The Banh Mi Babe deluxe, with pork belly, Vietnamese ham, chicken, and pate
It’s been a little while since I’ve eaten a good bánh mì. So when I heard about a newish spot that had apparently opened during the pandemic, I placed an order online. Then I copied the address into my phone, hit start on the mapping software, and let its genteel robot voice guide me across town toward Banh Mi Babe to pick it up.
Now, I generally knew the shop was in the College Area, but it was a surprise to find myself actually driving through campus. The counter shop sits on the southern edge of SDSU, where it meets Montezuma Road.
5854 Montezuma Road, San Diego
Which explains why it forged ahead with a covid-era opening. The university did, after all. And then it closed again due to a slew of infections. And then it partly opened again a few weeks ago. I admit, I had to ask myself, “Am I driving into a hot zone?”
But, if I’m being honest, another question felt more pressing: “Am I about to pick up a lousy bánh mì?” College campuses don’t exactly have a reputation for quality, nor are campus known for cultural authenticity.
A packaged take out order from Banh Mi Babe
Banh Mi Babe may be the exception that proves the rule. Started up by a pair of women who came here from Vietnam as refugees, the sandwich shop prepares its meats, sauces, and pâté in-house, and sources quality ingredients, beginning with its bread. The baguettes used to make these bánh mì are light, with crispy crust, and just about perfect.
I would recommend going with the best seller, dubbed the Banh Mi Babe deluxe. Along with the base toppings — lettuce, pickled carrot, daikon radish, cilantro, cucumber, and jalapeño — it’s meaty with pork belly, chicken, Vietnamese ham, pork pâté and finished with garlic butter.
A French dip add-on to a filet mignon banh mi
At $9.50, it costs more than equivalent bánh mìs found down the hill in the Little Saigon section of City Heights, and I would bet the uptick in costs spreads evenly between location and higher quality ingredients. There’s a hint of sweetness, perhaps form the garlic butter, that probably pairs better with a collegiate palate.
This was more pronounced on a lemongrass marinated filet mignon bánh mì ($11.50). The meat was tender and flavorful, but on its own I wanted more savor than sweet. Fortunately, I ordered this as a “Dip Me Babe,” this shop’s answer to a French dip. For two or three bucks, any sandwich can be upgraded to include hot beef broth for dipping. It raised the cost of my filet sandwich to $13.50, but the salty broth balanced that sweetness to suit my tastes better.
"Dry ramen," served without the broth
If that didn’t convince me Banh Mi Babe isn’t entirely married to authenticity, the presence of shoyu (a.k.a. soy sauce flavored) ramen on the menu did. Even more so, the option for a “dry ramen,” served without broth and with cilantro, for some reason. Maybe the thinking is that ramen is more marketable to the college set than phở? Heck, maybe it’s more marketable to all San Diegans.