It didn’t seem fair to post on Heng Heng Pho and ignore the old reliable Banh Mi Ba Li – a place just down the street that I’ve been happily patronizing for years.
Banh Mi Ba Li is in yet another one of those small El Cerrito strip malls, several blocks to the south of Heng Heng, but still just to the north of the spot (around Central, I’d say) where San Pablo Avenue goes from somewhat trendy to not at all.
The location borders on grim, with a perpetually vacant storefront to one side and the “Video Station Adult Emporium” to the other, but since it is mainly a take-out place, with only 1 table inside and 2 out, that doesn’t matter so much.
Like the name says, Vietnamese sandwiches are the main items on the menu, although there are some noodle options available as well, along with the usual selection of pork buns, shrimp rolls, etc.
I personally quite partial to the generous Vietnamese-style pork bun ($2.00) – stuffed with a meatball wrapped around a hard boiled egg and a piece of sausage. When I’m really on the run I just grab one of these and a soda, and that’s lunch.
Still, the place is all about the sandwiches, and they have always been a bargain, although I recall that when Banh Mi Ba Le was “discovered” by the Contra Costa Times some years back (5 or 6?), the prices seemed to “jump” by at least $0.25 overnight. Still, at the current prices of $2.75-$3.00, it’s hard to complain.
Last time I was by, I was with my wife, who had a BBQ chicken.
I had a ham and head cheese. I thought mine was very good, as usual, although I found her chicken a little boring (but that’s often the way it is with chicken, isn’t it?).
Overall, I don’t say that these are the best Banh Mi in the world, but they’re fine – tasty and fresh. (The biggest knock on them, in my opinion, is that they are a little light on the meat.) And, while it’s true that you can get better at various Oakland spots, those places are in Oakland, not El Cerrito. So, when I’m in El Cerrito…
Banh Mi Ba Le
10174 San Pablo Ave.,
El Cerrito, CA, 94530
(Banh Me Ba Le also has an Oakland location, which I visited once, years ago. As I recall, it is run by the sister of the El Cerrito store’s proprietor and, I think, predates the northern branch.)