Don’t judge a meal by its cover: Pork meatball banh mi

I’ve worked at more than a few restaurant openings, with initial financial investments ranging from $5000 each from seven friends for Sound Food on Vashon to a two million dollar investment by Sheldon Adelson for Trumps in LA. A startup restaurant can be a black hole into which money is poured at an alarming rate until everyone gives up and goes home. The average cost to open a restaurant, minus price paid for land/building, is around $300,000. Not to mention the bankroll required for operating without a profit for at least a year. My friend, Rick O’Reilly, didn’t pay himself a salary for five years after opening his successful Olympia restaurant, La Petite Maison.

The costs to opening the door, even before that first mean Yelp review is written, can include 1-3 months rent, insurance, permits and licenses, kitchen buildout, appliances and equipment, tableware, marketing, and initial food/beverage supply. Obviously, the cheaper alternative is to purchase a closed, or unsuccessful, or poorly managed establishment in a bad location and revive it: good luck there. Sweetie and I developed a business plan in 1989 to purchase Sound Food for $100,000 but the offer was turned down. A turn in the road, an alternative reality that was not pursued—who knows what would have happened.

Anyways, my favorite dining experiences have not always been in the beautiful, the gleaming, or the posh. Fish tacos on a terrace overlooking the ocean in a no-name spot in Baja, California, roasted corn at the Washington State Fair, a short rib slider on the curb along Wilshire Boulevard, a street falafel in Jerusalem, a pupusa at the Des Moines Farmers Market, bibimbap at a strip mall spot, a tastebud-tingling banh mi from a Portland food truck, shucked oysters at a walk-up bar in New Orleans, a lobster roll from a beach shack in Rockport, Maine—priceless.


LA food truck

Dover NH Rye Beach Little Boar's Head 2013-09-27 075

Jimmy’s, Rockport ME


Pork meatball banh mi

Hot Chili Mayo
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)

Stir all ingredients together, season with salt.

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350°.
Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet.

Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. 

  • 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
  • 2 cups coarsely grated peeled daikon
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 4 10-inch-long individual baguettes or four 10-inch-long pieces French-bread baguette
  • Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
  • 16 large fresh cilantro sprigs
  • hot chili mayo
Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place on top of meatballs. Press on baguette tops.
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2 Responses to Don’t judge a meal by its cover: Pork meatball banh mi

  1. Jenni says:

    Yum! And ditto the falafel in Jerusalem. Our favorite was on Street of the Prophets about halfway between Jaffa Rd. and East Jerusalem.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love your blog. Love you too

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