Bánh mì Ba Lẹ Oakland

    Must have been at least seven years since I had a bánh mì ốp-la (bánh mì with sunny-side-up egg). Most Vietnamese sandwich stores in the States don’t put eggs in their breads, but ốp la (probably a strayed pronunciation of “omelette” in French colonial days) is the most common type of bánh mì stuffing you can find on the streets in Vietnam.

    This store contains as much variety as twenty street food stalls: about 15 kinds of banh mi, with meats, pate, vegetarian, and even sardines (cá mòi), ranging from $2.50-$3 each. Then there are bò kho, bún bò, bánh cuốn, rice plates, bánh dầy, bánh tét, and a thousand other things. Thank god there is no phở here.

    Ba Lẹ’s bánh cuốn comes with a garden, finger-thick cuts of chả lụa, and cubes of deep fried mung bean batter named bánh cóng. It’s not as good as the shrimp-and-sweet-potato tempura accompanying Tây Hồ‘s bánh cuốn, but it has a lot more rolls than Tây Hồ’s for a lower price. Tây Hồ still has the best rolls, but these are good too. Except they aren’t pre-halved in length. Oh well. Sloppiness is street-foodieness.

    The location is less than appetizing to the eye. On rainy days, you see worn down bricked alleys with puddles. On dry day, you see worn down brick alleys with unkempt people. The buildings are old, the paints have faded. But the steady flow of customers even on rainy days confirms that Ba Lẹ isn’t just a name from the pre-1975 Saigon. It’s one of those real banh mi’s.

    Address: Bánh Mì Ba Lẹ (East Oakland)
    1909 International Blvd
    Oakland, CA 94606
    (510) 261-9800

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