery, flaky, light and chewy in the middle. As for the filling itself, it is definitely savory but falls a little short of being top-notch, or enough of a distraction to consider driving over here over the one I can get at Belle Pastry in Bellevue.

Ham and cheese croissant

Ham and cheese croissant

As for the other pastries, maybe tomorrow would be a good opportunity—or later today? Nah.

9-28-13: It was a day later than when I thought I’d return, but return I did. Blustery and wet weather may have had something to do with the usual line of customers, but I was able to walk right up and order a couple of pastries. The cardamom pretzel (☆☆☆½) was more of a twisted croissant, denser but still flaky with a nice chew and a hint of cardamom on the finish. The plum danish (☆☆☆☆), actually a frangipane, was a masterpiece. Sweet-and-tart plum was beautifully complemented by an almond-flavored crème filling.

Plum danish

Plum danish

Cardamom pretzel

Cardamom pretzel

Café Besalu
5909 24th Avenue Northwest
Seattle, Washington 98107

Cocktail Bun at Your Peril: Mon Hei Bakery — CLOSED

Mon Hei Chinese Bakery is the oldest in the International District, having started business in 1979, the same year that I moved to the Seattle area from Southern California. We had never been customers here until we came with friends only a few years ago. I have to admit that I don’t remember much from that visit. That was then. Our tour guide today brought us to the bakery where the proprietress, Annie Chan, greeted us and mentioned that the cocktail bun was the bakery’s signature dessert and that it always sells quickly. I didn’t purchase anything at the time, but made a mental note to return later in the day. After lunch at Bún, we arrived at Mon Hei, but to our disappointment, the tray that had earlier been filled with cocktail buns was nowhere to be seen, a sign that it had sold out already. Not to worry, for within a minute, a fresh batch arrived from their kitchen in the basement.

I’ll say it right off the bat, the cocktail bun (☆☆☆☆) is to die for. More like a sweet bread, it is not quite fully baked, resulting in a dense, slightly doughy shell (which I love) surrounding an exquisite coconut paste and sprinkled with white sesame seeds. On top of that, it is barely sweet. Warm fresh out of the oven, its delirium-inducing goodness is the equal of Leonard’s malasadas. At only $1.25 a piece, eat these at your peril. You may not be able to stop at just one. If the bakery were in my neighborhood, I would be in serious trouble.

Cocktail bun

Cocktail bun

Update: Last Christmas Eve, fire destroyed the building that housed many businesses, Mon Hei among them. There have been no announced plans to rebuild the bakery, to the despair of its many customers.

Mon Hei Chinese Bakery (** closed **)

669 S King St

Seattle, WA 98104


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Copenhagen Bakery (Christchurch, NZ)

Copenhagen Bakery sandwiches

Another business forced to close its doors after the September quake was Copenhagen Bakery located in the PriceWaterhouseCoopers Centre (now demolished). Known for its famous pies and pastries, it relocated to the Bishopdale neighborhood of Christchurch where it enjoys as much popularity as before. After a visit to the nearby Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, we went there for lunch.

On first visit, the selection is somewhat overwhelming. Not only is there a large choice of sandwiches, all on display behind a glass counter, but also all manner of quiches and, of course, their savory pies ($4.50 NZ). The pastry display is what you would expect of any decent Danish bakery, dazzling in its mouth-watering variety.

The sliced beef and mushroom pie was an umami bomb, thick with meat and mushroom filling made gelatinous with cornstarch, and encased in a very flaky shell. An outstanding meat pie (☆☆☆☆).

Beef and mushroom pie

The tomato soup (☆☆☆) was thick and creamy with admirable restraint on sweetness and embellished with a slight tartness.

Tomato soup

The almond and chocolate chip cookies we purchased afterward were delicious, rich with butter.

A second visit to the bakery was made three days later (July 27). The mince meat pie already sold out, the mince and cheese pie was a bit too cheesy (☆☆☆), suffering a little from a hot waxiness that typifies cheese pies.

Mince and cheese pie

The vegetarian pie (☆☆☆), filled with kumara (sweet potato), celery and bell peppers, is spicy and savory.

Vegetable pie

The daily special of mushroom soup (☆☆☆☆) was a masterpiece of mushroom flavor, thick and creamy with a touch of butter. It is a soup that should be a permanent menu offering.

Mushroom soup

Copenhagen Bakery
409 Harewood Road
Christchurch NZ 8051