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Caphe Banh Mi, Old Town Alexandria - in the old Pita House Location


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In newer news in Old Town, on Cameron Street just west of N. Royal, is a new-ish Vietnamese restaurant, Caphe Bahn Mi. Spotted it last week on my way back to the office from lunch, so made a point to go there today and try it out. There is seating for about 25 or so people, very simple decor and pleasant inside. Two young women were running the place, the one with the lighter hair was doing the cooking and the darker haired one took care of the FOH work.

The menu has about five items under each category, and they are typically a pork , a chicken, a lemongrass, a garlic beef, and a shrimp or tofu prep. Most of the folks in the restaurant were having pho, but I knew with my time constraints today and the blouse I was wearing, pho was much too dangerous to eat (unless I went to the hair salon next door and got a big plastic cape to wear). Bahn mi are $5-$6, salads run $7-$10, entrees $8-10, pho is $8+ extras. I ended up getting the pork vermicelli with vegan imperial roll ($9) and a ginger soda ($3). The roll was very good -- rolled in cornmeal before frying for some added texture, but soooo hot when first served that unfortunately I had to spit the first bite out into a napkin before I burned my mouth. Note to self: imperial roll is best saved for the latter half of the meal! Once I tried it at edible temperature, I liked the texture, it wasn't greasy, it was very crisp and the filling was tasty and good texture, although it was a bit one-note, taste wise. Still, except for the too-hot bite, I made sure I finished it. It arrived with the entree on a long oval plate with a dipping pool at one end with the typical sweet-sour sauce, and the meat plated on top of the vermicelli on one-half of the plate with julienned carrots and cukes served on lettuce. No basil to be seen. Fish sauce and sriacha at the table. The pork was very flavorful and cooked until still a bit pale pink in the very center (I thought it perfect; my Mom would have sent it back b/c it retained a little pinkness and she is old school about overcooking pork). Noodles were fine as well. Overall, the cooking was done well, the veg was fresh, and I thought the pork had a nice grilled flavor. I'll definitely be back to try the pho.

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Eaten here a couple times in the last few weeks. The pho is damn good, the friendly service is not forced and the food comes out of the kitchen pretty quickly...all very important things to me when dining out.

Weezy, The last time I went, it was still cash only but they said it was only temporary. Is that still the case?

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Back here for lunch today. This time, a catfish bahn mi with jalapenos added. A very tasty sandwich, although the jalapenos were in a clump instead of evenly distributed. Bread was good and crunchy but not overly so, more mayo than my doc would recommend but seemed about right to me! The fish was mild and cooked well, a bit of char on one edge of it, and a good balance of flavors overall. A 9" sandwich for $6, added an iced lotus tea for another buck, so an exceptional deal for $7 plus tax & tip.

The "cash only" sign is gone at the front door and there are stickers for Visa MC and I think Diners, maybe Amex, but I don't know if those are new or left over from the Pita House days.

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I stopped in for some carryout on the way home from the gym last night. I wanted to try a couple things (and was sharing with the +1) so I ordered:

lemongrass chicken banh mi - a generous sandwich for $5. The chicken (mostly thigh meat) was nicely cooked and seasoned, toppings were plentiful, and the bread was crusty and fresh. I'm not a banh mi expert, but this had enough fresh ingredients and interesting flavors that I'd certainly order it (or another variation ) again.

house pho (rare eye of round, brisket) - delicious! I'm very happy that I no longer have to drive to Arlington to satisfy pho cravings - especially ones that hit after 8:00pm. The broth was flavorful, a touch sweet, but nuanced in its seasoning. Both meats were very good and there was plenty of them, along with the noodles, sprouts, and basil.

pork vermicelli (weezy mentioned this in the first post) - this item suffered the most from not being eaten immediately - and to be fair it sat for quite a while before we got to it. The vegan imperial roll had lost any crispiness, but the fillings were good, if not terribly interesting. The pork was tender and there was a lot of it. I think I'll stick to ordering this in house in the future.

The interior is pleasant - my favorite thing was the map of Vietnam painted on the wall and flanked with wooden letters spelling out the names of various cities/towns. The bowls for the pho were enormous! Service was friendly and helpful; food was ready quickly.

This is a nice little addition to Old Town's dining options - and very affordable. The above was about $25.

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Went for lunch yesterday. Only tried the Pho, and felt positively about it, and certainly a good addition to the variety in the area. However, one note of warning: as a party of four, ordering three phos and one bahn mi, we ordered before noon and didn't get the pho until 12:30. So not a quick drop in for lunch in the way that any Falls Church pho, or even Pho 14 in Columbia Heights is. Based on other comments here it might have been an off day, or maybe they just haven't hit their stride yet. I will def try again.

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When I went there last week I felt that service was a bit slow, though certainly friendly.

I had the pho and my wife the pork bahn mi. The pho was very good, but I still prefer places like Pho Hot and Pho 75. I felt that the broth here was a bit too sweet, and that they were a bit skimpy on the meat. In fact, I asked for tendon and I don't think I came across any in my soup. However, as others have said, definitely a welcome addition to the area and I look forward to returning and trying some of their other offerrings.

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I had lunch there as well and agree with plunk about the pho, especially about the broth's sweetness and the skimpiness of the meat. I enjoyed overall. Lots of service issues, though. They seemed short-staffed. It was unclear if it was seat yourself or if you had to wait to be seated. Consequently, several of us waiting for tables were standing in the back near the kitchen waiting for someone to direct us. Service, once seated, was very slow bt friendly. The people at the table next to me almost left. When it came time to order (we had to ask to order), the server was having a lot of trouble with English - she twice asked if we wanted iced tea hot or cold. In the kitchen, the cook rang the bell very loudly when an order was ready and the rings were met by a harried sounding "OK!" from the server.

Still, I'd go back. The people next to me raved about the banh mi and a rice dish.

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I just had lunch here not two hours ago, and enjoyed it. It wasn't the best Vietnamese, no, but it was good and a great value, especially for Old Town. Got the imperial roll (2 sizeable rolls for only $5) and the classic bahn mi (9", and I could only eat half), along with the house lotus tea (such a perfect thing for today, especially since I'm having sinus issues). A little under $13 without tip, and they do accept credit cards.

Imperial roll was a little oily, as some oil spilled out when I bit into the first piece...but that might have also been because it had literally only been out of the fryer for about a minute or two before it got to me. Once it cooled down a bit, the oil sort of "absorbed" and it didn't feel as greasy. Wish they gave you more pieces of lettuce with it, as you're supposed to eat it with a piece of fresh lettuce wrapped around it, but not complaining too much about that since most people probably treat it like a spring roll, and it was still pretty good.

The bahn mi was good, and definitely a good value at $5 for such a large sandwich. Almost a third longer than the ones you get at Eden Center, but thinner because of the bread. The bread is crunchier, in a delicate way, and not very fluffy/soft. But it's not "cut up the roof of your mouth" crunchy at all. The fillings were good. Standard, and I'd say...about 85-90% as good as the classic bahn mi fillings you get at the typical Eden Center places.

Again, for Old Town, I was very happy. And I'm glad to have this option in the area for when I want something cheap, warm and filling. Next time, I'll try the rice dishes and maybe grab a pork or chicken bahn mi to go.

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Word has gotten out on this place and they don't seem to be able to handle the influx of orders. Total disaster at lunch today. Called in about 7 orders today (mix of bahn mi and pho) around 11:45 am and told order would be ready in 15-20 minutes. Arrived at 12:10 pm and order was not yet ready. At 12:40 they told me it would be another 20 minutes for the Bahn mi but the Pho was ready. Told him to forget the bahn mi and just give me the pho. They were very apologetic and gave the order to me without charging me. The phone was ringing off the hook and he was turning people away on the phone - unreal.

Those who got the pho in the office thought it was above average but a little light on the meat. I can not offer any review since I had ordered the Bahn mi. I will likely try again but will go at it alone, so much for trying to help drum up business for the new game in town.

Also, the prices are slightly higher (0.50 to 1.50) than what is shown on the on-line menu.

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Went with lunch today with a new coworker who is also somewhat a newbie to Vietnamese cuisine. We got there about 10 after 1:00 and it was packed but a 2-top was just leaving, so lucky for us. Everyone seemed happy and I wasn't hearing any grumblings about the pace of service/getting food out. There were two people waiting tables today and the back of house looked more crowded, so it seems as though they're learning the level of staffing needed to handle their customers. I got the pork vermicelli again, my coworker got the chicken lemongrass vermicelli. Came out very quickly -- maybe 4-5 minutes, tops, both plates made very well, plenty of fresh veg, everything cooked well. I managed not to burn my mouth on the imperial roll this time. . Service was friendly and quick. The restaurant pretty much had emptied by about 1:30, but that's lunch rush in Old Town.

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Went for lunch today and they have changed the baguette they use for their banh mi to a more traditional banh mi baguette. Not as delicate or flakey/crusty as it should be, but soft and won't cut the roof of your mouth. Still, I miss the texture of a really good banh mi baguette, or even the bread they used the last time I went here.

Got the grilled porkchop fried egg rice platter, and it was great. Pork wasn't tough at all, but juicy, thin and so flavorful. You could taste the char, but it was just the right amount. The fried egg was even still slightly soft in the yolk, which is great because I love letting that lovely yellow yolk drip down and mellow out all the other flavors.

Still a solid and great deal for a sit down lunch in the Old Town area. The service was definitely better than last time, too. I went around 2:00 PM, so it wasn't busy, but not completely empty either.

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Stumbled across this place for lunch today. Arrived about 12:30 and grabbed the last available table in the restaurant. Two or three more parties arrived after me and walked away deciding not to wait, so beware during peak lunch hours - apparently the word has gotten out about this place. Service was quite good despite this, however. The entire meal from sitting at the table to walking out the door was perhaps 35-40 minutes.

Summer rolls were adequate - not the best I've ever had but certainly not the worst. Could have used a bit more of the herbal flavor that was just barely peeking through and perhaps could have been a little more tender. The peanut/plum sauce that accompanied it was perhaps a bit heavy as well.

The steak salad was quite good. Thin and tender strips of steak with a good char flavor atop greens and onion strips with (a bit too much) of a nice vietnamese vinaigrette.

As others have said, the best vietnamese ever? No. Does it fill the empty hole in my heart where Ba Bay used to be at it's peak? No. A strikingly affordable lunch option (You will be hard pressed to spend more than $15-20) and a welcome variety to dining in the heart of Old Town? Absolutely.

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Now it makes sense why this location seemed familiar to me - I had visited it a few years ago when it was Pita House... Anyway, after reading the various reviews here and elsewhere, I decided to give Caphe a shot for dinner. We have two amazing banh mi shops in Chicago (Nhu Lan and Ba Le), so I didn't bother trying the sandwich here. Instead, I opted for the house Pho (with brisket and eye-of-round if I remember correctly), my first time trying the dish (I know, I know...). At any rate, the portion size of the soup looked pretty large to me, which was great. The broth was really delicious, and the various condiments available to me added either texture or flavor. I felt I got a really nice value for an Old Town restaurant.

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After a long interval between visits, it was nice to see (taste) that Caphe Banh Mi is still putting out solid food. The Chicken Pho and Pork Bun were both very good, with lots of fresh veg/pickles accompanying them.  The crispy roll (or vegan imperial roll, per the menu) was nice and crispy, and didn't suffer for being part of a carry-out order.  The sloppy viet banh mi was quite good. The spicy curry beef was tender and had a nice kick to it, with plenty of cucumber, carrot, cilantro, etc. to take the edge off.

There are two websites out there - the one linked above is out of date, with incorrect opening times and no menu. The current one can be found here.  I was glad to be reminded again of this close to home option for pho and the like.

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Monday I got a lemongrass chicken bahn mi, with tax included $5.50.  It was a very good deal for the money, size wise.  The chicken was well flavored, the bread soft inside, but crunchy out.  They don't do the small baquettes like at Eden Center, but I still very much enjoy their bread.  I got the jalapenos, which are optional.  I apparently had some well watered jalapenos as they were fairly bland, especially in comparison to the last time.  But overall just great, especially for the money.  I wish I was in Alexandria today, it was a pho kind of day.

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Was there the other day to take my associate attorney to a belated birthday lunch.  I got crispy imperial rolls (and let them cool down and didn't burn the roof of my mouth, woot!) and the chicken salad with carrots, cabbage and etc.  I think this place is an amazing value and I like their dishes.  Both my dishes were tasty and went well together.  They also have to turn tables quickly because it is a small space- which is GREAT when you need a quick lunch during work.  They are also super nice for take-out which I do from time to time.  In the winter I get pho when I eat in.  I normally take out bahn-mi, I like the ground pork, lemongrass chicken and beef (not as good as Three Sisters Grill, but very good and very cheap).  I also love the crispy rolls, I like the garden rolls and salads.  It is all such a good value.

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We got into Caphe Bahn Mi on Saturday before the Scottish Walk parade had ended, which was a good call- right after we sat down at around noon, the place was mobbed.  That meant I didn't see my favorite pipers, or the Hey clan, but I got to see the Star Wars clan!  My Mom's SO had never eaten Vietnamese food before.  He got chicken pho, I got the house beef.  Mom and Hubby got bahn mi, and we started with an order of imperial rolls.  Everything was good, and it was nice to have a warm bowl soup after being in the parade and getting ready to sit outside and sell tickets for the Home Tours.  I got the small size bowl, which was perfect in size, but I should have ordered extra noodles.  Their jalapenos weren't very hot that day, but sometimes they are, you just never can tell.  And it was super cheap and fast.

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Met a friend for dinner here last night.  Only 2-3 tables taken when we arrived, about 6:00.  By 6:30, it was packed.  They have added wines to the menu, and you can order by the taste ($3), half glass ($5), full glass ($8) or bottle (most ran in the $30-$40 range).   Someone with more knowledge than me would have to weigh in on the quality of choices.  I got a glass of the gruner vertliner and was happy enough with my choice.  

Unfortunately, the service overall was really lacking.  I ordered the tamarind spring rolls and lemongrass chicken vermicelli bowl, plus the wine, and my friend got a vermicelli bowl and a half glass of pinot grigio.  The waiter took our orders without writing anything down, got our wine after checking with us 2 more times about what we wanted, wine-wise.  The tamarind rolls never showed.  A chicken banh mi did arrive solo and was sent away.  And then the rest of the meal was delivered by someone else, our server never checking back to see if we needed anything else.  When we got the check (from yet another person), at least only the items we actually ordered and received were on there.  

 Overall as far as the food goes, the chicken was a tiny bit overdone, and although it was sliced for presentation, nothing was sliced through completely, which makes eating with chopsticks and no knife difficult.  The spicing was tasty and the salad/herbs in the bowl were nice and fresh, and the noodles cooked well.  

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