The spicy Vietnamese sandwiches known as báhn mi are normally encountered in plastic-wrapped stacks, occupying the refrigerator cases of unsettling prepared-food sections of Asian groceries around town. But Best Baguette on Southeast 83rd Avenue and Powell Boulevard—a former Boston Market, no less—is a marked contrast. Open seven days a week and boasting a drive-through pickup window, this is bánh mi done McDonald's innovator Ray Kroc-style.
Clean and inviting, this bakery/deli's high-tech, rotating-floor oven cranks out scores of foot-long baguettes an hour, ready to be slit open and filled. The baguettes themselves are airy torpedoes of goodness, with a satisfying, crackly crust. The digitally controlled oven ensures each loaf is clonelike in its consistency. This is vital, since it is the foundation for each sandwich on the menu.
It's a simple enough construct: Every sandwich gets a slathering of "house mayonnaise" and a dash of seasoned soy sauce before it's lined with the chosen protein. A "stuff it yourself" baggie of veggies is included with each order, containing a sweet, crunchy, pickled-daikon-and-carrot salad, several sprigs of cilantro and slivers of jalapeño. Wedge in your chosen vegetation and prepare to brush the crumbs off your sweater.
If the traditional special sandwich ($2.65) of pork liver pâté, ham, headcheese and the Vietnamese bologna cha-lua (here they call it pork roll) seems too offal-riffic, any number of more familiar ingredients may prove inviting. The grilled beef sandwich ($3.25) boasts a tangy, lemongrass-infused marinade—a fine Southeast Asian take on the classic Italian beef. The slices of marinated pork loin in the barbecue pork sandwich ($2.45) are good as well, but the real standouts are the more obscure items, like the surprisingly delicate Saigon bacon ($2.65) or the pork-roll-and-fried-egg sandwich ($2.95), which could give an Egg McMuffin a run for its money.
The Best Baguette menu can be dizzying. Aside from the sandwiches, they have several bakery items, both savory and sweet, a selection of hot Asian foods, dim sum, coffee drinks, bubble tea and even a freezer case of gelato. Huge bread sculptures of crabs, lobsters, teddy bears and bunnies sit on the shelves behind the cash register, and can be specially ordered for $25. You may never make it through the whole menu, but then again, the fact that the average item costs around $3 means you could certainly try. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.