You've Come A Long Way, Banh Mi 

The Best French-Vietnamese Sandwiches in Portland

In 1858, the French seized Vietnam, beginning a colonial occupation that lasted nearly a century. As a result, a distinctly European taste for baguettes, café au lait, and gateaux emerged that exists to this day. One particularly delicious tradition preserved from this cultural intersection is Banh Mi (pronounced "bun mee"), French-Vietnamese sandwiches with a remarkably unique fusion of European and Indo-Chinese flavors.

The baguettes used for Banh Mi are formed with both rice and wheat flours, making for a lighter loaf. They're typically filled with pâtes or tofu, torn fresh herbs, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and smeared with chili sauce or aioli. One of the biggest appeals is the price: without fail, these sandwiches cost about $2.50 (at most). There are a select number of places in Portland to find Banh Mi, and given the extraordinary prices, you'll want to visit more than one:

Café Be Van, 6846 NE Sandy, 287-1418

One of my top picks for a satisfying sandwich, Be Van is overflowing with warm hospitality. While their menu is small compared to other Banh Mi places, what they do have excels, like the baguettes, which combine a crunchy exterior with a soft, fresh middle. For vegetarians, their one option is filled with cucumbers, thin slices of tofu, cilantro, pickled carrots, and a layer of creamy aioli. It's a cool escape from the summer heat, and all patrons are welcome to use free cable internet stations.

Cali Sandwiches, 6620 NE Glisan, 254-9842

This well-known deli serves bento and salad rolls in addition to Banh Mi. Their bread is generic, spongy and not as fresh as others. However, they boast nearly 20 sandwich varieties, including a succulent teriyaki chicken, and a marinated lemongrass beef. While you're there, don't miss the avocado smoothie--you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Maxim's Bakery and Deli, 6812 NE Broadway, 257-3868

Maxim's is small, hot, and crowded with Vietnamese women chatting and baking. Take food to go. Particularly tasty are the fish sandwich (packed with sardines), and the special sandwich with three kinds of sliced ham. The bread is wonderfully fresh and crispy (it is a bakery, after all), slathered with butter, and outfitted with the usual julienned veggies. You can't beat the price--$2 across the board.

Nam's Deli, 7821 SE Powell, 788-3632

Nam's is tucked away amidst strip-mall storefronts; their Banh Mi are splendidly light, and not to be missed. They use long strips of jalapeño peppers, and the vegetarian sandwich comes with an airy soybean spread. Unfortunately, the bread is cheap sub-shop quality, but ingredients are plentiful. Try the French ham sandwich, or the sardine sandwich with chili sauce. They also offer amazing desserts, including a warm banana dumpling with rice tapioca and coconut milk.

An Xuyen Bakery, 5345 SE Foster, 788-0866

An Xuyen is one of the cheapest places I've found to get pecan almond and chocolate-covered butter cookies, all for around $1 and all homemade. They sell one standard sandwich that comes with tender steamed pork. The Banh Mi are stuffed with pickled radishes, carrots, and jalapeños, so they pack a spicy, sweet-and-sour flavor. The bread: delightfully crispy.

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