At first glance, ABC Baguette looks like your typical sandwich shop—-take-out counter, 8 tables and a cooler with drinks. Or so I thought the first time I ventured into the location in a small mini-mall on Knott Avenue. For several months now, I have been making a once or twice a week stop here in the mornings to pick up a sandwich and some spring rolls for a lunch at work. I had always seen the signs while I waited advertising the various types of pho and the plates with rice vermicelli and various types of meat, but I had never come for anything but the sandwiches. Oh, the sandwiches! My favorite is the BBQ Pork, a nice-sized baguette filled with Chinese-Style BBQ Pork, Vietnamese pickles (daikon and carrot), fresh cilantro and sliced fresh jalapeno As in most Vietnamese restaurants, the emphasis is on fresh ingredients and ABC Baguette is no exception. The bahn mi sandwich, on a fresh-baked baguette, is perfect, just enough meat to add flavor without giving you that bloated feeling after lunch. The same with the mayonnaise, just enough to cut the dryness without overpowering the subtle flavors of the fresh herbs and vegetables. Other sandwiches include the shredded chicken, filled with tender meat and the “Special”, a sandwich with pork and “meat loaf” the eponymous name the Vietnamese use for their delicious sandwich pate. All of the sandwiches share the same fresh vegetables and herbs as a complement to the topping. There is even a vegetarian sandwich filled with mushrooms and tofu. Just for variety, they have a nice selection of sandwiches on croissants also.My other lunch treat is the spring roll, a delicious cylinder of goodness. I’ve had them many places, including the venerated Brodard and these definitely hold their own with the best of them. They are made while you wait and well worth the waiting. Filled with fresh lettuce, herbs, rice vermicelli noodles, shrimp and shredded pork, then rolled into soft, supple rolls, these are filled with goodness. All that is needed to make them perfect is the nuoc cham dipping sauce and they come with that too. Once you taste the sauce, you’ll be dipping every bite and then slurping the last bit out of the container.
I kept telling myself that I needed to try the Bun Bo Hue, a mildly spicy soup from Hue, a major city in central Vietnam. Finally, one day I decided that I would stop by and have the soup for dinner. The first thing I noticed, as I sat down to dine rather than wait for sandwiches, were the green plants surrounding a large Golden Buddha in the corner. I turned my chair to face this and was no longer on Knott Avenue but in a small cafe in Vietnam. My mind-set transformed, I waited for my soup. When Pwan, the delightful owner who, with his wife had made me feel very welcome since I had first walked into ABC Baguette many months ago, brought it, I was in awe. The typical Vietnamese accompaniments of a small plate of bean sprouts, basil and jalapeno were augmented here by fresh mint, fresh limes and shredded cabbage. It was not just a plate, but a platter of delightful tastes. The soup came in a large bowl, it’s rich ruddiness augmented by various meats, onions, rice noodle and many more goodies I had not even discovered yet. Slices of been were mixed in and new discoveries for me. The first was a few thin slices of what I took to be thinly sliced pork hock, the foot with it’s gelatin adding a nice meaty flavor to the soup. I found several cubes of what I correctly assumed was pork blood, something which I had never tried but followed the rule, “try it once and if you don’t like it don’t try it twice”. I did find that it had a somewhat strong flavor but not bad at all and by the end of the bowl it was gone. As with all Vietnamese soups, the side platter is to mix in as you see fit, as well as hoisin sauce and chili paste to taste. Standard in Vietnamese fare, this way of tailoring the food to your own tastes allows not only a wide variety of ways to satisfy yourself but also allows you to bring guests who may not like spicy food to “have it your way”.
As I ate, the variety of flavors and textures amazed me. The atmosphere was perfect for a casual cafe/comfort food feel and I did indeed feel like I might have wandered in from a street in Saigon. On the way out I grabbed a box of tamarind and chili candy and a bag of Lychee soft candy, almost a cross between fruit Jello and Gummi Bears. They provided the perfect capper to the meal.
ABC Baguette also haas rice dishes, various meat and broken rice dishes and more—indeed, a complete menu. They also have a substantial catering menu which I hope to try someday and sell the baguettes by themselves, fresh out of the oven. In the meantime, I will continue to stop during the day for my sandwiches and try to work my way through the excellent menu on the occasional night when I can sit down and enjoy a “cafe” meal with the flavors of Vietnam.
13672 Goldenwest St
Westminster, CA 92684