I never can decide which Vietnamese dish I love most.
Is it the deep, rich broth and crunchy bean sprout, basil-y soup goodness of pho? Is it the succulent grilled meat and vermicelli noodles that are the base of bun? Or the crusty French bread and crisp, fresh veggies that make up the banh mi sandwich?
Truthfully, I love them all so much that I face a serious menu dilemma every time I visit a Vietnamese restaurant. That’s one of the things I love most about Kimlan Sandwiches, the new restaurant opened a few weeks ago by Cuong Nguyen, right next door to Little Saigon. (Nguyen owned Kim Huong when it was in the space that Little Saigon occupies now.) There’s no need for indecision at Kimlan Sandwiches because banh mi — Vietnamese sandwiches made with meat, pickled carrots, jalapeno, cilantro, cucumber and mayo stuffed into crusty French bread — are pretty much all they serve.
The sandwiches are delicious, incredibly inexpensive and served quickly.
Those who don’t want banh mi have few other choices, but the restaurant does offer a daily stir-fry-style dish, served with fried rice, lo mein and an egg roll, for $5.50. It also has spring rolls, wonton soup, various pre-made Vietnamese desserts, boba teas and iced coffees.
They’re about 8 inches long and served inside nifty paper bags marked with sandwich-y words such as “torpedo” and “submarine.” The restaurant stuffs the customer’s choice of meat inside the airy, crusty bread, and some of them come smeared with a yellow-ish mayonnaise. Little packets of veggies — the carrots, jalapeno, cilantro and cucumber — come on the side so the customers can add them just before eating them.
The best sandwiches are those made with the basic meats, such as the No. 3 ($3.50), made with thinly sliced and marinated grilled pork, and the No. 6 ($3.50), made with sliced Chinese barbecue pork. Several of the sandwiches are made with meats that are less familiar to Westerners, such as headcheese and pork pate. Adventuresome eaters: Go for it. The rest of us will have a better experience if we recognize our limitations. And all of Kimlan’s basic pork fillings are delicious and let the fresh veggies shine. (Beware: Biting into the included fresh jalapenos will set your head on fire, which is a good or bad thing, depending on your tolerance for spice.)
The chicken filling (No. 4, $3.50) also was flavorful, though it’s shredded rather than grilled and chunked as the menu suggests. The grilled beef filling (No. 5, $3.50), which comes in the shape of meatballs, also was good.
The No. 2 ($3.95) with headcheese, a loaf made from meat from the animal’s head, wasn’t shockingly unpleasant — it had kind of a salami/bologna feel — but I probably wouldn’t order it again.
We also tried the stir-fry lunch special, which feels like it was added to appease larger appetites or non-sandwich eaters. The day we visited, it was a mixture of grilled beef, mushrooms, broccoli and water chestnuts, which was tasty but seemed pretty “blah” next to the beautiful sandwiches.
Kimlan is a little short on side items, but they do have some gorgeous and large spring rolls, stuffed with shrimp, pork and vegetables, and they’ll sell you their tiny fried egg rolls by request. A package of two spring rolls costs $2.75. The restaurant also serves several pre-packaged items at the counter, such as savory pies and crispy bread rounds made from leftover bread.