By Elena Kadvany
Three Seasons launches banh mi cart in downtown Palo AltoUploaded: Aug 4, 2014
San Francisco is well known for its pop-up culture. There might be a barbecue stand in a coffee shop one afternoon or a donut shop inside a bar another.
The same does not go for Palo Alto (or anywhere on the Peninsula, really). But downtown Vietnamese restaurant Three Seasons is trying it out (sort of), with the launch of a lunchtime banh mi cart. As of about a week ago, between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the courtyard outside of the 518 Bryant St. restaurant, you'll find a cart stocked with a few of these Vietnamese sandwiches, plus fresh juices, Vietnamese iced coffee and lychee iced tea.
Three Seasons executive chef and owner John Le is starting with three sandwiches, all $7 a pop. The sandwiches are all served on baguette bread with the same traditional toppings: shallots, mayo, pickles, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeno. The meat is what varies. The "Saigonese" comes with shredded chicken; the "street food" sandwich with grilled pork, bacon, chicken and pork pate; and a vegetarian option with lemongrass tofu (seared on both sides) and roasted portobello mushrooms. The use of baguette, pate and butter are a result of France's colonial influence in Vietnam.
Later this week, Le is adding two more sandwiches: pulled pork and braised beef.
The sandwiches are premade in the Three Seasons kitchen. There's a convection oven set up outside with the cart, so you can place your sandwich order, they'll throw it in and you'll have lunch hot in your hand in about two minutes.
Le, who was born and raised in Saigon and opened Three Seasons in 2003, said he used to make the shredded chicken sandwich for himself to take to school in Vietnam. He's been mulling over the cart concept for years, and took banh mis off the restaurant menu about a year ago in preparation, wanting the cart to be unique. (It's also, of course, a way of drawing people into the restaurant's off-the-beaten-path location in a downtown alley behind Nola's.)
The cart also peddles fresh-squeezed seasonal juices for $4: orange-carrot, watermelon, pineapple-strawberry and a green juice (kale, celery, parsley, Granny smith apples and cucumber). Le assures me they are all natural with no preservatives or sugar added.
There's also Lychee iced tea and waters for $2, but the perfect banh mi drink pairing might be a Vietnamese iced coffee ($4).
Cart hours: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
518 Bryant St., Palo Alto