Pho gets all the love and, look, I get it.
There is something about pho—the Vietnamese beef-and-noodle soup available almost everywhere in the Asian District and, increasingly, all over Oklahoma City—that captured our hearts and refuses to loosen its rice noodle grip.
It is so popular, in fact, that I sometimes feel it necessary to remind people that liking pho (or sriracha or any other food) is not a replacement for a personality. And yet, I do not hear the same level of devotion to the bánh mì, and it baffles me.
Bánh mì are Vietnamese sandwiches. A baguette* is stuffed with meat, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and jalapeno. Outside is crunchy and crusty. Inside is a sliver of soft bread with a cacophony of textures from the fillings.
*Remember when the French colonized Vietnam? No? It’s a thing you should learn.
It can be hot or cold. It is extremely portable. This should be a bigger deal for more Oklahomans.
Maybe it’s the words themselves—bánh mì—that confuses people. It literally translates to “bread,” which doesn’t feel super informative. I know it’s not the taste. I know it’s not the price, which is frequently so low that it feels like a trap.
All of which is a pretty long preamble to talk about Rivière Modern Bánh Mì, the new Midtown restaurant that recently opened next to Jimmy’s Egg. Which might seem like weird placement, except that the owner of Jimmy’s Egg hasn’t been Jimmy for a long, long time. Instead, it was purchased early on and built into the breakfast juggernaut we know and love today by Loc Le, a Vietnamese refugee who came to the U.S. seeking asylum in 1975.
Le’s son-in-law and grandson (Ban and James Nguyen, respectively) are the minds behind the new concept and oh what delicious minds they are.
Bánh mì can be quite simple and, but a look at Rivière’s menu will tell you these guys are taking some chances.
I tried the K*Pop ($10), which comes stuffed with a fairly non-Vietnamese meat option: bulgogi beef. Granted, the rest of the ingredients are fairly staid. Pickled carrot slaw, jalapeno, cucumber, and cilantro add the freshness and the crunch, while a house-made aioli lubricates everything for easier eating.
Are bánh mì difficult to eat? Well...it depends on how well you’ve taken care of your mouth, I suppose. The crusty baguette (baked by La Baguette) isn’t as unforgiving as the “baguettes” you might get at a Sam’s Club, but there’s still some chewing required. Little kids and the eldery might struggle with one, but I think most of us will be okay.
For a more traditional bánh mì, you’ll want Bánh...James Bánh ($9). Filled with Vietnamese charcuterie and pate, it’s definitely recognizable as the kind of sandwich you’re apt to find at Lee’s Sandwiches and elsewhere. The difference is the quality is kicked up several notches.
The Pho’rench Dip ($10) comes with a cup of pho broth in a very Vietnamese take on the beloved French dip sandwich. The Bánh Fire ($10) is stuffed with fried chicken bites, a sriracha buffalo sauce. The Bánh Jovi ($10) is a take on a Philly cheesesteak.
Guys. Guys. This place is good. They’re making good sandwiches in a lovely environment.
Oh, and the mac and cheese ($4) comes with a beer cheese fondue and smoked chinese sausage. It’s so good, my friend Megan thinks it might be the best mac and cheese in the metro.
There’s so much more here and I need to eat all of it before I give you a full review, but if you’ve been holding off on trying Rivière Modern Bánh Mì, stop holding off.