A fast-food style of banh mi shop modeled after the behemoth Lee's Sandwich chain opened a mile down the street from 24-hour Lee's on Westminster Boulevard. To succeed in Little Saigon's bánh mì wars, where the sandwiches sell for an average of $3, shops take either the small-and-lean model of business, or the go-big-and-sell-a-ton strategy. Will they beat Lee's at the game they invented?
Teo's baguettes have the high quality you expect from a small bakery, even though they're not small. Slashes cut into the dough as it rises form sharp “ears” that stand away from the rest of the crust. That's a sign of properly proofed and baked baguettes. The thin, crisp shell of a crust crackles into shards the moment you bite into the soft interior. Unlike the dry, cottony texture of Lee's baguettes, the Teo baguettes are moister and have unevenly-sized bubbles inside. Those are signs of a dough that's not squished between rollers during shaping. The baguettes somehow taste buttery without having butter in them, much like the wonderful baguettes at the tiny bakery Bánh Mì Cho Cu.
The mass-production assembly line is what puts the quick-service into play. Behind the glassed-off counter are a refrigerated case filled with chilled cold cuts and a hot line with things like meatballs in steam pans. The nem, grilled pork sausages, carry a slightly sweet flavor and just enough fat to let you know it's sausage.
The banh mi dac biet, the house special, is unlike any other in town. They use pork-roll cold cuts and jambon, a ham cured such that the pork skin turns pleasantly gelatinous. Where most places slice their cold cuts thinly, Teo goes thick. In this writer's opinion, thickly sliced, gelatinous pork skin is about as unappealing as it sounds. Teo – thin to win! They spritz some Maggi sauce and a ton of black pepper on the dac biet sandwich, making it a fireball of heat. Perhaps I hit some especially hot jalapeno slices in my pepper-happy sandwich, but damn.
Teo doesn't have any gabacho sandwiches like Lee's ham and cheese with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Will a purely Vietnamese ingredient list hurt Teo? Certainly not in Little Saigon, but if they someday plan on morphing into a national chain like Lee's, they probably ought to consider it. Regardless, in the two months Teo has been open, they've been consistently busier each time despite the lack of English-friendly menus and staff. They're probably unconcerned about watering down the bánh mì experience, and beating Lee's at part of their game all the same.
Teo Sandwiches 14014 Magnolia St., Westminster. (714) 622-4819