International Boulevard, which runs south from Oakland’s Lake Merritt, may be best known for Mexican street food, but there are viable alternatives, including Banh Mi Ba Le. A family from Saigon has owned this market for over 15 years, specializing in Vietnamese sandwiches.
#8 Grilled Pork Sandwich, aka banh mi thit nuong ($2.75) featured pork belly marinated with garlic, fish sauce, and soy, a slab of cucumber, spicy jalapeño, a healthy amount of cilantro, pickled daikon and carrot, and no mayo. The combination arrived on a slightly sweet, chewy baguette that didn’t break apart like lesser banh mi breads.
#13 Meatball and Egg Sandwich, aka banh mi xiu mai opla ($2.75), featured a peppery crumble of pork, a similar complement of accompaniments, and a judicious amount of mayo.
#19 BBQ Pork Patties, aka banh mi nem nuong ($2.75), featured firm, peppery slices of pork product, and yes, another standard spread of condiments and accompaniments.
Other interesting banh mi options included “bacon,” sardines, roasted eel and sour pork.
Banh Mi Ba Le also prepares all sorts of kooky, colorful snacks and beverages, including pennywort and sugar cane juice, avocado and durian shakes, jelly drinks, flan, and crispy cha gio, which we gladly bought and devoured in the car.
Banh Mi Ba Le reminded me of some of the Little Saigon banh mi shops in Orange County. The value and variety compare pretty favorably. The next time we drive between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, picking up more banh mi from Ba Le would probably be a good plan.
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