Friends, allow me to once again sing the praises of Eric Banh, chef to the Gods. Not only is he the genius behind the best Vietnamese restaurant on the West Coast, but he has also gifted us with one of the finest sandwich shops in town – Baguette Box. Located just over the I-5 at Pine and Minor, Baguette Box is worth a trip for lunch no matter where you work in the City. Take your coworkers, take your friends. You’re going to need help making your way through an incredibly decadent side order of truffle oil and sea salt french fries.
And while those hand-cut truffle fries might just be worth a trip in themselves, the real stars are the imaginative sandwiches served up on huge chewy demi-baguettes from Le Panier at Pike Place Market. The bread is firm, the crust is crispy and the sandwiches hold together extremely well (unlike say, the grilled pork cuban at Paseo, which requires a roll of paper towels to eat and you’ll still be wearing half of it on your shirt when you’re finished, but more on that some other time). And while the Paseo grilled pork may be the undisputed No. 1 King of the Seattle Sandwich Scene, the runner-up is easily the much esteemed Crispy Drunken Chicken at Baguette Box. Bite-sized chunks of battered chicken are deep-fried on the spot, coated with a sticky, gooey glaze of sweet-and-sour sauce, paired up with caramelized onions and a sprig of fresh cilantro and then masterfully arranged in the baguette. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still need plenty of napkins, but you won’t need to hose yourself down after eating this brilliant sandwich.
I’m particularly partial to the coconut braised tofu baguette. Reminiscent of a traditional Vietnamese banh mi, but so much better. The marinated tofu is pan-fried and brushed with aioli, then served with red onion, pickled daikon carrots and that signature sprig of cilantro. It’s probably my favorite vegetarian sandwich in town. I also enjoy the grilled ‘basque’ chorizo baguette, which is hot and spicy and served with harissa and onions. I’m less fond of the braised pork shoulder and red wine baguette – it sounds absolutely delicious with coriander clove and sweet red peppers, but I found the ground filling to be way too greasy. Your mileage may vary. There’s also a rotating sandwich on the menu featuring assorted charcuterie from Armandino Batali’s famed Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (which make some damn fine sandwiches themselves).
Compared to the truffle fries, the other side dishes available for order are much simpler, but equally tasty. Beets with olive oil. Red potato salad and stone-ground mustard. Seasonal greens. But everything is fresh and delicious and worth exploring.
The space itself is sparse and minimal, with a bare concrete floor and a large central communal dining table and a couple of tiny 2-seaters along the walls. Marvel at the strange dog paintings. Have a glass of wine (the pedigree from Monsoon continues at Baguette Box, but on a radically smaller scale). Eat a sandwich on Capitol Hill. If you’re absolutely desperate, there is a second Baguette Box in Fremont (lovingly referred to as the “douche-Baguette Box”, no thanks to the impossibly obnoxious on-site management). EDIT: I’ve been meaning to update this for a while now, but G.M. Douche-baguette has long since left the building. Eric Banh don’t suffer no fools! The kids currently working at the Fremont location are all friendly and talented and will whip you up a sandwich in record time. It’s right next door to PCC on the ground floor of the single ugliest building in Seattle (you know the one).
P.S. and slightly off-topic: For the Eric Banh fans… Last Monday, Monsoon began serving “Alive @ 5″, a happy hour featuring a $5 food and wine menu and highlighting new creations from the culinary team in advance of Monsoon East’s opening. Weekdays from 5:00 to 6:30 pm. I’ll see you there.