Among the Vietnamese restaurants along 249, there are plenty of options for pho, bun, and com dishes, there’s even a place serving just a single dish, bun bo Hue. But there was only one choice when it came to banh mi, that paragon of cheap, savory sandwiches. I had been excited, therefore, to see the “Coming Soon” sign hanging above what would be Com Tam #9, and when a “Now Open” sign was added, I was eager to stop in.
The place is already bustling with Vietnamese patrons, sitting out front reading the paper or chatting animatedly over bowls of pho. The space is clean, if antiseptic, and the staff is quick to take your order, though apparently too harried to keep your water glass full – on this particular day at least. But Asian restaurants aren’t especially renowned for their exceptional service, so I wasn’t too worried about it. My order of spring rolls came out quickly, and these were some of the fattest little rolls I’ve gotten in the area, stuffed with pork and shrimp, without an excess of filler like lettuce and vermicelli. Spring rolls are about flavors so fresh and so clean, clean – the shrimp and pork aren’t seasoned, usually just boiled, perhaps with a dash of salt at best. Punch them up a bit with the hoisin, chile paste, and crushed peanuts served on the side, or add a bit of the ubiquitous Sriracha.
They do, of course, have the common menu items like pho, bun, and com, but I was here for a sandwich. The banh mi came out looking like those I’m used to from the mom-and-pop shops over on Bellaire, and the price reflects it. At only $2.50, these are tough to beat, and the place across the street is going to have to take this into consideration. At Com Tam #9, the thit nuong is the more traditional chargrilled pork when compared to the sort of Asian BBQ glazed version at Pho 45, though more sparsely loaded, so perhaps there is room for both price points. The customary cucumber, cilantro, carrot, and jalapeño were all fresh, and stuffed into a crispy, slightly chewy baguette spread with a bit of the homemade Vietnamese mayo. The pork, as God intended, is the star of the show, beautifully exhibiting its caramelized Vietnamese flavors of nuoc mam, lime juice, garlic, and lemongrass. There are certainly bigger and fancier interpretations of banh mi sandwiches, but you’ll also pay for them. This was an excellent, quick, cheap, street-style banh mi that I look forward to revisiting. There are a plethora of Vietnamese eateries along 249, but I’m glad to finally have another banh mi option.