Tardy to the Banh Mi Party

November 3, 2011

Ever feel like you’re the only one who wasn’t invited to the cool kids’ party? I used to feel that way about banh mi. Years ago, I had a co-worker who loved the Vietnamese sandwich. She’d get this wistful look in her eyes whenever she talked about it — and she talked about it as if everyone knew what it was (I did not).

Banh mi, I’ve since learned, is a culinary remnant from Vietnam’s French colonial days, a baguette filled with ingredients such as pickled veggies, chili, cilantro and meat. As a fan of Southeast Asian cuisine — and an observer of the cult following that banh mi inspires — I’ve wanted to try it for a long time but never felt compelled to go out of my way to get it. At last, my wait is over!

Shophouse (1516 Connecticut Ave. NW) makes a terrific spicy pork meatball banh mi. After my first few bites, I thought to myself, “This actually might live up to the hype.” After a few more bites, I thought, “This could be my new favorite Asian food.” Soon, I was full, but there was no way I wasn’t finishing the second half of my sandwich.

I found the same addictive meal in milder variations at Bonmi (900 19th St. NW), which opened last week. My butternut squash banh mi perfectly straddled the line between savory and sweet — a refreshing contrast to my usual ho-hum turkey sandwich.

OK, so maybe I invited myself to the cool kids’ party. But, finally, it seems as if the door is wide open.

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Stephen M. Deusner · November 3, 2011