Tasting the Banh Shop's Banh Mi No Matter How Offensive the Logo

The red star is missing from the Banh Shop on SMU Boulevard.
The red star is missing from the Banh Shop on SMU Boulevard.

If you've read anything about the Banh Shop, Yum! Brands' test site for the development of a fast-casual, Vietnamese-inspired restaurant, you've probably read about the controversy surrounding their logo. The big red star perched above the garage doors at the front of the restaurant reminded Vietnamese expats of the communist forces that wreaked havoc on their homeland -- not exactly an image that conjures delicious sandwiches served in crusty French bread.

But this week Yum! Brands announced they'd rework the logo, and the sign was recently removed from the restaurant's façade. Now we can turn to matters more pertinent to the restaurant itself: whether or not those banh mi sandwiches are worth eating.

Getting inside the restaurant isn't easy. The building is wrapped on both sides with parking spaces and landscaping, no walkway leads to the restaurant from the sidewalk on SMU Boulevard and it's actually difficult to even determine which opening serves as the front door. You'll figure it out, though. Just follow the smell of grilling steak and pork covered in a sweet glaze.

There are spring rolls for the taking, as evidenced by the girl not too far from the register who banged out half a dozen while I placed my order. They offer dishes you'd expect, including drunken noodles. The banh mi came in a number of varieties from beef to pork to vegetarian.

I went with the pork meatball, which costs $6.99, and added the pork pâté because a banh mi isn't a banh mi without it. The addition tacked on another dollar to my order. For comparison the banh mi at Richardson's La Me set me back just under $3, pâté included.

To be fair Banh Shop's sandwich had a lot more meat than its suburban counterparts, and other bahn mi sandwiches served in and around downtown cost about as much, but there is more than just price keeping me from falling in love with the Banh Shop's banh mi.

The bread isn't as good, for one -- it scrapes by with just enough crustiness -- but you do get a lot more meat on this sandwich than typical Vietnamese restaurants. You also get thinly sliced ribbons of pickled cucumber in addition to carrots and a tiny amount of daikon. It's not bad. But I wonder how it will change should Banh Shop go the way of Taco Bell and open thousands of locations. My guess is that bread is the first thing to go downhill, and the rest of the ingredients wouldn't be too far behind. And expansion or not, for now I think the best banh mi served downtown is still served by the guys at Nammi.

The pork meatball banh mi from Banh Shop.
The pork meatball banh mi from Banh Shop.

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