Ba Le Sandwich: Take that, fusion haters

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All photos by Mark Antonation
In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on this week's stop....

A banh mi is the ultimate argument to silence detractors of fusion cuisine: a paper-wrapped torpedo straight into the mouth of purist snobbery and closed-minded opinionating. Combining the foods of two different cultures doesn't have to be intellectual, fussy or ill-conceived. A simple combination of ingredients on hand -- the marriage of necessity and convenience -- can become something powerful, iconic and, most of all, ridiculously delicious. I ate banh mi from Ba Le Sandwich for three meals in a row on a recent weekend, not for the purposes of research or to adhere to some food-writer code of ethics, but because once those crusty baguette sandwiches entered my mind, I couldn't vanquish their presence until I'd chomped my way through the majority of Ba Le's menu and evangelized to anyone available with proffered bites and explanations of the alchemy encapsulated within. In short, I was feeding my banh mi obsession.

See also:
- Hong Kong Barbecue: Finding comfort in unfamiliar flavors
- Variety's not the spice at Pho 555 on Federal
- Pho 96 keeps it warm and simple

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Sandwiches can generally be lumped into two categories: sloppy or tidy. In the sloppy camp, you've got the intentionally flamboyant Mexican torta, with all the restraint of a college-cafeteria food fight; the seemingly proper croque madame, which appears tidy yet requires a plate, silverware and impeccable table manners if you're going to walk away unstained by yolk or butter; and the Chicago Italian beef -- the sandwich that prompted the invention of the pressure washer.

On the other side, you'll find dainty tea sandwiches that barely even belong in this conversation, fast-food burgers packaged to be eaten while driving, and the deceptively polite banh mi, which may dangle a tendril or two of cilantro but rarely becomes tawdry enough to reveal its savory contents until you bite into it. Ba Le's sandwiches fit this description. They're immaculate parcels meant for consumption on the move -- or at least in places where posh amenities like finger bowls, wet wipes and shower stalls are not standard, maybe slipped into a pocket for later noshing or thrown into a backpack for a snack at the end of a hike.

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Tucked between palate-shredding baguette halves lurks an addictive and refreshing salad of shredded carrots, daikon, cucumber and cilantro -- all lightly anointed with a sweet-tart vinaigrette that enhances the crunch and flavor of the veggies without saturating the bread. Thin-sliced jalapeños add just a hint of raw aggression to the mix, but Ba Le doesn't overdo it, resulting in just the right level of zing to balance whichever savory and fatty meats you decide to include.

Even the meat options (Ba Le does not list a vegetarian option) reflect the French-Vietnamese cultural collision already evident in the combination of crusty roll and Asian veggie mix. Charcuterie selections like pate, thin-sliced headcheese, ham and pork meatloaf (the house special -- or dac biet -- features all four) skews the menu toward its French roots, but the shredded pork skin, grilled shrimp paste and sour pork inform you that you're still eating street food from the heart of Saigon.

Continue reading for more on Ba Le Sandwich.


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10 comments
maxplanck0
maxplanck0

I've been going to Ba Le for years and have never encountered any rudeness on the part of the staff nor questionable hygiene practices and instead outstanding and economical sandwiches which are served promptly. When I'm on that part of Federal, it's a regular stop for me.

NDND
NDND

I will never go there again!!! It was my first time there and I was not impressed. The cashier touched my food with her bare hands without any gloves after touching money from other customers.. Like the other comment earlier, she is very unpleasant to deal with and have no customer service skills. I don't care how good or not good the food is but I refuse to go there and see her face. They are loosing a lot of business because of her annoying face. SHE SHOULD NOT WORK IN THE RETAIL BUSINESS. SOMEONE PLEASE LET THE OWNER KNOW SO SHE CAN BE FIRED FOR POOR CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS.

eyeroll
eyeroll

Care to be a little more specific? Not about your annoyance with the cashier, but which banh mi places you prefer, and why? Otherwise, I'll just assume the pretty girl behind the counter didn't jump at your offer of a date.

ilikedenverfood
ilikedenverfood

I have visited this place several times, and there's always the same woman taking the orders. I remember her, because she was the most unpleasant and angry server / cashier I have ever encountered. At first, I thought there might be a language barrier, but that wasn't it. I thought she might be having a bad day, but I have been there several times. I thought, maybe I just rub her the wrong way, but she is like that to every customer. She is very impersonal and unfriendly. However, that's not even important. What's important is that this is the worst bahn mi I've ever had. I gave it several chances. I can best describe it as a cheap fast food version. There is no reason to go there when there are 10 other places that sell bahn mi less than a handful of blocks away.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@kezzamcdezza I remembered your comment about green waffles from a previous post. But I didn't see anything on the menu or in any of the cases that resembled a green waffle. Do you remember what they were called or how you knew to order one?


ilikedenverfood
ilikedenverfood

@eyeroll Baker's Palace and Vinh Xuong Bakery are only a few blocks away, and that's just off the top of my head.

kezzamcdezza
kezzamcdezza

I don't think they are on the menu. But to the right of the cashier, there is a Belgian-style waffle iron. I have no clue what they are called. Was in there once when one was cooking and the smell was amazing. Pointed at the waffle iron and asked for a green waffle. That's pretty much how I've ordered them since!

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