If there's one trend that food nerds find gratifying, it's the growing popularity of the bánh mì, the Vietnamese street-food sub I've long called Boston's best cheap lunch. While fans once had to hike to Savin Hill or ferret out purveyors tucked away in odd locations (a Chinatown jewelry store, an Allston supermarket food court), the hunt is getting easier. Food-truck sensation Bon Me, for example, has hordes of downtown office workers lining up daily for its slightly bowdlerized sandwiches at the somewhat fancy price of $6. By contrast, West Roxbury's new Bánh Mì Ngon pulls no punches, topping the classic bánh mì foundation — crackly-crusted, lightly toasted baguette from a Dorchester Vietnamese bakery, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, house-made Asian mayo, and optional sliced fresh jalapeños — with unmistakable, unapologetic Vietnamese flavors.
You know you're in a traditional bánh mì shop when your protein options include fragrant sardines ($4.50), grilled patties of ground shrimp ($5.25), and the classic charcuterie assortment ($4.75) of Vietnamese-style ham, head cheese, and liver pâté. Vegetarians are well-served by options like five-spice-marinated tofu ($4.50) and a veggie-burger-like blend of tofu, shallots, and mushrooms. You can encourage your novice friends toward less-challenging toppings ($4.75) like slices of rotisserie chicken, marinated grilled beef, char-siu-like pork, or marinated grilled chicken. Familiar or no, it's hard not to adore the meatball ($4.75), which takes juicy pork meatballs, pale as milk-fed veal, and crushes them to near sloppy-joe softness — a beautiful flavor with some textural novelty. Appetizers include superb, light fresh summer rolls ($3.50) loaded with shrimp and pork, served with a good peanut/coconut dipping sauce, and crunchy fried spring rolls ($3.50) filled with ground chicken, shredded carrots, and black mushrooms, served with a sweet/tart Thai chili dip. One recurring special tops rice vermicelli with marinated/grilled chicken, pork, or beef ($6.50) with shredded lettuce, carrots, cukes, and a fried spring roll on the side, plus a sweet/sour garlic and chili dressing. Another puts rotisserie chicken atop jasmine rice ($6.50) with sides of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and teriyaki sauce.
Drinks include the usual fierce and sweet chicory-softened espresso with sweetened condensed milk ($2 hot, $3 iced), excellent fruit/coconut-milk smoothies ($3) like a very refreshing pineapple and bracing fresh limeade ($2). Terrific house-made desserts include vanilla-coconut pudding loaded with chewy tapioca pearls ($1.50) and a loose, almost-drinkable coconut custard ($1.50). The sunny storefront has only six window-facing counter seats and one two-top, so most folks take out. In a largely residential neighborhood that suddenly has a dozen fine little indie restaurants, Bánh Mì Ngon's fresh, vibrant flavors and family-friendly prices appear to be a perfect fit.
BÁNH MÌ NGON, located at 1759 Centre Street in West Roxbury, is open Monday through Saturday, 11 am to 8 pm. Call 617.325.0946 or visit banhmingon.net.