One measure of how far Americans have come in their globetrotting culinary breadth is the number of ordinary folks I know who've tried a bánh mì, the great Vietnamese street-food sandwich. A fusing of Southeast Asian flavors (fish sauce, chilies, cilantro, pickled vegetables) with culinary traditions borrowed from French colonials (bread, charcuterie, mayonnaise), it's one of the best $3 meals in town: fresh, quick, and delicious. While many bánh-mì outlets offer only a handful of options, King Do has 15 ($2.75–$3.25), mostly combinations of various Vietnamese pork-based cold cuts like jambon (Western-style ham), meat loaf (rather like bologna), pork roll (with the texture of a fine-grained sausage), cured pork (a bit like mortadella), head cheese, and Saigon bacon.
Other options include shredded pork (actually crushed in a mortar), pork meatballs (sweetly seasoned and dressed in tomato sauce), and shredded pork with skin (like boiled rather than fried chicharrón). Neophytes can comfortably order grilled beef, chicken, or pork. There's also veggie (tofu and salad greens) and the outstanding sardine, stuffed with two big, plump, salty fish. Pork-liver pâté (not unlike liverwurst) is featured in many sandwiches, by itself, or as an optional add-on for 50 cents; other meats can be added for $1. Every bánh mì includes transversely sliced cucumbers, long shreds of pickled carrot and daikon, sprigs of fresh cilantro, and, if you specify "spicy," sliced fresh jalapeños. Dressings include Vietnamese mayo and sometimes a drizzle of fish sauce.
The space is cavernous, bright, clean, and multi-purpose, featuring 50 cafeteria-table seats for diners eating in. Vietnamese pastries, elaborate specialty cakes, and disappointing, watery iced coffee ($2) are available from the bakery section; pre-packaged lunches of bun (rice vermicelli with various grilled meats, $3) and giant bánh xèo (savory stuffed rice-flour crepes, $4) are also on offer. But it's the bánh mì that draws the steady stream of Vietnamese ex-pats and locals.
Having evangelized this sandwich for years, made many converts, and tried every local purveyor I can find, I've decided a fresh, quality baguette makes a huge difference. King Do bakes theirs daily on the premises, and they're delightful, the crust offering the unmistakable crackle of added rice flour. The best roll in town yields one extraordinary sandwich.
King Do Baguette and Pastry, located at 1229 Dorchester Avenue, in Dorchester, is open Monday–Saturday, from 5:30 am–7 pm, and Sunday, from 6 am–7 pm. Call 617.436.5464.