Skip to Content
Food & Drink

A ‘Best Sandwich’ Recommendation, and a Blast From the Past

Our quest to try The Dirty Bird quickly turned nostalgic.

Em Cassel|

Look at that thing.

Some tips demand that you dispatch your entire newsroom ASAP.

Consider this one:

"This is the best sandwich I've had in ever," an ex-City Pages food editor texted Racket last week, complete with a scrumptious photo not unlike the one you see above. "They also sell Pepsi by the can. Do with this information what you will."

Further texts directed us to Bánh Appétit, a mom 'n' pop fast-casual bánh mì shop that opened in Dinkytown almost four years ago. Loaded, clown-like, into one editor's 2006 Hyundai Elantra, our four-person staff slipped and scrambled to 511 14th Ave. SE, which sits beneath the newish/garish Marshall apartment complex. The revelatory sandwich in question—The Dirty Bird, more on it below—did indeed rock. But first the restaurant's heritage hit me like a nostalgic ton of maroon and gold bricks.

Turns out Bánh Appétit is the spiritual successor to Bun Mi. A certain micro generation of Gophers surely remembers that Stadium Village bánh mì spot, which was displaced in 2016 by another lifeless apartment development, The Hub. (As was its neighbor, the beloved Big 10 sub shop.)

Vietnamese is my favorite food today, and I have Bun Mi to thank. Shortly after it opened, in 2009, I tasted my first-ever bánh mì inside that tiny Washington Avenue restaurant; it was the Shins to my Natalie Portman upon first bite. Bun Mi served as a big, budget-friendly, flavorful entry to Vietnamese cuisine to uncultured white U of M students such as myself. Like Blink-182, it was a delightful, not hyper-traditional gateway drug to harder options iPhos and Trieu Chaus, to deploy another very necessary mixed music metaphor/simile.

“The real star of Bun Mi [was] their spicy mayo and fries,” '15 U of M grad Tom Johnson raved in a 2019 Minnesota Daily story announcing the arrival of Bánh Appétit. “There’s just something about their fries that was absolutely perfect.” 

(Hilariously, the Daily felt the need to add a journalistic disclaimer that Johnson once worked at the paper; it's true—with me!)

We're happy to report that those seasoned, double-fried fries live on at Bánh Appétit. The place is owned and operated by Sherman Ho, who co-founded its predecessor. Bánh Appétit is much larger than the itty-bitty Bun Mi, and its vibes match its new-construction student living surroundings. Think barebones boutique hotel lobby, though fun accents exist around its tables and couches—googly eyes on houseplants, a vending machine selling East Asian candies and noodles.

My god!

The reason for our visit, the vaunted Dirty Bird, comes advertised on the menu with a warning: The $9.75 sandwich requires a 10-minute wait. Bun Mi-heads might be noticing a near doubling in price; blame inflation or blame location, but do take solace in the fact this thing is freaking enormous, easily big enough for two with fries.

The Dirty Bird arrives red-hot and exploding from its knockout crusty, puffy, chewy bun, the origins of which were denied to the Racket team. (A cashier went back to ask someone, presumably Ho, but they would only yield that the bread comes from St. Paul... we're guessing Trung Nam.) The generous fillings include all your default items—cucumber, pickled carrots/daikon, cilantro, jalapeño—topped above two jumbo, panko-crusted, deep-fried chicken tenderloins. The juicy and crunchy namesake bird is slathered in a sticky housemade "sweet/spicy sauce," resulting in a legit-spicy experience that falls somewhere between Nashville hot chicken and Korean BBQ chicken.

Does the Dirty Bird justify the hyped-up text that introduced us to it? It comes pretty damn close. And, even if the sandwich is expensive by bánh mì standards, it still represents a steep discount from the likes of Marty's. Based on the glowing online reviews, it seems Bánh Appétit is satisfying a new generation of Gophers. We encourage old ones to re-live those fries and to check out new favorites like The Dirty Bird.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter