When we look at the Vietnamese restaurants in the area we tend to get a little too focused on the beef noodle soup, or pho they often feature. And by we I mean me.
So today I want to focus on another popular Vietnamese food item, the banh mi, the distinctly Vietnames sandwich. Banh mi basically means bread, and just like the Louisiana po’boy or just about any other sub sandwich you can name, the bread is the key element. It is essentially a mini baguette — the banh mi’s roots stem from the French colonization. I could describe to you what a perfect baguette for a banh mi would look and taste like, but instead, just go to Banh Mi Nha Trang and see for yourself.
BMNT is a well-hidden little shop among the many other Vietnamese owned and focused businesses in in the Mills 50 district. The tiny storefront is tucked inside an alcove of about a dozen shops. The signage is not great — I walked past it twice while trying to find it. And once you’re inside, it doesn’t look much like a restaurant. It’s almost like a slapdash operation or a pop-up sandwich shop.
Banh mi is all that the shop does, and when they’re this good there’s little reason for it to do anything else. What’s more, the sandwiches are all just $3.50. I challenge you to find a better sandwich of any type that is a better value in town.
I was greeted by the husband and wife owners of Nha Trang, Yen and Truc Nguyen. They owned a bakery in Vietnam, and apparently still make the bread for their sandwiches here (which explains why I was unable to identify any local bread vendor as the source of this wonderful baguette). Nha Trang, by the way, is the name of a town in Vietnam.
I ordered a Vietnamese roast pork version and she went behind the counter to prepare it and he went outside to give her room. (I told you it was a small place.) First, though, he motioned for me to take a seat at the only table, which had stacks of magazines neatly piled on it.
In only a few minutes my sandwich was being proffered to me in a small plastic basket. And when I apologized and said that I had meant to order it to go, she see seemed genuinely disappointed that I would not be enjoying my sandwich with them, mainly because it was hot and should be enjoyed that way. She somewhat reluctantly agreed to wrap it for me, but not before making me promise to return to dine there.
The wrapped sandwich was bundled with rubber band around the wax paper and a small, green, slender chili pepper was tucked under the elastic. Although I was in danger of being late to an appointment, I couldn’t resist tearing open the wrapping and taking a bite before driving off. And then I had another bite. Then I calculated that I could be a few minutes late.
I wouldn’t call the sandwich overstuffed, but there was plenty of meat in each bite. And there were the distinctly bright flavors of fresh cilantro and piquantness of pickled vegetables.
But what really made it a stellar sandwich was the mini baguette. The outside was crusty but the inside was soft and fresh. And each bite had the smell and flavor of brushed butter.
I will have no trouble keeping my promise to return and eat at Banh Mi Nha Trang.
Banh Mi Nha Trang is at 1216 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. (You can park on Colonial if you can find a spot, but the little group of shops is also accessible from a parking lot behind the building, on Hillcrest Street. It is open for lunch and early dinner Friday through Wednesday. Note: Only cash is accepted. The phone number is 407-346-4549.