Restaurant News & Reviews

Top Dish: Search continues for best bánh mì in Whatcom County

Beef bánh mì from Brandywine Kitchen in downtown Bellingham.
Beef bánh mì from Brandywine Kitchen in downtown Bellingham. The Bellingham Herald

The search goes on ... The bánh mì is the wildly popular Vietnamese sandwich that can be found, it seems, on just about every corner in Seattle or Vancouver, B.C. We’re not as blessed, but enough eateries serve them here to warrant a search for the best one in Whatcom County.

This is the second Top Dish column trying to get at whose sandwich will reign supreme.

Before I continue, a reminder of what I’m looking for — no matter the filling.

I want slightly sweet pickled carrots and/or daikon radish, cilantro and thin slices of jalapeno — working together to counter the rich flavors in the sandwich. Without them, the sub still may be delicious but not hit exactly the right note.

The bread should be airy and the crust crackly, thanks to a combination of rice and wheat flour, but not so crusty that it cuts the roof of my mouth when I bite into it.

I want contrasts — salty and sweet, rich and refreshing, soft and crunchy. The sandwiches can be cool or warmed. I prefer the latter.

For this chow-down, I picked restaurants that always have the sandwiches on their menus, rather than places that feature them on a rotating basis.

In the first round last month, Soy House and its grilled lemongrass beef sandwich came out on top.

July’s contenders: Brandywine Kitchen and Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, both in downtown Bellingham.

I’ll sample more for the next column in August, and pick the winner then.

Name: Brandywine Kitchen.

Location: 1317 Commercial St. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Contact: 360-734-1071, Facebook and at brandywinekitchen.com.

Quick bite: I got the beef bánh mì for $11.25. This sandwich was the prettiest I’ve seen so far — a feast for the eyes and the mouth.

The lightly marinated flank steak was served cool in a soft baguette, with a light layer of mayonnaise, that was perfectly chewy. It was topped by pickled cabbage, carrot and red onion, along with fresh rounds of cucumbers and chopped cilantro.

The crust wasn’t crackly, but I liked the bread nevertheless. The meat was tender, and I appreciated that the meat was allowed to shine without too much tinkering, thanks to the kitchen’s restraint.

This was a well-balanced sandwich, soft meat and crunchy vegetables, a little bit of mayonnaise offset by just the right touch of vinegary flavors, sweet and savory in harmony.

Name: Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro.

Location: 1107 Railroad Ave. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Contact: 360-647-5593, Facebook and bbaybrewery.com.

Quick bite: Boundary offers a vegan tofu bánh mì for $10.50.

It has fried tofu with a sweet char sui sauce (you’ve tasted it in barbecued pork associated with Cantonese cuisine), pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, jalapeno, English cucumbers, Sriracha favored eggless mayonnaise.

The bread was a bit dry for my taste and, given the thickness of the bread, the sandwich would’ve done better with more substantial slices of tofu.

Still, the tofu works well with the char siu, and it’s a good enough sandwich to please vegetarians or meat-eaters who like tofu too.

This round goes to ... Brandywine.

Got suggestions for tasty tidbits in Whatcom County or an eatery known for a particular dish? Send them to kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2234.

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