Lynda Sandwich Says Bye-Bye, Bánh Mì
What a difference a decade makes: In 2002, when I began my reign as this infernal rag's food critic, I still had to explain to readers what a bánh mì was—this, even though y'all are supposed to be hip, unlike troglodytic Orange County Register readers. Little Saigon was still relatively foreign to the non-Vietnamese; Lee's Sandwiches had just opened off Bolsa Avenue; and the rest of the county still hadn't figured out that the foot-long marvel of baguette, meat, and pickled daikons and carrots was the greatest meal deal on Earth at a criminally low $1.50 per sandwich.
Nowadays, Lee's has 16 locations across Orange County, twice as many as that other local ethnic chain gone big, Taquería de Anda. Second-wave bánh mì shops Americanized the dish to get more of the mi chang (gabacho in Vietnamese) dollar. And now we have bánh mì stores where the sandwich is almost an afterthought, a genre of which Lynda Sandwich is the premier example. Yes, they sell those titans of taste, offering the traditional stuffings (grilled or barbecued pork, vegetarian, or the julliened pig skin called bì) along with more inventive creations such as a silky fried-egg version, or one filled with crunchy shrimp cake. And these bánh mìs are delicious—not the best in Orange County, as those crazy Yelpers insist (it's still Bánh Mì Cho Cu, kids!), but pretty close. Yet Lynda understands the bánh mì craze is over, that it's now like getting a hamburger, so it offers other things as well: soups, bowls, pastries, and enough sinh tos (smoothies) to permanently disable this swamp of a heat wave we've experienced these past couple of weeks.
Lynda has rightfully received the most attention for—of all things—its beignets. The one positive note that came from Hurricane Katrina is the wave of Big Easy Vietnamese residents who relocated to OC, bringing along such traditions as crawfish boils, chicory coffee and beignets, those fried lengths of dough that make churros seem as tasteful as a broomstick. At Lynda's, an order results in a basket of fried dough in various sizes, from as small as a fingernail to things as long as a palm. Though freshly fried, there's little grease: it's all chewy superlatives, dusted with powdered sugar or—better yet—honey. While the bánh mìs are now a casualty of food inflation at more than $3 each (as with almost all of its competitors), it's the beignets that are one of OC's best deals at just more than $3. And it's the beignets I must now explain, the bánh mìs I merely mention—and the great OC melting-pot beat goes on.
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