The Vietnamese community in Orange County is the largest in the U.S. The Garden Grove/Westminster area is a magical kingdom of Vietnamese eats, but there are far fewer options near the actual Magic Kingdom. Luckily, Tasty Chicken and Banh Mi is a tiny colossus of flavor.
Any sandwich is only as good as its bread; on a slender banh mi, bread is everything. The bread here is just right — crisp on the outside with a nice chew. Sandwiches are inexpensive and contain all the traditional trimmings of cilantro, jalapeño, cucumber, and pickled strips of daikon and carrots, and the meats here are of a higher standard than most small banh mi shops. Sandwiches hit that sweet spot between the assembly-line rock-bottom priced Banh Mi typical in “Little Saigon” and the overpriced chef-driven versions you find in Los Angeles.
In addition to the usual meats, the menu includes banh mi styled like meatball heroes, cheesesteaks, and Hawaiian spam and pineapple. The house sandwich features the other claim to fame: tasty chicken. Golden-skinned rotisserie chicken takes the place of the banh mi’s traditional pork cuts and pâté. When served as a plate, it comes with a big heap of rice and two chili sauces, one sweet, one savory. The whole thing is finished with fried shallots.
Our two favorite sandwiches are roast pork, which has a tangy fish sauce and chili marinade, and lemongrass beef with its sinus-clearing concentration of said aromatic stalk. Both are bolder in seasoning than typical banh mi. Flavor wise, they are somewhere between spicy Thai and Vietnamese. Sandwiches can be jazzed up with a farm egg. That’s another impressive aspect of this friendly shop: All the chicken is organic and raised at a farm connected to the restaurant. You can buy uncooked chickens, eggs by the dozen, and even whole ducks.
The pâté chaud — two-bite flaky pockets of seasoned ground chicken or pork occasionally seen at Vietnamese bakeries — are solid here. The flaky, buttery pastry and soft meat make for an excellent road snack that you can eat right out of the paper bag.
For a refreshing meal closer, or accompaniment, we highly recommend lychee ice, a joyous melange of mango, lychee, and agar jelly floating in coconut milk over crushed ice. It is like a Southeast Asian raspado, and it makes a beautiful pairing with the sandwiches. If that sounds a bit too chunky, the usual roster of Vietnamese coffee, smoothies, boba milk tea and fresh coconuts are available to drink as well.