Banh Mi · Cheap Eats · Vietnamese

Banh Mi Date #11 – Secret Vietnamese Cafe

I’ve wanted to try Secret Vietnamese Cafe ever since I watched Jeff’s Channel on Youtube. Now that I work in the Beltline, I have the perfect opportunity to further my goal of eating at 19 different banh mi shops. Eleven down and eight more to go! Let’s listen to “Nothing’s Going To Stop Us Now” by Starship.

Secret Cafe has a cozy coffee house vibe, unlike the more utilitarian banh mi shops in Calgary. I noticed several extensive menus posted on the walls when I walked in, showcasing pictures of sandwiches, pho, noodles, curries, appetizers, and Vietnamese subs. When I told the female owner I wanted a banh mi, she recommended the Special Combo Sub ($8.99). She asked me if I wanted my sub spicy. I responded in the affirmative. Pro tip – unless you can handle the heat, don’t ask for spice. My tongue was on fire for hours. 

The cafe was busy with regulars who knew the owners. Two customers ordered the lemongrass pork vermicelli when I was there, and another person ordered pho. Several people came in to pick up their order. 

I asked for no cilantro but still got it anyway. No biggie, as it was easy to remove. I enjoyed the crushed peanuts and the rich flavour of coconut milk in the beef. I also liked how the whole sub was warm – from the toasted bread, melted cheddar cheese to the hot, tender pieces of pork, chicken and beef. The thick slices of carrots tasted lightly pickled. The cucumber and onions were thinner in width. 

How does Secret Vietnamese Cafe compare to the other banh mi heavy hitters in Calgary? The vegetables come in coarser chunks. I prefer the delicate crunchy layers that Thi Thi has mastered with cucumber ribbons, razor-thin onions and julienned carrots. I like the freshness of Secret Cafe’s meats, which I found better quality than To Me Subs. I prefer the lightness and crumb of Banh Mi Nhu Y and Trung Nguyen subs over the heavier bread at Secret Cafe. Price-wise, I thought Secret Vietnamese Cafe offered better value than Kim Anh Sub but had less of a flavour bomb.

I noticed the owners like to banter with each other while they work. If you know of or have grandparents who emigrated from China, you’ll know what I mean. I don’t get homesick anymore, but if I needed a dose of old-school love, I’d come here to soak up the memories.  

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