A Carefully Constructed Banh Mi Is Best

Cafe Dolci will make you an enormous but structurally sound sandwich.

Recently, while wending my way from the Castro toward the Financial District, I craved a sandwich and was fortunate enough to be passing one of San Francisco’s secret treasures. 

Between Grant and Kearny streets there is a teensy, tiny mom-and-pop sandwich counter that occupies the corner of a Walgreens storefront. Cafe Dolci is one of those little spots you’ve probably walked by a hundred times without ever even noticing it was there. They specialize in coffee and egg sandwiches for commuters on their way into the office, and always serve a bright smile with their breakfast. The space’s miniature interior is smaller than a food truck, with just enough room for a register and a little counter. It’s like a fully operational kitchen jammed inside a phone booth. But they make it work.

Beyond Cafe Dolci’s usual breakfast-y items, they also serve a banh mi that has taken me by surprise.  With eight different options ranging from Vietnemese ham and meatball to tofu and BBQ Bacon (whatever that is, I’m interested). All the sandwiches are simple and impossibly light for their girth and size. These banh mi are perfect in the same way that a sandwich your mom would pack you for lunch is perfect. You can taste the time and care put into the construction of these banh mi. There aren’t any fancy aiolis or microgreens, but the layers of carrots, pickled daikon, jalapeno, and cilantro are beautifully proportioned into every mouthful. The fresh baked bread is slathered with creamy mayonnaise that brings all the components together.

Although all the choices are nice, the grilled pork and the combination of ham, steamed pork, and pate are the best. The grilled pork is hot and the contrast between the cold and crispy veggies make a clean, satiating sandwich. The combo is the most interesting choice on the menu, and the most traditional. The dewy, porky cold cuts have a hint of sweetness that is magnified by the contrast of the funky pate spread. The ham and pork roll are cut thicker than typical deli meat and are beautifully folded into meaty blankets, giving the sandwich more texture and depth. There are few better lunches to devour while walking through the downtown city streets of San Francisco while heading to the wharf. 

Cafe Dolci is just a little coffee shop and this banh mi is just a sandwich, but sometimes a sandwich made with a little care and even more love is the tastiest damn thing you’re going to eat all week. Thanks Cafe Dolci, see you Monday.

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