Hoa Lan foods, where a fresh Bahn Mi sandwich can be had for $2.95, is closing its doors on March 31. Not exactly in the best of neighborhoods, Hoa Lan is not the most approachable store in the city. But for foodies who love to like exotic Asian fare, Hoa Lan was the place to shop. I stopped by once a week for a Bahn Mi sandwich, the Vietnamese-French staple featured in this rave review from the St. Petersburg Times’ Laura Reiley.
Go to Hoa-Lan Food (450 34th St. N, St Petersburg; (727) 322-0722) and you don’t have to wait around for anyone to make you a sandwich. There, between the cash registers and the produce section you’ll see a stack of plastic-wrapped sandwiches, all $2.75, made in the wee hours by Hoa and Lan Phan. They’ve been grocers in St. Petersburg for 10 years, for 20 in Illinois before that, but they got into the banh mi business when they found the right bread at a bakery in Sarasota.
They make a stack of sandwiches each day, combining the classic cha lua ground pork mousse and a second variety called gio lua, which is flavored with fish sauce. Literally “silky lean meat paste,” their gio lua is a little darker, pounded and steamed in banana leaves. These get layered with all the usual crunchy veggies and herbs, rice vinegar adding a sweet tang to the whole thing. I defy you to have more fun for under $3