Filling Up on Banh Mi in Falls Church

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

When Kathy Nguyen and her sister, Thuy Huynh, were scouting for a site for their Vietnamese sandwich shop, they were determined to find a place large enough to be able to make their own bread.

Their Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich shop opened in December near Falls Church, and the aroma of bread baked on the premises wafts across its 4,000 square feet. The shop ( banh mi is Vietnamese for "sandwich") now churns out 700 sandwiches a day (2,000 a day on weekends), each made to order and served warm on crisp, nine-inch French baguettes.

Fillings ($2.25 to $2.75 apiece) include grilled pork, chicken, meatballs, cured ham, bologna and sardines. Each comes topped with shredded carrots and radishes, thinly sliced cucumber, cilantro, jalepeƱo chili peppers and homemade mayonnaise. The bestseller is the combo, which has ham, pork, bologna and pate in addition to the regular toppings.

"They're different from getting a regular deli sandwich," says customer Amy Canon, 34, of Annandale, who comes in about once a week. On this day, she was getting the shredded pork sandwich. "It's a little bit more flavorful" than a deli sandwich, she says, "and it's half the price."

At the deli counter are hot foods (grilled or curried chicken, tofu, fish, among others; your choice of two, with rice, for $5) and bitter melon soup. Arrayed on a counter are ready-made lunch packages including bot nep , ground meat stuffed in a steamed bun and served with fish sauce (three for $2); shrimp and pork wrapped in banana leaves (five pieces for $2.50); and Vietnamese rice paper rolls (shrimp, pork, rice noodles and vegetables; three for $3.25).

A must-see novelty at the shop is an imposing machine in the front window that has 22 sets of cast-metal molds. A pump deposits a dollop of batter into each pair of molds, and a second one injects vanilla cream filling. Three minutes later, after the tops have pressed down and the molds have made their way around the heated core, the cream-filled baked Deli Manjoo cakes are ready to be plucked from the molds and boxed.

Nguyen, 50, scoops them out with a practiced hand. She makes hundreds of the little snack cakes (3 for $1; $8 for a box of 24) each day.

Other desserts worth trying include che cups -- sweet rice with a variety of beans ($1.50). Mung bean with seaweed is especially good.

Beverages beyond the standard colas and water include chrysanthemum tea, coconut juice, guava and sugar cane juices ($1.09 a can) or Vietnamese iced coffee ($2.50 for 16 ounces).

Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich, 3103 Graham Rd. (at Arlington Boulevard), Falls Church, 703-205-9300. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Carryout only.

-- Marcia Kramer

© 2005 The Washington Post Company