Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen
6093 S. Highland Drive
Mon-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
South Salt Lake
3425 S. State Street
Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Ihave always had a profound admiration of the sandwich. It’s something that borders on perfection with its simplicity. I’ve sampled much of what Salt Lake has to offer in the world of sandwich crafting, and I feel pretty confident with my sandwich palate. However, my first visit to Oh Mai found me face to face with a pantheon of sandwiches that not only challenged my perspective of what a sandwich could be, but left me with a newfound appreciation of those who can take a cultural staple like a sandwich and elevate it into new territory.
Owned and operated by members of the local family behind Salt Lake’s Café Trang, Oh Mai opened its South Salt Lake location in March of this year and has already generated enough business to open a second location in Holladay. Of course, none of this would have materialized if the food didn’t deliver a unique dining experience.
When I entered Oh Mai and beheld their vast menu of these authentic sandwiches, I soon realized that I wasn’t just preparing to sit down for a meal, but rather for a genuine cultural experience. The cashier suggested that I try the Original Cold Cuts Banh Mi ($4.18), as it’s the most culturally authentic. I must admit that when I read the description of this sandwich, I hesitated a bit. It touts four different incarnations of pork, including headcheese and paté, along with raw jalepeño peppers and pickled daikon. I went for it, and in an effort to prove how manly I really was, I spent an extra buck to get my sandwich adorned with a fried egg. My wife, who is less of a meat enthusiast, opted for the Lemongrass Bean Curd Banh Mi ($4.18), which consists of sliced bean curd that has been prepared with lemongrass and caramelized onions along with the pickled cucumbers, carrots and daikon present in all of their sandwiches.
Our sandwiches were delivered sliced in half, exposing the inviting arrangement of the meat and veggies inside. My first bite was nothing short of miraculous. The breakfast-centric flavors of ham, egg and toast were most prominent, but they were enhanced by the crunchy sweetness of the pickled vegetables and the assertive saltiness of the pork paté. After making short work of the first half of my sandwich, I had a few bites of the Lemongrass Bean Curd. The bean curd itself has the consistency of firm tofu, and the citrus flavors of the lemongrass complemented the pickled veggies nicely. As a person who enjoys meat in all its forms, I found this vegan-friendly sandwich to be just as hearty and satisfying as the porkstravaganza that I had ordered. Despite the uniquely Vietnamese flavors, the banh mi comes couched in an 8” baguette, which gives the sandwich a deceptively familiar appearance. According to Oh Mai manager Long Tran, the recipe for these particular baguettes is a closely guarded family secret, which makes sense since they’ve managed to capture a near-perfect blend of crisp chewiness on the outside and pillowy goodness on the inside. Occasionally, though, the consistency of the toppings is a bit off. There are days when the pork paté is applied too liberally, which results in some goopiness during the last few bites.
Though it’s hard to branch out from Oh Mai’s stellar selection of banh mi, it’s worth it. Oh Mai prepares rice and noodle dishes that come topped with some of the familiar sandwich fillings, like curried chicken or honey-glazed pork. They also offer pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup that is prepared with thin slices of beef, scallions and onions. Their pho is available in both small and large portions, and can also be prepared with tofu. I stuck to my pattern of ordering the entrée that came with the highest possible amount of meats, and ordered the Ribeye, Brisket and Beef Meatball Pho ($6.28 sm., $6.98 lg.). Pho should be all about the broth—though it’s slightly different from place to place, pho broth is a mixture of exotic spices steeped in an earthy stock. I’m happy to report that the pho at Oh Mai, while not earth-shattering, can definitely hold its own with some of the other pho restaurants in town. The noodles are cooked al dente, and it’s fun to pick and choose among condiments—Thai basil, bean sprouts and sliced jalapeño—that arrive along with the steaming bowl of soup.
If you need a foil for your meat lust, the Vegan Noodle Bowl ($6.28) is a great option. Though it’s a relatively simple dish, the Vegan Noodle Bowl features the wide range of flavors and textures that Oh Mai does so well. The soy dressing is both sweet and salty, while the increased quantity of pickled vegetables add a vinegary tanginess to the dish. Combined with the cool vermicelli noodles, the dish is satisfying without feeling heavy.
Oh Mai offers a diverse menu, with many options that are under $5. That alone is reason enough for any curious local to pay the restaurant a visit. With so many sandwich purveyors offering convenience over quality, it’s nice to have a local establishment like Oh Mai that prepares unique food without taking a bite out of your wallet.