Viet Sub serves up authentic banh mi in Roanoke.
1 of 3
Banh mi at Viet Sub.
Photo by John Park
2 of 3
Photo courtesy of Viet Sub
3 of 3
You know how it is. You’re on the road, hungry, but all the places you can find online (with good reviews) are too far from the highway. Happily this is not a problem if you are passing through Roanoke (or lucky enough to live nearby) as I discovered on a recent road trip, when I landed at Viet Sub.
A good banh mi is hard to find. The pork may be too bland, without that classic chargrilled flavor and crispy bits. Or the pickles are uninspired and limp. The cilantro is scant, the wee flecks barely discernible. Or, my personal pet peeve, the roll is toasted on the outside so it cuts the roof of your mouth as you bite into the thick sandwich.
Viet Sub gets it all so right. A crisp, honey-glazed pork filling, the perfect blend of pickled carrots and daikon radish, full stems of sassy cilantro and a soft (homemade!) roll that’s gentle on the roof of your mouth.
This tiny spot looks a little weathered from the outside, but any place worth visiting is going to have some character, right? The smallish dining room contains a handful of tables and a little fridge with bottled drinks. You order at the counter, where you get a full view of the kitchen and the racks of homemade rolls being prepped and baked daily.
Tu Doan and her husband Khoi Nguyen opened Viet Sub in 2013, shortly after Nguyen arrived in Roanoke from Vietnam and struggled to find work due to the language barrier. Doan credits Nguyen's homemade rolls for much of the restaurant’s success.
“For this kind of sandwich, the bread is important to make fresh every day,” Doan says. “If you leave it out too long it can get really hard, but you want it crunchy outside and soft inside.”
Banh mi harks back to Vietnam’s French colonial days. Turns out “banh mi” actually refers to the French baguette itself, but we Americans tend to use the phrase now to mean any Vietnamese-type sandwich with various types of meat and pickle served on a baguette or torpedo-shaped French roll.
Viet Sub is only a few miles off I-81, making it a perfect pit stop for a Virginia road trip. We stopped on the way from Richmond to Bristol for one honey-glazed and one BBQ pork, then planned our return trip to stop on the way back. I’m still dreaming about it.
Viet Sub • 1403 Williamson Road NE, Roanoke • Facebook.com/RoanokeVietSub