Where to get bánh mí sandwiches in Oakland
on April 1, 2011
What is it about the Vietnamese sandwich? Some say it’s the fluffy French bread, others say it’s the sweet and spicy grilled meat, and some just love the pickled daikon radishes and carrots. Whatever your favorite ingredient, few will argue it’s a tasty combination of flavors.
These surprisingly light sandwiches not only mix flavors and textures but also international cuisine. The French introduced baguettes to Vietnam during its colonial period and the Vietnamese added in local ingredients, like cilantro, peppers, soy sauce and different types of meat. These bánh mí, or Vietnamese sandwiches, can then be filled with anything from barbeque chicken to ham, or from head cheese to pâté to shredded pork with anchovy sauce.
In Oakland, it’s fairly easy to come by a Vietnamese sandwich place—if you know where to find them. Typically they’re housed in nondescript hole-in-the-wall style storefronts and have long lines streaming out of the doorway during lunch hours. One such spot is Cam Huong Restaurant in downtown Oakland, which claims to be the first bánh mí shop in the city.
Cam Huong opened in 1987, is family owned and run, and slings about 350 sandwiches a day. Patrick Quach is one of the grandsons who works in the store and says they pay particular attention to quality ingredients. They bake the bread themselves, so it’s fresh every morning. “It’s important that it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside,” Quach says. They also hand-make their mayonnaise from scratch.
As far as what spices and marinades are used—well, that’s a secret. “I can’t give you the recipe because my grandma would kill me,” Quach says. Customer’s favorites tend to be the grilled pork without mayonnaise and the barbequed chicken, Quach says. Some unusual varieties they also offer are curry tofu veggie and sardine sandwiches.
Trevor Hadden lives down the street and comes to Cam Huong at least once a week. He usually gets the grilled pork and says that the barbeque chicken is his Plan B. “I try to mix it up,” he says. “It’s easy to become ritualistic here.” He says that the crunchy vegetables along with the cilantro and French bread are what make the bánh mí sandwiches so delicious.
On a chilly Friday afternoon, Leslie Kemp, in town visiting her son, is at Cam Huong for the second day in a row. “Yesterday was our first time here,” she says. “Today we went to San Francisco in the morning, then Muir woods and had to get back here before it closed.” She says she is a self-proclaimed aficionado of Vietnamese food and has sampled it from Boston to Vietnam, and that Cam Huong definitely stands up. “It’s excellent,” she says. “People won’t be disappointed.”
Quach says that the majority of the shop’s customers live in the neighborhood but he does serve people who’ve crossed the bridge from San Francisco or who once lived in Oakland and are back for a visit. “Once they have loved us, they always come back,” he says.
Bánh mí spots in Oakland:
Cam Huong Restaurant
920 Webster Street
Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 7 days a week
Sandwiches cost $2.50 to $2.75
818 Franklin Street
Open 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., 7 days a week
Sandwiches cost $2.50 to $3.25
Bánh mí Ba Le
1909 International Boulevard
Open 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week
Sandwiches cost $2.50 to $3.00
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