What: Fried chicken banh mi
Where: Little Bakery House, 2439 South University Boulevard
When: Open daily 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
In early May, a "grand opening" banner quietly made an appearance on a storefront in a small strip mall near the University of Denver campus. The location, which used to be home to a Deli Zone and sits next door to a Blackjack Pizza with a Wendy's looming less than a block away, wasn't a neighborhood draw for culinary adventures. But that's changed: Little Bakery House, at 2439 South University Boulevard, is a must-stop. And it's definitely not a bakery — at least not the kind of bakery Americans think of when they see the word.
In his native Vietnam, explains owner Tom Xu, "bakery" is synonymous with banh mi, the country's staple sandwich, built on baguettes. When choosing the name Little Bakery House for his new establishment, he admits that he didn't expect so much confusion; many people have stopped in expecting to find bread or muffins instead of the small menu board listing banh mi and noodle and rice bowls. But those he's convinced to give his food a try love it, Xu says, pulling out his phone to show off the perfect five-star rating he's earned on Google.
One taste, though, and you won't need Google to convince you that he knows what he's doing.
it closed in 2019. That restaurant had a reputation as one of the best dim sum spots in the city, winning multiple Best of Denver awards, but now Xu is ready to build a reputation of his own. He chose the location because he "wanted to bring something new to the neighborhood," and opted for a fast-casual, counter-service model to cater to the nearby students hungry for bites in between classes and families looking for quick and affordable meals.
Everything served at Little Bakery House is made in-house, including the bread for the banh mi, which is baked daily. And, oh, what bread it is. While loaves at some other banh mi spots lean toward crumbly on the outside, the bread here nails the lightly crisp exterior texture that staves off sogginess while the insides remain supremely light, airy and chewy.
And the banh mi only get better from there. The options include more typical fillings like lemongrass grilled pork or beef and a cold cut combo along with a vegetarian version, but Xu is most proud of his two non-traditional additions: lemongrass grilled shrimp and fried chicken. "Those are only mine," he says with a smile.
In a world where "fast-food fried chicken sandwich wars" are an actual thing we talk about, please turn your attention to the fried chicken sandwich here, which truly deserves fanfare. Pounded thin and crusted in super-crispy panko, the tender chicken breast is perfectly seasoned. Like all the banh mi at Little Bakery House, it's added to a split baguette along with mayo, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro and pickled radish and carrot.
The only possible way to improve this banh mi is to ask for some of the bright-red, house made chili oil alongside, a request that Xu is happy to accommodate — as long as you don't want a dozen blueberry muffins, too.