This Hole-in-the-Wall Life
Photo by Joy WeberThe Bánh Mì Cho Cu experience—from entering to ordering to banging out the door—lasts about three minutes even during the most hectic hours. Don't stop to inhale the odors of ripe fruit and fried flour. "Yes?!" the attractive cashier snaps when you first step inside the claustrophobic Little Saigon bakery. "Can I help you?! What do you want?!"
But hold on. It's not rudeness or some sort of mistranslated cultural characteristic from the exotic East. It's economic efficiency. Waiting behind you are other harried customers. If you appear to be thinking, considering, weighing options, these others will gently but firmly—with body language or some kind of morphic-field energy—direct you away from the counter and fire off their orders with the assuredness of family. The Vietnamese counter woman thanks each customer after they order, throwing you a knowing, mocking glance.
This is how you do it if you want something to eat. And though Bánh Mì Cho Cu bakes buttery, flaky croissants and apple strudels as well as the fried sesame-seed-speckled, golf-ball-sized Vietnamese delight called bánh cam (which contains enough grease to shine up a Mr. Universe contestant), you're tolerating brusqueness for the 10 choices of bánh mì, the footlong sandwich that is one of the most delicious robberies in the gustatory world at $1.50 per stickup. Barbecue pork is charred to a ruddy crispness, yet moist. Meatballs are densely herbed and juicy, not bitter like those found at so many bánh mi shops. Fans of pork skin should order the bánh mì bì, julliened pork hide so fresh you can still taste—no, no: not taste, but somehow sense—the bristles. A breakfast bánh mì includes the perfect scrambled egg, oozing just enough yolk to liven up your morning.
When you finally decide which bánh mì to take out—there's only one table, and it's rickety—the Cho Cu folks respond tersely. The cashier-goddess now barks her orders to an older Vietnamese woman, who immediately grabs a firm baguette from a tray, splits it, and then rushes to a counter containing the bánh mì contents. She piles into the baguette the meat of your desire, adding strands of pickled carrot and daikon, sprigs of cilantro and slices of jalapeño and cucumber. She crushes the loaf to ensure its contents don't spill out.
She then wraps the finished bánh mì in butcher paper, stretches a rubber band around it, and hands your request to the youthful cashier, who smacks it sweetly upon your hands. "Thank you!" she chirps when you pay. Now get the hell out.
Bánh Mì Cho Cu, 14520 Mangolia St., Unit B, Westminster, (714) 891-3718.
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