Pham’s Deli

Somewhere along the line, Anthony Bourdain described the Twin Cities as having some of the best Vietnamese food in America. I wonder if he has eaten here enough to know, or if he knew just enough to feed James Norton, the hungry interviewer, a good answer. I can see him cooly ambling into Quang, lanky white guy in a tattered black coat slurping it up with the Vietnamese locals.

I’m not exactly an expert in the matter, so I’ll let him form the strong opinions. Last time I went to Jasmine Deli, I awkwardly missed out on the banh mi and I fell for the urban myth of the pho.

After I posted my review of the deli, I got an unexpected email from M, a close friend who had lost touch with me. It was pictures of the ingredients I made for homemade banh mi for a party I threw last year. Bright, snappy, and sweet pickled carrots and daikon radish, which I fell for and gladly ate for weeks after serving them to my friends. I still don’t know why he sent these to me. Maybe my review brought up some good memories, a bit of a Proustian moment among the madeleines, a memory of pain perdu.

Here’s the baguettes Angela insisted we pick up from Jasmine Deli. Someone in the owner’s family (was it a brother or a cousin?) makes them fresh on a daily basis, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

A couple days later, shopping for food at Midtown Global Market, I spotted this sign. I had no intention of eating anything, but I had to stop and finally order a banh mi.

This charming sign is perched on the counter at Pham’s Deli, a bright spot in the middle of the market near the central tables. Pham’s beckons you in with cheerful signs and a tidy operation. There’s quite a few workers back there, although it’s this guy at the rice cooker who seems to run the show. I wonder if it’s Trung Pham, owner of this family-run operation. Check out their adorable website. “Think fresh, think Pham’s.” I like this place.

He studiously made my banh mi and, with a swish of his hand, twisted it in a plastic bag and delivered it to me with a smile.

All of the needed ingredients came together to make the sandwich every bit as fulfilling as I thought it would be. A mouthful of pickled veggies and bread on the outside, a mouthful of meat and cilantro further in. “This isn’t that spicy,” I thought to myself a moment before I ate a eye-watering jalapeno, seeds and all.

The one thing I’m not sold on is the addition of butter (as described in the sign), which has that characteristic slippery feel in your mouth, much unlike mayo, which effortlessly complements the riot of tastes in a banh mi. If it were up to me, the sandwich would be laced with creamy mayo, Sriracha, and boatloads of pickled carrots and daikon.

Isn’t it always like that, though? You cater to your idiosyncracies long enough and go changing someone else’s perfectly good thing. The deli serves a few different kinds of banh mi, so I’m eager to get another one the next time I go to the market, one of my favorite spots in the city.

Pham's Deli on Urbanspoon


6 thoughts on “Pham’s Deli

  1. ann faerber

    Carrie, I love that you mention the delights on Eat Street! Quang has my favorite Pho, now you have persuaded me to pick up a Banh Mi sandwich at Jasmine’s Deli down the street (I’ll take Angela’s word for it). And next time I’m at Midtown, I promise to check out Phams!

  2. Angelique

    I really liked Jasmine’s bahn mi (yum), and have enjoyed Pham’s too. However.. I have to note that the most flavorful bahn mi I have ever had, the little sandwiches I could not stop eating, were at Carrie’s house.

  3. Pingback: March 29 Morning Roundup « The Heavy Table – Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog

  4. Carrie Post author

    Ann – I love that you seem to make it to Eat Street even though you’re in NE. And I’ll take your word on Quang’s pho. I haven’t tried it there yet.

    Ang – What a compliment. I think they were so good because I had all the time in the world to lavish lots of attention on the ingredients. Bahn mi in restaurants are almost like fast food.

  5. Claudia

    This looks really good. I’m going to have to find a recipe and then look up the ingredients…these are things I’ve never heard of. Wonder if they’re available in Polson Monatana!
    And by the way, that jar of carrot and radish is beautiful. No wonder your pal took a picture of it!

  6. Lisa

    Saigon in St. Paul on University has some of the best bahn mi I’ve had. And they have quite an extensive menu of them. And if I’m not mistaken, Anthony was referencing Saigon’s food specifically in that article. You gotta come slum in St. Paul with me some time and I’ll feed you some real good Vietnamese.

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