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One of my favorite dishes in LA—and, full disclosure, I overuse superlatives like it’s my job—is the Pho Baguette from East Borough in Culver City. Chef Chloe Tran, consistent with a style that she describes as “fraiche Vietnamese,” takes a classic baguette, stuffs it with sliced brisket, bean sprouts, sriracha hoisin aioli, and basil, and serves it with a sidecar of pho broth. But the accompanying pho jus, so to speak, isn’t the typical light, fragrant broth you associate with pho. It’s deep, rich, and full of beef flavor and star anise intensity—almost like tsukemen is to tonkatsu.
Chef Tran took the two most iconic dishes in the American Vietnamese food canon—pho and banh mi—spun them on their heads, and came out with a unique, tasty product that remains true to the flavors and techniques. It’s like the Mad Max reboot: modern, whimsical, and you’re damn glad you paid $10 to experience it.
But, more importantly, Chef Tran opened the Pandora’s box of dipping sandwiches in culturally appropriate soups. If this novel, French-dipped concept can be applied to Vietnamese food, it can—and should—be applied to the rest of the world.
What better cuisine in L.A. to start with than Mexican? And I think the chef to do it is Ray Garcia of the newly opened BS Taqueria (and, you know, the insanely decorated career before that). At his new digs, he’s already gotten creative in the sandwich arena with his beet milanesa torta with escabeche, so we know he’s at least somewhat down with the cause.
I think there’s room on the BS Taqeuria menu for a Pho Baguette competitor—something like a “Pozole Bolillo” that combines the flavors profiles of pozole rojo and a torta ahogada—so, I made one to kick start the process.
I took a massive pork butt and broke it down into easily manageable pieces, seasoned them up, seared off the chunks next to some chopped garlic and onions, and let it all simmer in water to start building the dipping stock. While that was going on, I made a basic chile puree with some garlic, salt, guajillo, and dried California chilies that had been soaking in hot water for about 30 minutes, then combined that with the stock. After adding some aromatics like oregano and bay leaf, the pork simmered for about 3 hours.
I pulled the pork out, let it rest on a cutting board, then cranked the bright-red soup to high, so the broth could reduce and get as intense as the pho sidecar at East Borough. While the broth was doing its thing, I sliced up some bolillo rolls, gave them a schmear of re-fried pinto beans and a healthy slab of pork shoulder along with some fresh cilantro, pickled red onion, and queso fresco. Then, I poured that pozole-like broth in a tiny bowl, and went to town.
Again, there’s a caveat here because of how often I use superlatives, but it might have been the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Well, second to East Borough’s pho baguette—that wins out every time.