[Welcome to Snap Judgment, an embarrassingly irregular Blogtown feature developed by my predecessor, PAC. The idea, still, is to drop by places both old and new for a one-dish fly-by, to develop an opinion based on that singular experience. Often, I'll return a few months down the line for a Last Supper column. Sometimes I won't.]
My work-day lunch habits wax and wane between terrible ruts and awful bouts of fickleness. I'll eat the same thing everyday for a week (my coworker often hears me coming up the stairs and, without turning, prophecies about the kale slaw in my little green container...but she eats Stouffers Creamed Chip Beef, so mind your own goddamn business, Knuckles), or I'll bitch incessantly about the lack of ready access to particular cravings. I was pleased, then, to hear that a Banh Mi shop was opening up within walking distance. I was even more pleased when I learned the proprietor's parents owned Binh Minh Bakery out on NE Broadway; good banh mi begins with the bread (you hear that hucksters of the Reed College cafeteria that served me "banh mi" on a hamburger bun last week?), and Binh Minh's is great.
I dropped by for lunch yesterday and was pleased to see that the prices I'd seen discussed on Portlandfood.org (do you guys read this site? Far, far more informative than Yelp commentators), had been lowered. We're not quite at An Xuyen prices—which is fair, considering relative rent prices and whatnot—but sandwiches starting at $4 are a welcome addition to this neighborhood. I went with a simple BBQ option ($4.75), which came out on a 12 inch baguette, cut in half, and topped with aioli, pickled carrots, cucumbers, onions, and cilantro (jalapenos are optional, but make sure you request them). The meat wasn't a huge portion—and that's not uncommon—but it was flavorful; it comes thinly sliced and cooked in Chinese-style Char Siu spices. Sandwiches come with a small salad. I opted for a side of kim chi as well ($1.25, and courtesy of the owner's mom). It's a little bit spicy, but not at all overpowering.
They have most of your standards—pork meatball, lemongrass chicken, tofu, cold cuts w/ pate—and a few less traditional options, such as beef bulgogi w/ kim chi, grilled portobello mushrooms, and pork belly. Other menu items include vermicelli rice noodles, a kim chi quesadilla, and a few varieties of salad rolls. I've yet to try their Vietnamese iced coffee, but I'm glad to see they didn't overlook that detail. Great addition to the neighborhood. Now if only someone would open up a decent Mexican place.
The space is nice—especially compared to most banh mi joints—and there's a big porch you can sit out on and remember when NW 23rd used to be a bustling pedestrian district.
1524 NW 23rd (and Raleigh)
Portland, OR 97224