How often do you find an award-nominated chef selling sandwiches in an undistinguished strip mall in Hollywood? Probably not often but it’s L.A. and great food can be found in every hood if you look. In the case of Banh Oui, a tiny shop with a few seats inside and out, both the “just hungry” and fanatic foodies are discovering Casey Felton’s interpretation of Banh Mi, the popular Vietnamese sandwich.
“I didn’t want to appropriate another culture’s food,” says Felton, who honed her culinary chops in Australia, “so, we say ‘in the style of.’” But individuals who have eaten Bahn Mi will recognize the classic ingredients: a crusty baguette, pate, a main protein like tofu or pork, pickled vegetables, and fresh cilantro. The distinction at Oui is the care as each sandwich is constructed to deliver all its intriguing flavors in every bite.
Watching the sandwiches being constructed is not unlike watching a stonemason; everything is in its place to make a perfect whole. The bright cilantro and pickled vegetables play against the smooth pate with the crispy bread on the final note. The protein choice ranges from sous vide duck breast ($17), pork belly ($13), or chicken katsu, as well as steak and mushrooms or tofu.
Though these Vietnamese sandwiches are the signature dish, Bahn Oui offers a best-selling fried chicken sandwich ($15) a hamburger considered among the best in L.A. ($15) and a BLT ($15) served only when its tomatoes are perfect. No matter if the customers whine, which they do, Felton tells LAMag she will not put a “meh” tomato inside a sandwich. She makes her own pate and pickles the daikon, radishes, and carrots packaged for sale, as well as in the sandwiches.
Felton became a chef, she says, not so much for the love of cooking, but to eat. “I adore food, so I learned to make it,” says the Pasadena native. Much of her culinary craft comes from her Japanese mother. “No one missed our family meals,” says Shelton, who craves vibrant tastes so is frequently gravitating toward Asian cuisines. Beginning in other chefs’ kitchens, she eventually opened Bahn Oui in Hollywood and then Oui Melrose, though she’s no longer involved there.
She tells us that she’s most proud of keeping the business running and all her employees in place during the pandemic. The 32-year-old tried everything to remain afloat, including making lunch for the vendors at the Farmers Market and then trading for their produce. With time on their hands, she and her staff experimented with new ideas. That’s how the elote fries ($8) came to be; rather than potatoes, they’re made with a mixture of corn, masa, cotija and spices. Crunchy, tasting of the sweet corn and cheese, it’s a whole new idea and a whole new fry.
We have to ask, who nominated her for the James Beard Award? Felton has no idea, she says but adds that she thinks it was someone who saw her working with the vendors at the Sunday food market during the pandemic and liked what she was doing.
“Who knows,” she grins, “but thank you to whoever it was.”
1552 N Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood
Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
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