Charles Phan has been up to something in the last year of The Slanted Door's closure that none of us knew about it — and now he drops the news that he's about to open his first banh mi shop in the heart of the Mission District.
Rumors went wild last year that Ferry Building anchor The Slanted Door might be in some kind of danger of closing for good — given that most other SF dining institutions made it back open in some form in 2021, while it remained dark. But Phan assured the media that he was just taking some time to do a much-needed remodel of the nearly 20-year-old space, and in November we had confirmation that Phan had signed a new 10-year lease extension at the Ferry Building, and he said the restaurant would reopen by Summer 2022 (he's now pushed that to fall).
Meanwhile, as Eater now reports, Phan has quietly been perfecting his recipe for light and fluffy, French-style banh mi rolls in his Mission commissary kitchen, based on his memories of the sandwiches he had decades ago in Vietnam. And in February he plans to open Chuck's Takeaway, a new sandwich shop at 3332 18th Street (across from Whiz Burger, near South Van Ness).
There are only sandwiches and iced coffee on the menu, but we all know San Francisco has had a longtime love affair with many kinds of sandwiches, and this place is sure to be a draw for Dolores Park-bound crowds and pretty much everyone.
Offerings include a semi-traditional pork banh mi featuring two types of sliced cold-cuts — an emulsified sausage and a terrine — and hopefully there will be a pate-slathered option as well (Eater says Phan and chef Dong Choi are debating whether to add chicken-liver pate). It's not clear if there will be a roast chicken option like at the Tenderloin's beloved Saigon Sandwich, but Phan has promised a vegetarian banh mi featuring eggplant, yuba, and mushroom pate; and there will be an egg salad sandwich on Japanese milk bread.
The menu sounds like it's still in flux, but a braised beef belly sandwich is in the works, as well as a pork meatball option. And there is talk of an open-faced smoked tuna sandwich, and eventually a smoked sardine option.
For fans of traditional banh mi — as served at Saigon Sandwich and elsewhere around town — you may be shocked to find that Chuck's Takeaway's versions won't be topped with pickled and julienned carrots or other vegetables. Phan prefers these on the side, so the only photo we have to go on shows just meat and cilantro nestled in a fresh French roll.
Banh mi arise from the intersection of French and Vietnamese cuisines, coming into their own as a street food in Saigon in the 1950s, when Vietnam was still shaking off a long French occupation and an identity as French Indochina. They evolved as versions of a French sandwich known as casse-croute, which was a ham or cold-cut sandwich on a baguette with pate and butter. Vietnamese street-sellers added the vegetables, which came to include cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, and daikon, and thus the banh mi was born.
Phan tells Eater that he only tasted his first banh mi when he visited Vietnam as an adult in 1992. He was born in Vietnam, but his family relocated to Guam and then SF's Chinatown prior to the fall of Saigon.
And after years of having inferior examples here in the Bay Area, usually because the bread was all wrong, Phan says he realized, "I gotta learn to make this bread."
Look for further news about an opening date for Chuck's Takeaway in the next couple of weeks.
Chuck's Takeaway - 3332 18th Street near South Van Ness - Opening February 2022
Top image: Google Streetview