What brought us to Pho Tan was not the pho but the banh mi which were recently touted in a local publication as the “perfect sandwich” that will “change your life.” Our lives remain as they were but the sandwich has all the right flavors, and would make a pleasant appetizer to a bowl of pho. The problem is the almost comical paucity of filling. We haven’t seen sandwiches this under-filled since our days in ’70s London. The banh mi is only $4, and perhaps what else could you expect at the price?
We’d rather pay $8 and get double the innards because the taste won us over, although to be honest even a double would probably seem meager. They come in four varieties at Pho Tan: grilled pork, grilled chicken, ham, and ham and pâté. We enjoyed both the chicken and pork versions, offering crisp-edged meat garnished with cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots, radishes, chilies, and mayo. They come on light textured, crisp-crusted bread from the local Italian Peoples Bakery, of all places, but the bread works quite well.
We also sampled a pair of summer rolls, hand salads of herbs and lettuce and vegetables with a beautiful pink prawn showing through the sticky rice paper wrapper, on this icy midwinter afternoon. It comes with a slightly sweet peanut dipping sauce. These must rank higher in the ratio of deliciousness to shame factor than just about any food we can think of.
The bright dining room could be a local pizzeria, if not for a few Vietnamese touches here and there. But you know what? We don’t ask for fancy decor, and the owner seems to have a kind, easy-going manner that makes us feel welcome and comfortable. It’s only been open since last fall and, as the first and only Vietnamese restaurant in the area, to the best of our knowledge, we’re hoping they can figure out a formula for success. The location is a little dicey, though as Trenton goes there’s a lot worse. Still, we probably wouldn’t pay them a visit after sundown. But we will return to explore the extensive pho side of the menu.
The ratings we assign below are obviously provisional. We suspect that if you are experienced with Vietnamese food, or banh mi in particular, then these sandwiches will leave you disappointed. If it’s your first experience with banh mi, you’ll probably marvel at the flavors, but you’d be wise to order more food if you are hungry.729 Brunswick Avenue Trenton NJ 08638 609-656-7725 Pho Tan’s Website Pho Tan on Facebook