In the Heavy Table’s Secret Atlas of North Coast Food, we mentioned in passing that Ha Tien Market in St. Paul’s Little Mekong “sells some of the best banh mi in town.” After sampling a few of the deli’s other offerings, we’re ready to be bolder: Ha Tien is one of the Twin Cities’ best places for takeout.
To be clear, Ha Tien isn’t a restaurant; it’s a Vietnamese deli in the back of a market — a deli with a surprisingly wide selection, including whole roast duck, fried tilapia, and barbecued ribs. The deli is rightfully best known for its banh mi. The roast pork sandwich ($5) is deeply satisfying. Cut right off a hanging slab of swine, the meat is succulent and flavorful, and crackling skin adds awesome crunch. Fresh elements (daikon, carrot, cucumber, jalapeño, and cilantro) play off the rich suckling pig, while the crusty baguette has just the right amount of chew.
The barbecued pork banh mi ($5) is also worth a special trip. With a ruby-red exterior, the moist meat is slightly salty and sweet. This sandwich (like its roast pork sibling) is a delightful combination of savory meat and bright vegetables and herbs. A drizzle of a jus-like concoction provides the finishing touch. When we inquired, the banh mi master only smiled and said, with mischief, “It’s special sauce that makes it taste better.” Touché.
Although not at the level of Ha Tien’s superb banh mi, other deli entrees we tried were delicious. Salt and pepper shrimp ($9 / lb.), oyster sauce pork rib ($7 / lb.), and oyster sauce chicken ($6.50 / lb.) had several things in common. They were moist, flavorful, and made with high quality ingredients. They were also quite sweet; a few dashes of hot sauce put them in balance.
On the side, we went with Ha Tien’s vegetable fried rice ($6 for about two cups). Normally we might knock it for being bland, but it played a solid straight man to the bolder main dishes.
All together, we spent about $25 for a lunch of two sandwiches, fried rice, and a half-pound of each of the three hot entrees. Split between four adults, the meal was satisfying and delicious — with leftovers! Takeout this good and this cheap is hard to beat.
Editor’s note: We corrected the spelling of banh mi.
Ha Tien Market Deli
353 University Ave W
St. Paul, MN 55103
HOURS: Every day, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
OWNER: Son Dao
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Minimal / No
ENTREE RANGE: $4.75-$19.50