Despite being a cultural hub for the largest population of Khmer in the U.S., Long Beach’s Cambodia Town is actually a diverse place. Drive down the mile-long stretch of Anaheim Street, and you’re just as likely to see Cambodian nightclubs, grocery stores and restaurants as you are to see places selling Honduran baleadas, waffle sandwiches and good ol’ American pizza. Most of these non-Cambodian food options are quality enough to divert someone originally seeking a whole, fried catfish or a plate of amok trey. One category, however, has always been woefully lacking in quality here — Vietnamese cuisine.
Long Beach’s small Vietnamese population is represented by a handful of holes in the wall across the city, specializing in only one of two things: pho or bánh mì. The pho restaurants are scattered throughout town, with Pho Hong Phat the continual, ultimate best. For bánh mìs, there are two Lee’s Sandwiches, both just outside Cambodia Town’s border, and two locally owned sandwich shops, which have nestled among Khmer-lettered businesses on Anaheim since before the 1992 Riots.
The only problem is that neither My Le nor Baguette Paris are very good. Sure, they get the job done when you need a quick, cheap fix of bread, meat and pickled things, but the owners seem more focused on value than options, offering only a few other items besides their understuffed $2.75 sandwiches.
When Cambodia Town’s third bánh mì spot, Lily Bakery (across from My Le), was abruptly closed down by the health department a few years ago, few were surprised. What has emerged in its place, though, is the kind of full-service Vietnamese bakery Long Beach has been desperately missing.
After a sleek (but not too fancy!) renovation of the former Lily Bakery space, KC Bakery opened in December with a new long ordering counter, a massive open kitchen and several deli cases filled with pastries, hot items and desserts, much of which gets snatched up early by the area’s Buddhist devotees who pick up food for the monks on their way to temple in the morning. What’s left by lunchtime remains on constant special: buy three pate chauds get one free, buy three sandwiches get one free, buy three Vietnamese crack coffees and get one free or get a sandwich and a coffee for a mere $5.50.
Unlike its other Cambodia Town counterparts, KC’s banh mi’s start at $3.50, which for the price, nets you get a fresh French baguette filled with the right proportion of meat to herbs, to jalapeños to that tangy slaw of pickled daikon and carrots. But besides its bành mìs, which come out of the kitchen quickly, rolled like white torpedos shoved into brown paper bags, KC’s main selling point is an entire menu of other daily made French-Vietnamese baked goods.
While you’re standing at the counter grabbing a bánh mì, it’s hard to stare into the adjacent cases and not also get some steamy pate chauds, crunchy fried egg rolls, slices of bell pepper garlic bread or any number of cookies, cream puffs and eclairs. The buttery croissants are an easy breakfast favorite, as flaky as they are flavorful, they’re filled with everything from ham and cheese to chocolate to strawberry, each requiring two full hands to properly devour.
In front of the register sits pre-wrapped spring rolls, heat-at-home steam buns of various sizes and Vietnamese desserts and cakes made by KT Bakery in Westminster. A boba drink sealer machine, used only for Thai iced teas and iced coffees for right now, is yet another first for Anaheim Street—just one more reason why KC is the best Vietnamese bakery in Cambodia Town.
1171 E Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 317-5500; kc-bakery.com