|The pork meatball banh mi at Banh Mi Coda|
Welcome to a new obsession: banh mi. These delicious sandwiches – a sort of Vietnamese sub – may seem an unlikely Asian food, depending as they do on fresh baguettes. They make sense, though, when you realize that Vietnam was influenced by France since the 17th century, and was part of French Indochina from 1887 until it won its independence in 1954.
Though it shows itself in other parts of Vietnamese food, that relationship is most famously displayed in the banh mi – and the best rendition of banh mi I’ve tasted comes from Banh Mi Coda, a cute little shop on the corner of Louisiana and Central, across the parking lot from Ta Lin Market. This corner is Albuquerque’s Vietnamese restaurant mecca – there are two others in the same building as Banh Mi Coda, and two more across the street. (My favorite full-service Vietnamese place, Cafe Trang, is next door.)
The base of a great banh mi is a great baguette, and Banh Mi Coda’s are amazing – flavorful and crisp on the outside, with a perfect moist and chewy crumb. They make their own, and they are arguably better than any other baguette in town. (Man, I’m making myself hungry here.)
There are 11 choices of filling for that beautiful baguette, including two vegetarian options: over-easy egg and tofu. I suspect the tofu is made in-house, but haven’t asked. Meat choices range from Vietnamese cold cuts to grilled pork, to shrimp sausage, to incredible little tubes of lemongrass beef meatloaf. My favorite, as you may have guessed, is the lemongrass meatloaf, but I haven’t tried one yet that was less than delicious – though the shrimp sausage seems a little underfilled. (All of the fillings are also available in bulk to take home, as are the baguettes and a scrumptious-looking stew I haven’t tried yet.)
Stuffed into a 12-inch baguette along with your filling choice are rich Vietnamese mayonnaise and sparklingly fresh vegetables: cilantro, jalapeno, cucumber, and pickled carrot & daikon mix. The resulting sandwich is fresh-tasting, loaded with flavor and texture, and absolutely craving-inducing. All for only $4.50.
Also available at Banh Mi Coda are beautiful flaky choux pastries (puff pastries) in two varieties: one is stuffed with Vietnamese-spiced ground pork; the other adds a flavor of New Mexico, chicken with green chile. Both are delicious, and a steal at $2.00.
|Pork choux pastry|
The restaurant itself is small and cheerful, with sunny yellow-on-yellow striped walls and glass cases of intriguing-looking Vietnamese sweets, packaged meats, tubs of stew, and bottles of housemade soy milk. Five small tables provide seating, or if the place is packed, take your sandwich outside in its paper-lined yellow basket and sit on a shady bench next to the bus stop. (More pleasant than it sounds, I promise.)
To drink, have a Vietnamese coffee with boba or a sweet limeade. If you’re lucky, you’ll get here on a Wednesday, when the parking lot hosts several food trucks, one which serves only dessert for a sweet send-off to your meal.
|Cold-cut banh mi #1|
The more times I eat here, the more I want to go back, and it seems I’m not alone; customers come and go in a steady stream, speaking Vietnamese, Spanish, and English. I’m glad when there’s a line at the counter; food this good deserves to be popular, and I hope Banh Mi Coda gets enough business to stay open for a long time to come.
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