It was art that first led us to Vi-sand in Shimo-Kitazawa. It was the food that drew us back again. This bright little cafe/diner specializes in banh mi, those typically Vietnamese sandwiches (hence the shop’s name) made with crisp baguette bread and a variety of savory fillings.
Although it opened in February, the owners decided to relaunch the business last month — and they called in artist Keeda Oikawa for one of her signature live painting sessions. Her graceful, colorful murals have transformed a smart but bland modern box into a strikingly original space that stands out from the milling crowd of eateries in this youth-centric neighborhood.
At lunchtime, you have a choice of five different banh mi: Beef, chicken or pork (tasty chāshū belly meat), plus a fish version and even a vegetarian tofu option. All come lightly garnished with pickles and seasoned with nuoc mam fish sauce to give them that distinctive Southeast Asian accent.
In the evening, Vi-sand morphs into a dining bar with a slightly deeper menu. There are spring rolls, both fresh and deep-fried; excellent if mildly spiced curry; and a few other light snacks that go nicely with a cocktail or a bottle of Vietnamese beer, as you sit people-watching at one of the terrace tables.
Vi-sand, 2-12-3 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku; (03) 6805-4624. Open daily 11 a.m.-4 p.m. & 6-11 p.m. (last order 10:30 p.m.). Nearest station: Shimo-Kitazawa (Odakyu and Inokashira lines). www.vi-sand.jp.