Custardy tofu. Warm baguette. Crunchy daikon. Sweet hoisin. Bring on the banh mi!
On the way home from a meeting this morning, I stopped at Tony's Bakery and Deli on MLK. Gourmet magazine even mentions this incredible place when they talk about Seattle's two Little Saigons--one in the International District, and the other, in the neighborhood of yours truly. If you were to embark on a tour of Vietnamese delis between S. Jackson and S. Graham, you couldn't sample them all in year. Thankfully, I don't have to make time for that because I have Tony's.
There is so much there besides banh mi that it seems a shame to narrow my comments. I would have taken photos, but I felt shy...is it alright to pull out my camera and act like a tourist? Are people flattered or offended by that? Tony's has bazillions of sweets--sticky rice in all colors of the rainbow, various coconut and sesame treats, plastic cups full of milk puddings, slabs of angel food cake. They have apothecary jars of salted plums, the softest, freshest spring rolls (choice of shredded pork, shrimp, tofu, or Chinese sausage), bubble tea in all flavors (my six-year old Wyatt prefers taro), and a lengthy hot case. But I was after the lowly sandwich.
I've had a lot of banh mi in the last 10 years. I used to work at New Horizons Ministries in Belltown, and we would regularly feed our 60 volunteers for under 100 bucks with these things. There were always bottles of hoisin sauce and Sriracha in the fridge that we would pull out for meetings. I ordered grocery bags full of banh mi for Wyatt's first birthday party. Of course, he was too busy eating frosting and riding his new scooter around naked to sample them, but I'd like to think they made an impression anyway.
I told my husband Yancey last weekend that I'd been craving a stop at Tony's. This morning, kid-free and starving, my car practically drove itself there. The only reason I didn't eat my sandwich in the car is because the Sriracha and hoisin were at home--I can't eat banh mi without them. The three minute drive with the warm baguette was excruciating.
Once in the door, sauces in hand, I sat on the deck (in the sun!) and grunted with delight. The fried tofu in these sandwiches is absolute perfection--custard-like, the right balance of chewy and moist. I thought about it the whole rest of the day, and you are suffering under more copious descriptions right now.
This is rockstar picnic food, by the way. Infinitely portable, each sandwich wrapped in white paper with a rubber band holding in the meat and veggies, you can literally throw them in a beach bag and be done with it. At around $2 apiece, you could afford to get some spring rolls, too. Then, you can stop by my house and pick me up.