Cafe Xu Hue @ 2226 Kingsway
In my continuing quest to explore random banh mi places to see how different restaurants prepare them differently, the other day we randomly picked a spot on Kingsway called Cafe Xu Hue. It was neighbored on the same block by literally two other vietnamese restaurants also serving banh mi. The other ones seemed a little bit noisy and Cafe Xu Hue a little more family-friendly and quiet, so Kweepo and I chose that one.
The place was tiny but every table was packed when we walked in and we had to rush to get a table before someone else took it (the empty table in the photo was vacated midway into the meal). We were the only non-Vietnamese there, if that’s any sign of authenticity. It took a while for the very serious-looking waiter and waitress to come over to give us a menu. I don’t think they smiled the whole time. When I was paying, she didn’t even look at me or say anything. Not exactly the friendliest folks, but I think the small place was a bit overwhelmed with the weekend traffic.
The menu had a few pho selections, spring rolls, etc – the usual. They had only two banh mi items on the menu – house special and chicken – so we chose one of each. I was tempted to order a pho out of habit, but stuck to my guns and ordered banh mi. They came out about ten minutes later. Eating at pho joints is already cheap enough, but eating banh mi makes for a ridiculously small bill. We paid $10 total for the both of us.
In the picture above I’ve got a half of one of each sandwich in my hand, so you can see what’s inside. They didn’t contain any pickled daikon, which was disappointing. The chicken banh mi was decent but a little bland, but the house special was pretty nice, with two different kinds of meat on top and some delicious roast pork at the very bottom. The roast pork really made that one special. Not putting any pickled daikon in was a little disappointing though.
Unfortunately they committed a cardinal sin when it comes to banh mi: the bread was stale. Fresh bread is a must for a banh mi. It fairly ruined the sandwich. So I can’t recommend this place. At least now I have a point of reference to understand just why it’s so important to have fresh bread, and why Tung Hing and Kim Chau are so great. It takes a bit of funding to be really set up to make banh mi the right way, be it with a bread oven or special arrangements with a bakery to have fresh buns delivered every day, and this is too small a shop for such fancy things.
The banh mi here had this mysterious long-leafed herb in it that you can see below on top of the cilantro: