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24 Catt. 1: In re PhoWheels

2013 October 9

Opinion of JUSTICE CATTLEYA, in chambers.

One evening after a long day of work in my chambers, I began to make my way home when I spotted a food truck on the far side of the metro station. Uncommon as it is to see a food truck offering dinner service, I immediately changed my evening plans, put my metro card away, and headed towards a food truck called PhoWheels.



PhoWheels, as one can guess from the name, is a Vietnamese food truck that serves pho. But, in its own words, it is “[n]ot just a PhoTruck [sic].” It offers “a modern interpretation of traditional Viet cuisine, where comforting favorite dishes blend seamlessly w[ith] bold new flavors.” One bold new flavor that appeared on its menu this past September was the Astro Doughnut Bánh Mì.

This unusual offering was the result of a collaboration between PhoWheels and Astro Doughnuts. The DC doughnut-maker created a savory flavor made with bacon, cheddar, and chives to go with PhoWheels’s bánh mì sandwich. At PhoWheels, the sandwich comes with the usual toppings of cilantro and pickled radishes and carrots, plus the addition of sliced cucumbers and truffle aioli. For the main filling, the customer has three choices: 1) “5 spice maple glazed porkbelly [sic]”; 2) “[s]oy garlic chicken”; or 3) “[m]ushroom-onion tofu.”

Feeling adventurous, I opted for the pork belly bánh mì on an Astro doughnut. I also ordered a tofu bánh mì on a French baguette, the usual glutinous container for a bánh mì. PhoWheels’s menu includes two everyday bread options: a baguette or a croissant. Whichever way the customer pairs the breads and meats (or “meat” in the case of the tofu), the cost is $8 plus tax.

True Street Food

Little time needs to be spent on the initial question facing the Cart: whether a bánh mì is street food, or “the kind[] . . . that can be cooked in front of you and [is] meant to be eaten with your hands, without forks, while standing up.” In re Eat Wonky, 2 Catt. 5 (2011). This court has already determined that sandwiches in general, and bánh mì sandwiches in particular, are street food. See In re Lemongrass, 7 Catt. 1 (2012). As true street food, I am required to affirm PhoWheels’s bánh mì sandwiches absent significant flaws with the offerings. In re Big Cheese, 6 Catt. 2 (2012).

Astro Doughnut Bánh Mì with 5 Spice Maple Glazed Pork Belly

Pork Belly Bánh Mì on an Astro Doughnut

Pork Belly Bánh Mì on an Astro Doughnut

I’ll start with my conclusion: the pork belly bánh mì wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. As my youthful law clerk might say, “Just eh.” The biggest issue, for me, was the doughnut. Luckily, what pops into my head when I think of a doughnut—a cloyingly sweet, glazed pastry—was not what I got. But unluckily, what I did get was a tasteless and textureless bun. While the doughnut was made with bacon, cheddar, and chives, none of those flavors were detectable. And as far as texture goes, it was one-dimensional and boring. The thick and somewhat dry bun distracted my taste buds from the sandwich filling when it should have accentuated the filling. The sandwich probably would have been more interesting if the bun (I can’t call it a doughnut; it really wasn’t one) had been grilled like a Panini.

The pork belly was disappointing too, unfortunately. It was bland. Sure, it was fatty (it was pork belly, after all), but it was underseasoned. I detected neither the seasoning of five spices, nor the sweetness of a maple glaze.

The highlight of the sandwich was the pickled radishes and carrots. Fresh and crunchy. And, thank goodness, a whole lot of it piled high. PhoWheels got this part right.

Mushroom-Onion Tofu Bánh Mì on a French Baguette

Tofu Bánh Mì on a Baguette

Tofu Bánh Mì on a Baguette

I was impressed with PhoWheels’s tofu bánh mì on a baguette as much as I was unimpressed with the pork belly bánh mì on a doughnut. The delicious pickled radishes and carrots were there, plus this time the “meat” (tofu) and bread (baguette) were of equally high execution and quality. The tofu pieces were deep-fried and tossed in a tasty mushroom and onion sauce. And the baguette—oh, the baguette!—was everything I wished it to be. Crusty on the outside, and moist and soft inside. This was a very solid bánh mì offering.

To answer the question that might be lingering in the minds of regular bánh mì eaters: Yes, customers of Song Que in Arlington’s Eden Center will probably balk at PhoWheels’s $8 price tag (compared with the less than $4 that Song Que charges for its (smaller) bánh mì sandwiches), but I didn’t regret getting this practically-delivered-to-my-door bánh mì. Plus, PhoWheels offers a free bánh mì after you buy ten.


Two essential components of the classic bánh mì sandwich—the baguette and the pickled radishes and carrots—were spot on at PhoWheels. Unfortunately, while the vegetarian tofu was a surprisingly satisfying find, the pork belly was bland.

Customers who missed the chance to get a bánh mì on an Astro doughnut last month need not worry. The doughnut added nothing special to the sandwich. However, I appreciated PhoWheels’s out-of-the-box thinking and willingness to try something different. If it creates a bánh mì sandwich with other breads of the world in the future, I would probably get in line. Bagel bánh mì, anyone?

AFFIRMED. It is so ordered.

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