Banh mi sandwiches aren't new to Denver; some Federal Boulevard purveyors have been baking baguettes and building beefy banh mi for more than twenty years. But the city center has been a banh mi desert until recently, when Vinh Xuong Bakery, a staple in southwest Denver, opened a branch inside the new Zeppelin Station food hall. Governor's Park seems a less likely location for a Vietnamese sandwich incursion than hip RiNo, but the mini-neighborhood within larger Capitol Hill is now home to Daikon, which opened today, Thursday, May 17, at 211 East Seventh Avenue.
Daikon does banh mi and rice boxes (not bowls) Chipotle-style: You start at one end of the line, specifying baguette or rice, and end up with a meal in hand at the far end of the line. In between, you can choose chicken, pork, brisket or "po-k," which turns out to be vegetarian-friendly braised jackfruit. There are also sauces (sambal and hoisin, for example), fresh mint and cilantro, sliced cucumber, pickled red onions, jalapeños and a shredded blend of carrots and the namesake daikon radish. Chips, fountain drinks, iced coffee and beer round out the options, making for a streamlined menu appropriate for the small space.
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The dining room is equally minimalist, with only a couple of rows of community tables and a neon sign, courtesy of Morry's Neon, depicting Daikon's mascot, Pickles the Gorilla. You'll also see Pickles on crew T-shirts and on the menu board above the kitchen.
Daikon was launched by brothers Rob and Lon McGowan; the concept seems ripe for expansion, with a tight menu and minimal need for dining room space; those torpedo-shaped banh mi are perfect for a portable lunch.
With this and other recent additions, Governor's Park has become almost like a modern food hall, only without a roof covering the variety of vendors, which now includes Vietnamese sandwiches, Hawaiian poke at Sushi Cup, tacos at Tacos Tequila Whiskey, fried chicken at Max's Wine Dive, noodle bowls at Bones, gyros at Vesper Lounge, pizza at Lala's — with Racines just around the corner serving as a kind of established anchor store. Perhaps the city should consider blocking off this stretch of East Seventh Avenue to automobile traffic and implementing a common consumption zone where customers could wander freely from place to place with drinks in hand.
Sounds crazy, but then again, so does banh mi in Governor's Park.