[This Hole-in-the-Wall Life] Pork Power at Banh Mi Ba Le in Westminster

Behold, the porcine power of the bánh mì special at BANH MI BA LE: four pork products crammed into a foot-long baguette, smeared with mustard, then topped with jalapeño slivers and pickled daikon. Taste the smoky wonder that is the Chinese-style barbecue pork. Feel the slightly sour aftertaste of the pale pork roll on your tastebuds. Don’t be surprised when you realize that the mushy product swishing around your mouth isn’t mayo, but rather pork-liver paté, extra concentrated. And make sure to nibble long and hard on the small tendons scatttered across the strips of headcheese hugging the bành mì’s soft inside—mmm, that’s some good snout!

Despite its name, Ba Le is probably most famous in Little Saigon for its deli, front and center in the tiny dive next to Asian Gardens Mall. The cooks prepare meats and patés of all kinds on the hour, offering them for sale or stuffing them into sandwiches. In the cold-cuts counter sit the aforementioned headcheese (get over its offal essence—this is a delicious meat with a mild aftertaste), a couple of hams and bags of bì, shredded pork skin that can do much more for a salad than a crouton ever could. Although Ba Le stocks name-brand patés, its take is smoother, more rustic than anything you’ve ever tasted. In a smaller section is Vietnamese beef jerky, ranging in heat and tenderness and always plentiful and cheap. Vegetarians shouldn’t feel left out; Ba Le also prepares bì chay, the vegetarian version of bì, but tasting more like the great sautéed tofu it actually is.

It’s not surprising, then, that most of Ba Le’s namesake bánh mìs feature pig as its main meat. All shine, befitting of one of Little Saigon’s first bánh mì shops. My Muslim and Jewish friends shouldn’t fret; the vegetarian and breakfast bánh mì (the latter featuring a perfect sunny-side-up egg) remain among the best in Orange County. Unfortunately, the global food crisis has also affected Little Saigon, so Ba Le’s bánh mì prices have risen dramatically in the past year—you now must pay $2.25 for a delicious, filling, foot-long sandwich. Oh, the humanity!

Final thought: Although Ba Le creates great sinh to (Vietnamese fruit smoothies), the best drink with which to enjoy a bánh mì is chrysanthemum tea. Its slightly sweet, woody taste is a great counterpoint to all the flavors in your sandwich. Get Yeo brand, and say goodbye to Lipton forever.

Banh Mi Ba Le, 9152 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 891-9424.

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