Much like an open parking spot in Koreatown, a good bánh mì is surprisingly hard to find in Los Angeles proper. That’s no issue over in Westminster, but that’s why My Dung Sandwich Shop is so treasured. Located in a tiny market stall on Chinatown’s Ord St., you’re immediately greeted by a vibrant array of produce, one of the warmest shop owners in town, and some of the best bánh mì in the area.
There are eight versions of the Vietnamese sandwich here, each of them costing exactly $4.50. These aren’t ones filled with truffle mayonnaise or any other absurd toppings, they’re just incredibly solid and make for a great meal under $5. Served on cloud-like buns, they’re a little misshapen, inconsistent, but obviously made with a lot of care, as if prepared by a parent or loved one. Between the eight on the menu, they’re all similar enough, brought together by a baguette, sandwiched with various accoutrements like cucumber slices, cilantro, jalapeños, and varying proteins that change the mood of the meal.
Some sandwiches make us feel like a child living in a seaward town, while others bring out cosmopolitan alter egos. Working our way through the menu, we found ourselves shifting in and out of distinct personas - which is why we present to you in the food rundown: our five favorite My Dung bánh mì, accompanied by the person we feel like while eating them.
Is pâté an inherently indulgent dish? My Dung makes the case for yes. Huge dollops of the ground chicken livers are smeared right onto the baguette, followed by cilantro, carrots, and cucumbers, making for a creamy sandwich worthy of royalty.
One bite into this pâté bánh mì transforms us into a spoiled brat lounging somewhere in the countryside. We imagine that it’s not quite dinnertime yet and we’re hungry for a snack. We meander into the kitchen - which probably has an island and baskets of fresh fruit - and slice into a crusty bread loaf. Then, we’re off to the courtyard to read a book.
The tofu bánh mì at My Dung is the Chinatown shop’s most flavorful sandwich. Rather than the standard cubes, they opt for a bed of crispy, julienned shards which look like fried onion pieces from a salad bar. They’re steeped in a rich, dark soy sauce, making the salty flavors even more pronounced. It doesn’t really matter if you subscribe to a plant-based diet or not, this bánh mì should absolutely be on your to-order list.
After taking a bite, we feel like a 30-year-old adjunct professor at a small, liberal arts college who has incredible style and is on their lunch break. Our colleagues regard us as eccentric and too young (mostly because of our strict vegetarianism), but we love what we do and will probably win a Pulitzer one day.
Number twelve is pork belly. The meat itself is quite thin, but there’s a decent amount of it in the sandwich. There are streaks of red throughout, resembling the color and taste of char siu, that run parallel to the large, marble-y pieces of fat. Combined with the bright-tasting flavors of the cucumbers and cilantro, it’s a sandwich that’s both simple yet very filling.
This one is harder to place. Rich and gloriously salty, it recalls the feeling of the day after a celebration, like Lunar New Year or a close family member’s birthday. There are large, metal pans all over the house filled with leftovers, and while everyone else is still sleeping, we’ve made a simple sandwich with the remains.
The cold cut sandwich is pure utility. Filled with three types of cured meats, the Đặc biệt special isn’t trying to show off. There’s silky cha lua, or heavily seasoned Vietnamese ham, a bit of head cheese, and tender pork shank. Which, taken all together, sends you on a textural roller-coaster ride - some parts are silky smooth, reminiscent of mortadella, others are made crunchy, or require a lot of chewing.
This one makes us feel like a shy construction worker whenever we eat it, taking a break during a particularly hard workday. Our boss is on a power trip, riding our ass again about something stupid. So while everyone else is off eating together at the communal part of the yard, we find a secluded area to unwrap and enjoy the cold cut sandwich our partner lovingly made for us that day.
My Dung’s sole seafood sandwich is studded with the small, oily fish - it’s particularly enjoyable to bite into the heftier sections and discover a mouthful of savory filets. There’s a lot of sodium in sardines, which threatens to overtake the entire sandwich, but is cut by the creamy mayonnaise slathered onto the bun.
Eating the sardine bánh mì brings forth a young school child persona, maybe six or seven years old, living in a small sea town. We’re probably wearing one of those super cute matching uniforms, complete with little hats and knee-high socks. Our mom packed us this bánh mì as an after-school snack, so as soon as the day’s over, we make our way to the docks. Carefully avoiding sloshing buckets of octopus, amberjack, and starfish, we find a well-worn bench overlooking the ocean. Life is easy.