Spice Table Open For Lunch; Already Serving Best Banh Mi in L.A.
by Midtown Lunch, April 25, 2011
Last month Spice Table launched for dinner in Little Tokyo to a modest bit of hype. Opened by a former Mozza sous chef, the Vietnamese/Singaporean inspired restaurant seems to share DNA with current popular new places like A-Frame, Lukshon, Night + Market, and Red Medicine, offering up a high quality, Asian-inspired menu in a hip Downtown environment. The dinner menu, a smallish affair featuring noodle bowls, satay, vegetables and seafood dishes, was reasonable enough to give me hope that their long awaited lunch menu just might be within the ML price range (aka under $10). So when Brand X announced on Friday that they had finally opened for lunch, I rushed right over.
And not only was everything under $10, from day one Spice Table is already one of the best lunches in Downtown L.A.
Dinner at Spice Table might be a sit down affair, but during the day it’s been smartly converted into a fast casual lunch spot. You order from a makeshift counter just inside the door (which is presumably used as a host stand at night), pay at a different register on the other end of the bar and get a number to take with you into the dining room. The menu is pretty simple, and perfect for lunch. 5 banh mi style sandwiches ($7.50-9), a salad with shrimp and candied walnuts ($7), a cole slaw ($3), house made shrimp chips ($2), house made spicy sweet potato chips ($1.75) and their (famous?) curry fried chicken wings ($6.50), the only thing available from the dinner menu.
$7.50 might be considered pricey for a banh mi (especially with a Guru endorsed $2.50 version a mile away in Chinatown) but when you take into account that Mendocino Farms’ banh mi is almost $10, and Red Medicine sells their lunchtime banh mi for $12, this seems like a bargain in comparison. It also helps that their standard, cold cut banh mi is one of the best versions of this sandwich I’ve ever had. A beautiful head cheese, with house made pork roll, and a wonderfully rich and unctuous pate topped with sliced cucumber, jalapenos, pickled carrots and daikon, a ton of cilantro, and a garlic mayo all served on the perfect house made (!?) French baguette. And the best part might be in the fact that this wasn’t some fancy gussied up version, that makes you say “It’s a great sandwich, but not really a banh mi.” This was as perfect a banh mi as you would expect to find in, say, Westminister, just replace the standard Vietnamese cold cuts with some of the best house made head cheese, pork roll, and pate you’ve ever had. Sorry Buu Dien, there’s a new sheriff in DTLA.
As expensive as a $7.50 banh mi seems, it still leaves you a bit of cash under the $10 cap for some house made chips. I tried the shrimp chips, which were great, but I’m guessing the spicy-sweet potato chips are equally good.
The guy behind the counter also recommended the catfish banh mi, so… how could I not? It was also delicious, a crispy piece of cornmeal(?) crusted catfish topped with lime, lettuce, and pickled curried cucumber, sandwiched in a baguette smeared with garlic mayo and sambal.
The curry fried chicken wings aren’t enough food to be considered a lunch, and a bit pricey ($6.50) to be considered a lunchtime add on. That being said, the thin layer of curry rub between the chicken and the crust make for a chicken wing experience like none you’ve ever had before. And if this is the kind of stuff they’re putting out for dinner, I clearly need to go to Spice Table for dinner.
Sadly, on this visit, there wasn’t enough stomach space to try the other three banh mi (I’m fat, but not that fat). But if the catfish and cold cut sandwiches are any indication, I’m guessing the other three sandwiches are all good- with one caveat. The guy who recommended the catfish also mentioned that the chicken banh mi was probably the most boring of the 5- and “the one we’ll probably sell the most of”. As if we needed to be told that.
I know there are people who will never admit that it’s worth spending $8 on a banh mi over driving to Little Saigon, or the SGV (or even Chinatown.) And maybe those people are right in some cases. But if you are a fan of head cheese and pate, Spice Table’s cold cut banh mi will likely be your new favorite sandwich- price be damned.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
Another great lunchtime addition to the DTLA scene
I don’t mind paying extra $$ for quality ingredients
Their house made head cheese is out of this world
The pate is also incredible
It’s a perfectly constructed banh mi, and the bread is great
Compared to Mendocino Farms or Gram & Papas it’s not that expensive
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place will say)
Buu Dien is one mile away, and their sandwiches are 1/3 the price. No thanks.