Bo Kho, a traditional Vietnamese beef stew
Used to be, whenever I found myself hungry for lunch in the Sports Arena/Loma Portal area, I’d wind up enduring the lines of either In-N-Out Burger or Phil’s BBQ. That changed for the better a couple years ago, when Bánh Mì Hội An opened on Rosecrans Street. Its delicious, crusty sandwiches have become my go-to grab-and-go since the summer of 2018.
3145 Rosecrans Street, Suite A, San Diego
In fact, it’s Hội An special bánh mì ($6.50) — the meaty signature sandwiches made with Vietnamese pork loaf, pork belly, jambon, braised pork, and pate — has proven so satisfying, I rarely consider anything else.
But it was about time I did. Truth is, despite its name, Bánh Mì Hội An is much more than just a bánh mì shop. It offers plenty of hot and cold Vietnamese dishes, ranging from phở noodle soups ($9-12) and rice plates to summer rolls ($5.50) and bun (pronounced like boon), also known as vermicelli noodle salad ($9-12, including options for lemongrass beef, marinated tofu, and glazed salmon)..
As San Diego has entered the purple tier, putting indoor dining on ice for a while, I did something I haven’t done before. I put in an order for take-out at Bánh Mì Hội An, not for lunch, but for dinner. I still picked up a Hội An special sandwich — a couple actually — because it’s really built to please, any time of day. I got a sumptuous order of pork skewer and egg roll bun. But the focus of my meal was an altogether different dish: bo kho ($9.95).
Banh Mi Hoi An's signature Hoi An Special, featuring pork loaf, pork belly, jambon, braised pork, and pate
It’s a Vietnamese stew, built around braised beef and carrots. Which sounds a lot like a French stew, sure. But much like banh mi draws upon Vietnamese ingredients and traditions to distinguish itself from French use of baguettes to make sandwiches, bo kho manages to be as comforting as Continental stews, while retaining a sense of Southeast Asian character.
And so I found myself ushering forkfuls of familiar tomato-based beef stew, while marveling over its distinctions. Is that fish sauce? I wondered. That must be lemon grass?
The vermicelli noodle salad, bun, with pork skewers and egg rolls (lettuce not pictured)
True to stew form, you may order it with a side of baguettes for dipping, or as I did, with rice. On a chilly night, the warming dish satisfied every bit as much as the sandwich I ate beside it.
Bánh Mì Hội An does offer limited outdoor seating, but I can’t think of a better take-out option in the area, whether for lunch or dinner, winter or summer, pandemic or whatever it is that comes after.