There are dozens of places in DFW where you can get banh mi, the hybrid Vietnamese-French sandwich, with most of them concentrated in the northern suburbs. But even with all the banh mi options in the area, Reyna Duong's banh mi have a ravenous local following. After a year hosting banh mi pop-ups all around Dallas — which sold out every time, Duong says — Sandwich Hag is going permanent. In mid-July, Sandwich Hag's brick-and-mortar location will open in a former cigar lounge in The Cedars.
"We looked at a lot of neighborhoods, but we really liked the vibe and feel here, not just the residents but the uniqueness of all the merchants," Duong says. "Everyone is unique and supportive, so our biggest thing was to come into a neighborhood where we can contribute to its growth."
Sandwich Hag isn't open yet, but it's already added to the neighborhood in the form of a huge, vibrant mural created by Ireland-based artist Kathrina Rupit. The space has no interior dining room, just two take-out windows and a patio accented by vintage bowling alley furniture and happy strings of white lights. The building's new vibe is somewhere between modern and retro, which plays well with the existing structure.
"We didn't want to tear anything down — that was really important to us and the community," Duong says of the building. "We wanted to come in and not tear anything down, too, because the building is so cute."
Much like the building, Sandwich Hag's menu oscillates between classic and modern. The menu is centered on Duong's banh mi — with fillings ranging from lemongrass pork to ginger-marinated tofu and Vietnamese pork sausage she makes in house — but will also feature bright salads, Vietnamese curries, spring rolls and Duong's infamous Ca Phe Sua Da, a Vietnamese iced coffee that packs a caffeinated but refreshing punch. Along with traditional Ca Phe Sua Da, Duong serves a coconut variation that instantly became one of our favorite Vietnamese iced coffees in Dallas.
Duong — a friendly, laid-back presence — has a loyal following in the local Asian community, she says, because she takes her banh mi seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she doesn't allow diners to modify their sandwiches.
"For someone who appreciates authentic Vietnamese food, this is for them," Duong says. "I don't take substitutions or modifications; I want when you bite that sandwich that you'll taste all the things that make it a banh mi sandwich."
There's no reason to mess with this banh mi. The vegetables, both pickled and fresh, are crisp and bright, the fillings juicy and flavorful. Duong buys the bread from Quoc Bao, a beloved Garland bakery and banh mi spot.
"Their baguettes are no joke," Duong says.
The sandwiches are also made with housemade garlic aioli and a more generous helping of protein than you'll find on cheap banh mi in the suburbs. At about $9 a pop, Duong knows her banh mi are pricier than most DFW options, but the upgraded ingredients and housemade specialties like the Vietnamese pork sausage, made with ground pork butt and shoulder, make them well worth the splurge.
"We make the banh mi sandwiches the way I would want to eat it," Duong says. "Two complaints people usually have about banh mi is that the bread is too hard and cuts the roof of your mouth and the protein is hardly there."
Those definitely aren't issues at this new eatery. Sandwich Hag will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, Duong says, but her Vietnamese iced coffee and milk teas are already so popular that she's toying with the idea of opening in the mornings. She also plans to eventually sell her housemade pickles and garlic aioli from the take-out window.
But for now, as Sandwich Hag barrels through its soft-open phase, Duong wants to focus on transitioning her sold-out pop-up business into a restaurant that she hopes will encourage other business owners to invest in The Cedars.
Sandwich Hag, 1902 S. Lamar St.