100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg The toasted French bread at La Baguette is some of the best.
It's hard to live in the shadow of Les Givral's. Every day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., there's a line sometimes out the door of the French/Vietnamese sandwich shop filled with hungry Houstonians eager to get their hands on an inexpensive bánh mì, which some people consider the best in town.
Not me, though. The discovery of my favorite Midtown bánh mì joint came not out of wanderlust but out of necessity. And laziness. I couldn't afford to be away from my desk long enough to stand in line at Les Givral's, nor did I want to. So I went across the street to a dark little shop that at first looked closed. I glanced inside and saw a counter full of pastries and a woman milling about between the kitchen and the cafe. Fully expecting to be turned away immediately, I was surprised that the door was unlocked and the woman behind the counter was ready and eager to make me a sandwich.
Where bánh mì is concerned, I tend to be a bit of a purist. Rarely do I stray from my order of bánh mì thit nuong with chargrilled pork and a smear of pork pâté. But the first time I went to La Baguette French Bakery, the notion of a fish sandwich appealed to me, and I have yet to return to the tried and true pork.
The pickled carrots give the sandwich a great vinegary bite.
The sandwiches are almost laughably simple: Crunchy baguette bread, warmed sardines soaked in hoisin sauce, a slice of lightly pickled cucumber, shredded pickled carrots, cilantro, mayonnaise and Sriracha. I appreciate the sandwich as much for its easy simplicity as I do for the freshness of the ingredients and the quality of the crusty, homemade bread.
La Baguette is billed as a French bakery, and it has the various sweet treats--palmiers, croissants, macarons--to prove it. In spite of the array of goodies that greet you (in the dark...why are the lights never on in there?) when you walk in, for me, it's all about the bánh mì on those namesake fresh baguettes. I've been in the shop before when restaurateurs from around town have come in and picked up massive bags full of the thin French rolls to use at their own businesses.
It may not be as popular as nearby Les Givral's or Pho Saigon, but the little sandwich shop is my pick for Midtown bánh mì thanks to flavorful sardines and some of the best bread in the area. Give the fish sandwich a try and you just might become a convert, too.