IF PORTLAND HAD an official banh mi sandwich, it would look something like this: stuffed to the brim with slow-cooked, local meat, layered with creativity, and served with potato chips. Indeed, that’s what you’ll find at Double Dragon, a new banh mi shop on the corner of SE 12th Avenue and Division Street, in the former Artemis Café space. The sandwiches are nontraditional and, starting at $7.50, on the pricey side, but Double Dragon has already earned a following for its upscale take on the Vietnamese classic.
Given the shop’s approach, it’s no surprise that chef Rob Walls worked the line at New York’s Momofuku and then slung sammies at Portland’s Bunk. He’s a hard-core banh mi lover, and at Double Dragon he corrects the three tragic flaws of traditional shops: factory-farmed meat, meager portions, and no booze.
At this, his first solo venture, six spins on the banh mi arrive with glossy, cracked-crust buns from Portland French Bakery, each holding a foundation of sweet pickled carrots, daikon, jalapeño, and a thick swab of spiced aioli.
Walls makes his mark with the meat fillings, such as ginger-and-orange roasted duck with deep, earthy spices or sweet, fatty pork belly with jalapeño, pineapple, and brown sugar. But none can compare to the meatball banh mi, an ode to the classic meatball sub, seen through a Southeast Asian lens. Tender orbs of velvety pork and beef are infused with caramelized onions and plum sauce, then coated with a tomato sauce that draws its deep flavor from sambal and coconut. For an extra kick, sides of crunchy potato chips come tossed in something akin to Old Bay seasoning. Wash it all down with one of Double Dragon’s side soups, including curried house ramen and a rich roasted carrot soup, or opt for one of the minimalist signature cocktails curated by Beaker & Flask alum Dave Shenaut.
Double Dragon is a welcome addition to the local sandwich landscape, bridging the gap between Asian comfort food and locally sourced subs. Banh mi purists might scream bloody murder, but they’d miss the point: deliciousness for the sake of deliciousness.
1235 SE Division St
This article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Portland Monthly.