Most Vietnamese food enthusiasts are already well versed in the cuisine’s two best-known staples: pho and banh mi. But until this year, they’d have been hard-pressed to find the two sharing a plate.
Enter chef Chloe Tran, who debuted a pho baguette on the menu of her new branch of East Borough, in Culver City, about 10 miles west of downtown Los Angeles. For Tran, the sandwich—which has the airy French bread and pickled vegetables we love in a traditional banh mi, but swaps the usual pork belly with the braised beef brisket traditionally used in pho—was something of a no-brainer.
“I’d been doing banh mi for a few years at our first Costa Mesa location,” she says, “and I’d always loved the flavors of pho. So I just started thinking about how these two iconic dishes might come together. I know the ingredients so well, it only took a little experimentation to get the combination right.”
The sandwich was an immediate hit. L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold even quipped that it “might well be the dish of the year.” Now that word is getting out about it, Tran says the pho baguette “has definitely developed a fan base. We serve at least one to almost every table on a given day.”
The Filling: Tran slow-simmers her beef brisket in pho seasonings—onions, ginger, cloves, star anise, fish sauce—for 10 hours before cutting it into thick slabs for the sandwich. After dousing the meat liberally with a tangy-spicy Sriracha-hoisin aioli (made in-house), she layers on slivers of pickled daikon, carrot, chile pepper, onion, Thai basil leaves and mung bean sprouts for crunch. The finishing touch is a generous squeeze of lime juice, which, says Tran, adds a crucial note of brightness to the rich density of the other ingredients.
The Bread: Tran gets her daily-baked baguettes from a nearby Orange County bakery. “It’s a little crisper, a little lighter than a true French baguette,” she says. “It’s got a slight chew to it, which balances the texture really well.” For the sandwich, she uses 10-inch sections, making the pho baguette more than enough to share.
If you need further proof that pho and banh mi belong together, you’ll find it in a bowl next to your sandwich. Each one comes with a “sidecar”—a small bowl of pho broth that pairs perfectly. Tran also recommends a side of East Borough’s fish sauce–glazed fried chicken wings, or rice paper–wrapped Imperial Rolls, stuffed with fried pork, taro, greens and herbs. But she says the best accompaniment of all is beer. We’re convinced.