Kurobuta Pork Belly Banh Mi – Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, CA

This is either a pretty good sandwich or it’s a poor imitation of a bánh mì. I don’t think that’s what Mendocino Farms was going for, but as near as I can tell, that’s what they got.

You could disqualify this as a bánh mì strictly based on the fact that it doesn’t come on a baguette. Some might see that as needlessly pedantic, but you can’t expect to run around swapping in ciabatta bread and not have someone call you to account. Even ignoring the bread, though, this comes up short.

The flavor profile is off. Bánh mì come lots of different ways, but they all have a particular savory/vegetable/cilantro/heat balance to them. This sandwich doesn’t have that. The pork is incredibly rich and very, very juicy, which ends up dominating the rest of the sandwich. The sandwich is billed as having a “chili aioli,” and while I’d like to weigh that against buttery Vietnamese mayo, I couldn’t really make it out to be considered. The vegetables suffer the same fate.

But all of that that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad sandwich. The bánh mì depends heavily on balance, but not all sandwiches are so. It is the difference between an ensemble performance and a solo act, a simple difference of vision. If you take this as a pork belly sandwich, it’s delicious. The pork is front and center, and everything else plays quietly in the background, rounding out some bites but being pleasantly absent in others. It’s really high quality pork, rich and savory, and well worth its own sandwich. This is a sandwich well worth eating, but don’t mistake it for a bánh mì.