This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Two weeks ago, I visited San Jose for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' annual convention. During one of many breaks, I walked the city's downtown and happened upon a Vietnamese restaurant that sold bánh mì, the foot-long sandwiches that traditionally go for ridiculously low prices. The restaurant advertised them for $2.50, but I felt ripped off. See, my favorite OC bánh mì shop, Bánh Mì Cho Cu, hawks sandwiches for $1.75.

Imagine my outrage, then, when I walked into Zon Baguettes in Tustin and noticed the prices for bánh mìs ranged from $2.75 to an outrageous $4.25. More than 4 freaking bucks! But I remembered the bitter memories of Vietnamese pals who longed for the days when Little Saigon vendors advertised 75-cent bánh mì specials with free sodas. One cannot change the inexorable rise of prices over the years. More important, however, a $3 bánh mí still beats the vast majority of sandwiches in Orange County.

Especially Zon's, which distinguishes itself not only by offering a spacious, serene restaurant far from the madding Little Saigon crowds, but also by its bread. While most bánh mì shops use tough, crackly baguettes, Zon's are more like French rolls in their fluffiness and chewiness. The thickness of these baguettes also means Zon can stuff in more ingredients than would fit in a regular baguette—and stuff they do.

Maybe I'll try Zon's full Vietnamese menu featuring soups, rice dishes and vermicelli salads in a couple of months, but I'm currently too obsessed with their weighty bánh mìs. You can choose from 16 sandwiches, all of which have their charms and come with pickled daikon and carrots, onions, and a sweet homemade mayonnaise. Barbecued pork (xá xíu) is slightly sweet; sardines are pungent but tasty. Vegetarians can choose between a fried tofu option, the tofu soft and golden, or one bursting with vegetables. Paté isn't dense but buttery, more spread than meatloaf. I still haven't built up the courage to try their headcheese, but only because that meat's made from lips.

And the most expensive bánh mí, the $4.25 grilled beef-steak sandwich that left me apoplectic? With meat as luscious as filet mignon, I'd pay $15 for this bánh mì—but don't get ideas from reading this, you guys!

ZON BAGUETTES, 14081 NEWPORT AVE., TUSTIN, (714) 731-1366.


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