I’m not proud to admit it, but when K&T Deli was recommended to me by foodie friends Nick and Alice as “Dirt cheap and authentic Vietnamese food,” I was fully prepared to write a hole-in-the-wall blog: ”You can ignore the grungy floors and flickering lightbulbs because the food is so good” type of deal. I will still tag it as a hole-in-the-wall because it’s small, limited English-speaking, and located in…an interesting part of town, but honestly, K&T is way too nice for that moniker.
The first thing you notice about K&T is that it’s pretty clean inside. This isn’t one of those things I like saying, but you all know what I mean. It’s tidy, it’s bright, the tables and chairs all match.
The second thing you notice is that you have no idea what to order because everything looks tasty but all kind of sounds the same.
I’d been told the pho was delicious, so we ordered a bowl of#30, the Pho bo, “rare beef and rice noodle.” The server told us “rare beef” actually meant “beef flank, tendon, brisket, and tripe,” but that he could leave out the…connective tissues if we wanted. Well, I didn’t come for Campbell’s, bring it on!
The pho was $7 and literally came in a 2 quart bowl. At least. I didn’t realize it from the menu, but it was clearly intended to be shared. It was served with a plate of amazingly fresh bean sprouts, jalapenos, lime, and what looked and smelled like Thai basil. The pho itself was a very simple beef and rice noodle in a rich beef broth, enhanced with only white and green onion. Between two of us, we were able to eat almost 2/3 of the pho, but seriously contemplated staying all afternoon just to finish. (In case you were wondering, the 1/3 we left did include all the miscellaneous animal bits. I’m not proud, but I’m also not hungry for tendon. Oops.)
The pho was tasty and I will absolutely have it again. But what I was really excited to try was a good pork banh mi. Banh mi is sort of the Philly Cheesesteak of Vietnam. Literally, the phrase refers to bread, but ordering one usually yields a sandwich with cucumbers, julienned pickled carrots and some type of meat or tofu. It’s become very hip lately to make dishes “inspired by” a banh mi, and I’ve had plenty of those, but never tried the actual sandwich! When I saw a pork belly version listed on the extensive menu of banh mi options, you know I had to pick it.
This thing. Holy cow. The first thing I noticed was the perfection of the bread. Soft and easy to bite through, but so crispy on the very outside that my shirt was covered in crumbs. Crackle, crackle. There was just enough pork belly that you could taste it, but this wasn’t a meat sandwich, per se. This sandwich was an exercise in balance. Crispy, mellow cucumbers, tangy pickled carrot, flavored with cilantro and pork and what I think was a touch of mayonnaise-like dressing. I could have eaten six.
The last thing I noticed about the sandwich was that is was THREE. FREAKIN. DOLLARS. Ok, actually $3.50. The man who was helping us pick lunch said his personal favorite was the sardine banh mi, and let me tell you, I won’t make it a week before going back to try it. For that price and that amount of perfection, I could eat one every day. Unfortunately, the banh mi aren’t listed on the regular menu, so I’ll just have to go take a photo of the list for you. So soon.
Ok, I confess, I went back before I could even post this and tried the sardine banh mi and it was fabulous. I also tried the egg rolls, the charbroiled pork chop, and the beef and noodles. Guess what? They were all excellent! And cheap!
The drink menu was almost as extensive as the food menu and included a variety of things I’d never heard of, like sugar cane juice and avocado smoothies. Don’t laugh, but I’ve had a decades-long aversion to avocados stemming from an unfortunate bout of gastroenteritis very close in chronology to consumption of guacamole. Since I realized I actually love them (about a year ago), I’ve basically been shotgunning them to make up for lost time. Naturally, therefore, an avocado smoothie was ordered. Did we want boba, fruit jellies, or lychee? Um…let’s try all three.
There’s really no way to describe this drink, except to say it was silky and smooth and mildly sweet and perfect. Even if I said it was awful, you know you’d have to go try one now that you know they exist. So just go try one.
While we’re on the topic of ethnic food, allow me to rant for a moment. I’m always irritated when I go on Yelp and people are like “Pffffffft! Trust me, I’m from San Francisco (lived there for a year while trying to be a musician!) and THERE we have WAYYYYY better *insert ethnic or specialty food*. This isn’t authentic at all!” 1. You sound like a pretentious ass. 2. Does everyone’s Grandma make the same chicken noodle soup? Does every American make apple pie the same way?? No! When I review food, I try to decide whether or not I like it, period. I realize that comparisons are natural, but they should have basis: this bread wasn’t cripsy enough, I like sweeter sauce, etc. Please don’t expect that your taste is the same as everyone else’s and if the sauce was too sweet for you, that means it was too sweet period. Nobody cares that the one cup of coffee you had in Brussels or wherever Daddy paid for you to spend freshman summer was SO much better than this. End Rant. (By the way, everyone on Yelp loves K&T Deli. But even if they didn’t, I would.)
The moral of the story is this: I’ve never been to Vietnam. I’ve never been to a Vietnamese restaurant. But this place was fantastic and I loved it and you should give it a try. You’ll probably see me there.