By: Stacey Viera
A chef, a vegan, a pregnant lady and hungry Puerto Rican walk into a sandwich shop…
What sounds like the start of a bad joke was actually our fun Sunday adventure at the Eden Center in Falls Church, Va. – the mecca for all that is Vietnamese. On the hunt for the best banh mi that Eden Center vendors have to offer, we met our friends, Chef Michael and Katie, at 11 a.m. – it’s easier to park before church lets out! – and began cruising the different indoor and outdoor segments of the mall before making our sandwich purchases.
Thinking ahead, Chef Michael came armed with a knife suitable for slicing each sandwich into easily shared pieces. And share we did! If it looked good, we got it. If it looked or sounded questionable (headcheese?!), we got that, too! Here’s a rundown of what we found and where at the Eden Center. Keep in mind that not one item cost more than $4.00. Most sandwiches were around $3.50.
- Cha Kim Phung Bakery (Sidewalk Stores)
- Pate banh mi accented with a chicken “meatloaf” of sorts. The bread was crunchy – but not too crunchy – and the meat was flavorful. The pate and chicken were a great combination of textures.
- Lotus cookies are similar in flavor to the fried noodles that come with wonton soup at a Chinese restaurant, but they’re sweeter, with a sesame-flavored finish.
- Ever wonder what’s the deal with the multi-colored prepackaged rice offered at these bakeries? Katie, the vegetarian among us, ordered the xoi ba mau, sticky sweet rice served with a sweet banana-flavored crumb topping.
- Coconut-flavored bundt cake is not a traditional bundt cake the way you might think of one. It’s actually angel food cake, spongy and slightly sweet. That dessert went fast!
- Phuoc Luc Bakery & Deli (Saigon West Mini Mall)
- Pork bun is a puff pastry with pork filling. Chef Michael noted the French influence of the flaky pastry dough in the Vietnamese dish. (I noted the delicious meat inside!)
- Huong Binh Bakery & Deli (Sidewalk Stores)
- Pork banh mi served with Kewpie mayo was a personal favorite. The bread was crunchy, but a bit softer than others (just the way I like it), and the flavor of the pork was just delicious.
- Katie enjoyed the vegetarian banh mi with mushrooms, daikon radish, carrot, cilantro and tofu. To make your banh mi vegan make sure to order it without the mayo.
- Ngoc Anh Restaurant (Saigon West Mini Mall)
- The restaurant itself is incredible, with tons of delectable fish and meat dishes – fried, marinated, pickled – packed into the tiny space. Here we procured the longest banh mi, arguably getting us the best bang for our buck. This meatball banh mi was made with fish sauce instead of the tomato sauce you’d typically find. The flavor was certainly unexpected, and if you enjoy fish sauce, it was a tasty change of pace.
- Saigon Bakery (Sidewalk Stores)
- Headcheese. Yep. Headcheese banh mi. I used my growing baby as an excuse to avoid the Great Headcheese Tasting Experiment, but it received thumbs-up reviews from Chef Michael and my daring husband.
- Song Que Deli (Sidewalk Stores)
- Our final stop at the Eden “Adventure” Center was Song Que, a personal favorite of mine. The bread is excellent. Not Rebel-Heroes-bread excellent, but definitely on the softer side. I have fond memories of the meatball banh mi, and this time we tried pork skin and tofu skin. Each was tasty, and as an added bonus, Song Que has some seating in the back, so we were able to relax and digest following our three-hour extravaganza. (We did lots of walking, too, so we didn’t feel too guilty about splurging and sharing sandwiches!)
We won’t pass judgment here; take our experiences into account and venture out for your own banh mi adventure at the Eden Center!
What’s your favorite banh mi? Is it at the Eden Center or somewhere else in the D.C. area?