“Not Vietnamese, but Vietnamese.” The mission statement at Stand Banh Mi is nothing but enigmatic. That is, until you actually arrive, sit down and order at this buzzy little counter restaurant on the residential fringe of Meguro Ward. Then it all starts to make sense.
Obviously banh mi sandwiches and pho noodles are quintessential street foods in Vietnam, found virtually everywhere from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. But for owner Eri Shirai, the primary inspiration comes just as much from France and its cuisine. Factor in some strong local Japanese influences and the result is some of the most satisfying Vietnamese food in all of Tokyo.
Stand Banh Mi has eight different styles of banh mi to choose from. Start with the Original, with its classic filling of ham, pate and mixed herbs (mostly mint and coriander leaf), plus shreds of pickled vegetables to give a splash of extra texture and color. The standard baguette is made with a good proportion of rice flour, ensuring it’s suitably soft and light. You can also order it in a limited-edition (just 15 each day) “premium” version made with organic wholewheat flour.
Other fillings include mackerel and tomato; beef cheek simmered in red wine with 10 kinds of spices; grilled pork with chili sauce; and a very Japanese-inflected shigure-ni (beef simmered with ginger and lightly sweetened). For an extra ¥150, the kitchen can also rustle up a French-style tamagoyaki omelet to go with any of the above.
Stand Banh Mi first opened a couple of years ago as a tiny, five-seat-plus-standing hole-in-the-wall that quickly won a strong local following, both for the quality of the food — Shirai buys organic vegetables direct from the farmers and shuns artificial additives wherever possible — and as a welcoming gathering spot to nurse a late-night glass of wine.
It didn’t take long to outgrow those diminutive digs. So in early August, Shirai moved into larger, more salubrious premises on the other side of Gakugei-daigaku Station. Besides more than doubling the capacity, she has also boosted the menu considerably.
She now offers some excellent, creative takes on pho, such as with Daisen-jidori chicken curry, soft-simmered beef cheek stew or even Hoian-style thick-cut bīfun rice noodles topped with seafood. And for those with larger appetites, there are more substantial rice bowls featuring duck meat, spicy seafood and various types of curry that will come into their own later in the year.
The extra space in the new location has also given Shirai the capacity to add a larger selection of well-chosen natural and low-intervention wines. Just one more reason why Stand Banh Mi is exactly the kind of laid-back bar-diner that we all would like to have in our own neighborhood.
Takaban 2-16-23, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-0004; 03-6451-0827; standbanhmi.com; open 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6-11 p.m. (L.O.); Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (L.O.); Sun. 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. (L.O.); closed Tue.; banh mi from ¥780; pho from ¥860; rice bowls from ¥1,040; nearest station Gakugei-daigaku; nonsmoking; major cards; English menu; some English spoken