A long line of customers snaked down the hallway at the sunken California Plaza food court. This came as no surprise. Mario del Pero, Ellen Chen and chef Judy Han’s glass-fronted eatery has quickly earned the reputation for having the best sandwiches in the city. No argument from the long lines, and no argument from me.
Mendocino Farms relies on “sophisticated ‘Wine Country’ inspired ingredients” to compose “avant garde sandwiches.” There’s a core menu, plus six seasonal sandwiches and daily salad, side and soup specials.
Mendocino Farms preaches farm-driven produce. Han and del Pero go so far as to spotlight a different farm each season, including a poster for every customer to see in the lunch line. This fall it’s Coleman Farms, Bill Coleman’s farm in Carpinteria.
Breadbar supplies all of Mendocino Farms’ bread: rustic white, ciabatta, buckwheat, sourdough wheat and yellow-hued curcuma hazelnut. You’ll six categories of sandwiches: Chicken, Steak & Specialty Meats, Local Farm Turkey, Pork, Seafood and Vegetarian. Counting seasonal specials, there were almost 30 different sandwiches, not an easy choice.
Kurobuta Pork Belly Banh Mi ($9.75) consisted of braised and caramelized Kurobuta pork belly with house-made pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapenos and chile aioli. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that traditionally incorporates baguette. In this case, we received ciabatta.
As it turned out, both sandwiches were fairly similar, employing rich, slow-cooked meat and fresh-baked ciabatta. The duck had the advantage of crispy cuts of fried duck skin and chewy bits of sweet fig, which supplied winning texture. The pork belly sandwich benefited from the jalapeno’s chile heat and crunchy pickled vegetables. Both sandwiches were well worth ordering.
Mendocino Farms is one of a small group of certified green restaurants in the city. One of the factors that warranted that distinction is their wooden barrels. Just outside the exit, there are separate barrels for compostable rubbish, recyclable paper products, and recyclable glass, cans & plastic.
Considering Mendocino Farms employs a Director of Growth – Ellen Chen – Del Pero and Han are likely to open more locations. In fact, whispers have already started to the west. Based on my initial experience, it’s clear that Angelenos who can’t reach California Plaza during the week have a lot to look forward to.