I hadn't had much more than the breakfast Banh Mi at Van Hoa for the longest time, but recently, I was able to grab a couple more sandwiches from Van Hoa. And what's more fun is I now have a fellow Banh Mi lover in the office. Mr 'B', originally from Jersey, first had Banh Mi a few months ago when I made a short drive to Saigon Sandwiches & Deli. Since that time Mr B has become quite the connoisseur...with observations like, "man, it's about the ratio of bread to fillings, right?" and "it needs to be nice and toasted, it ain't nothin' without the bread done right..." Though he is often the unwitting victim of hot pepper roulette, he remains undeterred.... I gotta give him some props. Mr B has also allowed me to purchase 3 Banh Mi at a time, which I split between us, so now I get to sample a wider range of sandwiches. Lucky me.......
So here are a few more sandwiches from Van Hoa, starting with the BBQ Pork($2.75):
The pork was nicely marinated with good flavor, though on the tough side. The bread was nicely toasted, and crusty. There was a nice amount of pickles, which a bit on the mild side. I don't care for overly stringy cilantro stems....it's just a pet peeve of mine, I'd rather use dental floss, thank you very much..... Not a bad sandwich...even with the recent price increase from $2.25 to the now unheard of price of (gasp!)$2.75.
The Banh Mi Xiu Mai(Meatball - $2.75):
This was the standard issue meatball Banh Mi. And it was fine, except for one thing, the fishy tomato sauce that is used for the meatball really doesn't do anything for this sandwich. When I recently mentioned the addition of tomato sauce to the Miu Mai Banh Mi to FOY Beach, he wrinkled up his face in disapproval. I wrinkled up my face too, the flavor was like a tomato fish sauce, with sour tones from the pickles thrown in.
As is my general rule, I'll usually try the Dac Biet(special - $3.50) whenever I have a chance. Just to see what a particular restaurant has to offer.
As with most versions of Banh Mi Dac Biet, this one had Cha Lua(lean pork sausage), which in this case had some flavor, and the Thit Nguoi in this case was more like BBQ pork belly, and had a nice porky-sweet flavor. Mr B didn't even mind the smear of pate, which was rich, but mild. And even though I saw mayo being smeared on the sandwich, it was done with a light touch, and didn't over power all the other ingredients. While eating, I heard Mr B exclaim, "Holy........" (fill in the blanks), sounds like he's discovered another hot pepper land mine! he-he-he.....
Recently, we've been having Pho weather.....cool , with some precipitation. So I dropped by Van Hoa with Pho on my mind. As I was seated in the rear dining area, I realized I had never seen this part of the restaurant. It is pretty clean, compared to the rest of the strip mall.
Can you guess what I ordered? I'm sure I'm really predictable.....if I've never had the Pho at a particular restaurant before, I'll get the Dac Biet(special), just to see which cuts of meat they do best. In this case it was the Extra Large Bowl($5.25)
This was indeed an extra large bowl....probably the most broth I've ever had. The broth itself was low oil, and on the salty side, pretty generic as a whole. The herbs provided were very fresh, and sufficient in quantity. The Ngo Gai(saw leaf herb) was really fresh, and added a nice peppery flavor to the Pho. The noodles was the usual clump in the bottom of the bowl.
As for the meats, the rare steak was tough and dry, even when served on the side. The tripe had a soapy flavor, and the tendon was hard and crunchy. The winner here was the brisket, soft and moist, with a mild beefy punch.
The folks at Van Hoa are very low-key, and once they recognize you, very nice. The menu is comprised of the standard Com Tam, Bun, and such. The parking lot can be an adventure....
I'm kinda craving an scrambled egg banh mi right now.......
Van Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant
4016 54th Street
San Diego, CA