If you're keeping up with Houston's young Asian American chefs, you'll know they're masters at twisting tradition by pulling from other influences and experiences.
For example, Oh Peou and his partners are the minds behind the Spicy Dog food truck and soon-to-open Spicy Bear in the Heights (February, likely). When they took over the former Bear's Tea House space in the same Westchase shopping center as Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, they wanted to do banh mi. But they didn't like how the sharp bread sliced the roofs of their mouths.
So they came up with a novel twist: a croissant banh mi (or croissant-mi). It's the same ingredients as a traditional banh mi, just inside a sliced croissant from Kraftsmen Baking. And that's what you get at Banh Appetit.
Sounds like blasphemy for a city where banh mi is the king of sandwiches.
"It was definitely a lot of risk before we started," said Peou, a Cambodian who came to Houston five years ago via Philadelphia. "Are people going to come back for croissant-mi? It's like a cronut."
Is it a novelty or something more? Well, it's worth trying.
At Banh Appetit, you have four croissant-mi options: lemongrass cow (lemongrass-marinated beef, tender and well flavored), barbecue pork (in a caramelized brandy sauce), grilled chicken, and tofu (in a sweet chili sauce). Sandwiches have a couple jalapeños, sliced cucumber, carrot and onion strings, and cilantro. You can add an egg ($1 extra), more meat ($2 extra), and herbs like extra cilantro and basil by picking from the mini gardens at the restaurant's long tables.
All those ingredients are expected; it's the croissant that matters here. Some Yelp photos from the restaurant's first week captured overcooked pastries, including burnt ones. But the first-week issues seem to have been cleaned up, as the croissants when I tried them came out golden brown and flaky. I could've used a buttery component, whether traditional creamy mayo or just a fattier croissant, and the pastry-to-ingredient ratio was probably slightly skewed toward the dough, but these are small knocks. It's a good sandwich, and it definitely doesn't scrape the mouth. I'd eat it again.
Banh Appetit has a small menu, so for food it's croissant-mis and a handful of appetizers. Don't miss the Banh Appetit fries, which are now part of what I'm deeming a citywide French fry revolution. I haven't munched on fries outside Houston in a few months, but I can't imagine other cities are doing fries this well and this consistently. Banh Appetit paints ribbons of sriracha and "magic sauce" (basically a chili mayo) on its cheesy fries, then sprinkles on sesame seeds for crunch, cilantro for freshness, and beef (or chicken). Frankly, they're addictive.
Pair it with Crack Tea (a strawberry matcha latte), which is influenced by Christina Tosi's crack pie, but really just in name. Here we have a matcha-infused latte with a bottom layer of strawberry purre. Sip the matcha for a fresh slate, then mix the whole thing together for a rich, tangy, sweet masterpiece of dessert indulgence. There are another dozen-plus drinks here, from fruit green teas (you can add boba) to Thai tea and a house coffee.
Banh Appetit is set in white-walled, modernized digs perfect for Instagram feeds and lazy lunches. An upstairs loft with twinkly lights provides solitude. I can see myself coming back with the laptop for a long afternoon of working, plus snacking on those fries again. My goodness.