Grub Notes

Eastside Vietnamese Offerings From Deli to Grill and More

Bon de Paris

BON DE PARIS (1860 Barnett Shoals Road, 706-850-8289): I waited and waited after this small banh mi and bubble tea shop opened, the better to compare it to the still-not-open Paris Banh Mi, which has been in process downtown for ages. Eventually I got impatient, and the universe provided an appropriate point of comparison (covered later in this column). Bon de Paris turns out not to be a chain in its very early stages. Another restaurant by the same name exists in Fort Walton Beach, FL, and they share an Instagram account, but the menus have significant differences. At the same time, the branding is cute and consistent in a way that small local operations usually don’t manage to pull off. Each sandwich comes wrapped neatly in paper secured with a sticker that says what’s inside, for example. 

Banh mi originated in the French colonial exploitation of Vietnam, which introduced the baguette to the Southeast Asian country. The sandwich is one of my very favorite cheap lunches. Sliced in half, the bread is filled with meat (mostly pork-based), pickled carrots and daikon, sliced cucumber and jalapeño, copious amounts of cilantro and often pâté. There are a million varieties, including a wonderful one with scrambled egg served at Lee’s Bakery on Buford Highway in Atlanta, but most of them are inexpensive, strongly flavored and taste delicious hot or cold. Bon de Paris has eight versions, including two on croissants that are better than they should be (a flaky pastry is an objectively bad sandwich bread, even though it has a lot of butter). Its bread is decent but not quite as good as that at Just Pho or Mother Pho, both of which make banh mi in a similar price range. The sandwiches on baguettes are larger than most, and include a vegan version made with tofu that doesn’t have the depth of flavor of the meaty ones, but is still worth eating even if you’re not vegan. The bulgogi beef one makes use of a Korean ingredient, but the combination works nicely. Best of all is the “special combination,” which includes barbecue roast pork, slices of pork roll and jambon (a mild cured ham); they work together with the other fillings to hit high notes and low notes at the same time. There’s chicken if you prefer, and the thịt nướng (grilled pork) is definitely worth your time. Are they better than other options in town? I legitimately don’t know. A bad banh mi is hard to find, and I can see positives in all of our choices. 

Bon de Paris also has a fairly wide selection of bubble teas, neatly presented in plastic cups with a resealable top; a rendition of Vietnamese coffee (dark roast, sweetened condensed milk) that will send you buzzing for the rest of your day; a range of sweets; and a porch swing decked with fake flowers. It’s open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.

THE CRAB HUT (1860 Barnett Shoals Road, 706-850-0762): Just on the other side of the currently empty storefront that borders it and Bon de Paris is this seafood restaurant that added a small Vietnamese menu earlier this year, meaning that 50% of the Vietnamese restaurants in Athens are now in this shopping center. Like its sister operation of the same name in Oconee County, The Crab Hut offers Viet-Cajun boil-in-bag seafood (flavored with spicy garlic butter and a delicious mess), plus grilled and fried seafood (alligator, flounder, oysters, catfish, shrimp), but it also does a pretty good pho, advertised in large signs in the window. Available in both beef and chicken varieties—add fat meatballs sliced in half for an extra dollar—it’s a solid rendering of the aromatic, long-cooked broth, and it comes with plenty of add-ins so you can customize it to your liking: bean sprouts, sriracha, lime wedges, cilantro, scallions. It’s maybe not quite as collagen rich as I’d prefer, but it is light and cleanly flavored. Even better is the thịt nướng (chargrilled, thinly sliced marinated pork) available over rice (cơm) or noodles (bún), with or without spring rolls. There’s chicken, too, flavored with lemongrass and grilled, but the pork is the standout, with its thin slick of fat crisped by exposure to the charcoal fire into a taste that permeates everything else on the plate, especially as leftovers. Whoever’s grilling knows what to do. There isn’t much else on the Vietnamese menu, apart from an even better, darker version of Vietnamese coffee than the one at Bon de Paris, but it’s possible some support might lead to more options. The Crab Hut is open 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.