Ba-Le (Manoa Marketplace Branch)
Posted 04 March 2004 - 04:28 PM
2855 E. Manoa Road
Honolulu HI 96822
Ba-le ("Paris" in Vietnamese) is the world's largest purveyor of banh mi, or Vietnamese-style sandwiches. It is also Hawai`i's largest producer of baguettes and pizza dough (!), and is second only to the giant Pho Hoa as the largest chain of Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Beginning in 1984, when Thanh Quoc Lam opened his first shop in Honolulu Chinatown, the operation has expanded to 24 franchised locations in Hawai`i, including the original one, which he still owns. There are two franchises in Japan, and apparently negotiations underway for franchises in China as well. In 2002, Thanh Quoc Lam was named U.S. Small Businessperson of the Year by the SBA.
You should also check out Sweet Willie's review of the Ba-Le Kapa`a branch on another thread.
Despite the expansion, each location retains some individuality. The Manoa Marketplace location is perhaps the most individual of all, because it combines the bahn mi selection with a full Vietnamese and Thai sit-down menu. They even carry Japanese-local and Korean-local style plate lunch standards such as chicken katsu and kalbi, though I've never seen anyone order them. And to boot, the franchise owners Cindy and Davis Khanthavong, are, judging from their last name, a Laotian couple.
A note about Ba-Le's baguettes - they really are crisp. Do not order a banh mi from Ba-Le if you have gingivitis, or mayhem will ensue inside your mouth. Inside sit piles of shredded pickled carrot and radish and slices of tomato and cucumber, garnished with a large amount of cilantro. The meat is not "overstuffed" as it might be in some American-style hoagies, but that's just fine as the balance between the meat and veg is just about right. Prices range from $2.75 to $3.50, which is cheap by Hawai`i standards. For an extra 50 cents, you can have your baguette replaced by a large croissant - if they're out of baguettes, as they often are near the end of the day, you get a croissant for free if that's what you want.
Their best sandwiches, IMHO are the hot ones - the Barbeque Pork and the Lemon Grass Chicken. Both seem to be soaked in a fish sauce, lemon grass, garlic, sugar, and chile marinade before being grilled, so both have a fresh, penetrating taste that is neither greasy or overpowering with spices. The chicken marinade has turmeric added, while the pork marinade seems to have little tomato-like (ketchup?) something and the meat is subsequently sliced thinly before being placed in the bun. Their cold cuts include ham, steamed pork (thit chung, and Vietnamese Pate (cha lua), and you can get a "special sandwich" that includes all three.
Here's the lineup:
Barbeque Pork on baguette
Lemon Grass Chicken on croissant
Special sandwich on croissant
Accompaniments to the banh mi include the usual array of Southeast Asian soft drinks (young coconut, lychee, basil seed, etc).
You also can buy a choice of tapioca-coconut desserts: from left to right - purple yam, chocolate, and taro.
As mentioned, there is a full-fledged American standard Vietnamese and Thai menu - several varieties of pho, rice and rice noodle plates, assorted curries, stir fried vegetables in bean sauce, etc.
The pho is O.K. but not outstanding stuff, as you might expect from a place that doesn't specialize in it - slightly wan on the broth. Salad accompaniments are sweet basil, mung bean sprouts, sliced chiles, and a lemon wedge, with hoisin, soy, and sriracha sauce at the table. Haven't tried a lot of the other stuff, but it's definitely there if you want it. In fact, pretty much anything is there for you if you want it.
Since it's in Manoa Marketplace, near our house, we go there a lot. It's informal and a very comfortable place to hang out.
Here Mr. Khanthavong is at the doorway dispensing advise to his son (?) who was playing with some kind of remote control car thing. The owners' cute toddler daughter can often be found eating her lunch at a high chair in one of the tables in the dining section. She has amazingly good table manners.
Former Hawaii Forum Host
Posted 04 March 2004 - 05:25 PM
There are also BALE on the mainland US.
Chicago mentioned here: http://forums.egulle...ndpost&p=319217
I believe some in LA area?
Posted 04 March 2004 - 05:39 PM
--I prefer fresh coconut juice to the canned stuff, but only when I'm in a restaurant. At the market I buy the canned stuff all the time. I really like it when it's served in a coconut, like at one pho place in Westminster (forgot the name) but that's just a gimmick.
--I'm sorry there isn't one in Westminster. It's Bale Sandwiches, not Ba-Le. I'll ask if they're related.
Edited by jschyun, 04 March 2004 - 05:42 PM.
Posted 04 March 2004 - 11:10 PM
Posted 07 March 2004 - 09:47 AM