Ode to Best Baguette’s Drive-Thru Banh Mi in Portland

Ode to Best Baguette's Drive-Thru Banh Mi in Portland

Along the car-centric urban artery that is Southeast 82nd Avenue, countless fast food chains lure drivers with burgers, fried chicken and Mexican food, but below this one stands a local drive-thru supreme. Since 2006, the residents of Southeast Portland have been steadily trickling through the Best Baguette building to pick up banh mi and bubble tea and move on happily. It’s an underrated city treasure and breakfast is served all day.

In my book, it’s also the undisputed MVP for a pre-road trip refueling. The restaurant bakes its baguettes a few times a day, and if you’re lucky enough to stop at the right time, the smell of freshly baked bread emanates from the drive-thru window. In the morning, groups of middle-aged Vietnamese men hold court in front of the door, smoke cigarettes, read the newspaper and exchange gossip. Year after year it is one of those constant pillars of the community that I know will always be there, and one that puts a smile on my face no matter how tired I am a traveler that day.

When I’m driving, I have a strategy. Yes, Best Baguette offers an extensive selection of bubble teas, juices and smoothies, but the Vietnamese iced coffee is the only way to go swimming with crushed ice. My sandwich order fluctuates between the pork roll, the meatball, and the always hearty Best Baguette special. Number one on the menu for a reason, the sandwich is a marriage of cold cuts – pate, ham, pork roulade and head cheese.

If I don’t feel banh mi I have options. Although the restaurant’s drive-thru menu only lists the sandwiches and drinks, drivers can order anything that sells the best baguettes — steamed bao, che, assorted pastries — assuming they know what they want and it’s available. Sandwiches can come with the restaurant’s quick pickled veggies inside (ready to eat), or out (packed in a small pouch for later assembly, or your sandwich will get soggy). Attention to detail – we love to see it.

Eating banh mi with one hand while driving my car with the other is a skill I’ve perfected over time. The downside is the inescapable cascade of crumbs tumbling off my body and onto my seat. However, this is a small effort that I gladly endure for the intersection of deliciousness and convenience.

Fundamentally, one of the things I like most about Best Baguette’s drive-thru is the unintended question it poses about drive-thrus in general: simply, what food isn’t served through drive-thru that could be? Sushi burritos? Pizza per piece? The drive-thru is really our oyster.