PICTURED: Saigon-style banh mi sandwich with marinated pork, pate, mayo, soy sauce, pickled carrots, cucumbers, jalapeño and cilantro. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Banh Mi Paris Sandwiches
1413 S. Victoria Ave., Suite E, Ventura
805-620-0987
banhmiparissandwiches.com
$2-$16


First things first: Despite the name, Banh Mi Paris Sandwiches is way more than just a sandwich shop. But even if that was all this eatery served, it would be enough.

The restaurant in Ventura’s Victoria Village (near Harbor Freight Tools and Victoria Pub and Grill) just opened this past spring, which could not have been easy. It seems to be making the most of it, however, as I’ve been hearing whispers about it from friends. The restaurant bakes its own bread which it fills with meat, pickled veggies, cilantro, lime, chile and other good stuff to make those ever-popular Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. There are also meat dishes, egg rolls, pho, a Peruvian-inspired stir fry, boba and smoothies. Like I said . . . much more than sandwiches.

While I am a big fan of pho, which I will happily slurp up anytime of day or night, I’m not overly familiar with Vietnam’s other specialties. Clearly, a takeout order was called for, if only for my culinary education.

Of the several banh mis on offer (pork, chicken, beef and tofu), I chose the Saigon style — a combo of marinated pork, pate, mayo, soy sauce, pickled carrots, cucumbers, jalapeño and cilantro. To go with it: spring rolls, a grilled Korean short rib plate served with rice, the combination vermicelli and popcorn chicken, plus an order of pho with tri tip. 

Being a bit of a newbie (I know, I know — late to the party), I was excited to try the banh mi first. And now I understand what has made this sandwich so trendy! The bread is much like a baguette, but airer, with a shiny crust — easier to bite into than a traditional chewy French bread. The mix of meat, vegetables, cilantro and chile is fantastic, hitting several flavor profiles and textures all at once. And that touch of pate? Really added an earthy richness. I’m not sure I can enjoy your basic ham on rye after this.

Shrimp spring rolls. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

The spring rolls were a beautiful composition of lettuce, pork, rice noodles and shrimp, all wrapped in translucent rice paper. Very colorful, fresh, a little crunchy and light. The peanut sauce on the side added more punch, but I rather like the simplicity of them as is. 

The popcorn chicken — essentially bite-size nuggets of chicken deep fried in batter — was not as good, in my opinion. I found it dry and tasteless, although the kids liked it well enough.

Both of the “entrees” were delish. That Korean short rib was so tender and flavorful; a little rich, but fantastic. The grilled meats on the vermicelli dish included chicken, pork and beef — and all were lightly seasoned and grilled just right. I might prefer rice with these meat dishes over the vermicelli (which here is actually a thin rice noodle), but either make a good base for the protein. Both came with a fresh, crisp salad garnish on the side.

Last . . . but by no means least . . . the pho. Yum! A rich, beefy broth with rice noodles, plenty of tri tip, green onions, slivers of white onions, cilantro, jalapeño and bean sprouts on the side . . . This may not be the **best** pho I’ve ever had, but it’s quite good and was enjoyed by everyone. And there was certainly plenty to go around!

I liked almost everything we ordered from Banh Mi Paris Sandwiches. In hindsight, however, that pork banh mi on homemade bread, and the rich, meaty pho, were the standouts. Soup and sandwich: A simple but satisfying meal. Give it a Vietnamese twist, and you’ve got something much more special on your hands. Paris? Saigon? Ventura County? Who cares? Bon appétit!