This BBQ pork version of a banh mi is one of the more popular sandwiches on Banh Appetit’s menu, according to the owner. Photo by Meredith Goad

I’ve eaten a few banh mi sandwiches in my time, but it seems lately I’m often surrounded by them. My co-workers and I recently discovered our mutual love for the Vietnamese sandwiches, and lunchtime banh mi runs have become a regular thing.

Why so popular? I wondered that, too, and recently wrote a story about the banh mi craze in southern Maine, where you can now get not only banh mi sandwiches but banh mi tacos, pizza and breakfast sandwiches. For me and my colleagues, I suspect the lure lies not only in its flavor, but also in its rock-bottom price and the fact you can eat it without feeling guilty about all the melted cheese or sauces that cover other sandwiches.

The newest source for banh mi in Portland is Banh Appetit, which opened a couple of weeks ago in the Cumberland Avenue space formerly occupied by Ten Ten Pie. Owner Tuyet Thi Le has transformed it into a modest sandwich shop with minimal seating (mostly a handful of stools by a big window) and a wall full of grocery items. It’s a place to down a quick lunch or buy a grab-and-go dinner. I visited at dinnertime for take-out and wished I had gone for lunch instead, because that’s when a la carte homestyle Vietnamese dishes are served. When I got there, about a half-hour before it closed for the day, the steam tables that earlier held hot soups and stir fries sat empty. I was really looking forward to trying some of these dishes and was disappointed they weren’t available. Perhaps their availability should be clearly spelled out on the shop’s Facebook page.

The regular menu is very small and displayed on a chalkboard on the wall. The good news is the prices are so incredibly reasonable, I was able to order several things to sample and still spend less than $15. Two items stood out to me: the barbecue pork banh mi and shrimp spring rolls.

Le said the traditional banh mi has proved to be the most popular sandwich. It’s made with Vietnamese sausage, Vientamese ham, mayonnaise, pork pate, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro and peppers. The traditional sandwich is just $5, as is the tofu version. My barbecue pork sandwich – filled with tender, well-seasoned meat, along with all the pickled veggies, cucumber and cilantro – cost $6, also the price of the chicken banh mi. If you prefer beef or shrimp, it will cost $7 – still a deal.

This banh bao from Banh Appetit has been cut open to reveal the stuffing inside. Photo by Meredith Goad

Some shops ask what spice level you’d like, but not here, so if you’re one of those people who likes an extra spicy sandwich, speak up when you place your order. I like mine on the mild-to-medium side and wasn’t disappointed. The sandwich had a touch of heat but not too much.

The spring rolls were fabulous, filled with fresh, crunchy greens, thin noodles and shrimp. A sweetish, peanuty dipping sauce that could have been used on anything added just the right amount of extra flavor. Customers get two spring rolls for $4, so no matter what else you order, grab some of those.

I also tried the banh bao, a steamed bun filled with meats (including sausage) and a little egg. I think it would be perfect for an inexpensive (just $3) light lunch – it was huge for a bun – but I admit I favored the banh mi and spring rolls. Both were delicious and I definitely would order them again.

The Banh Appetit menu also includes chicken wings ($1.50 each), egg rolls ($1 each) and banh pate so ($2), a savory, meat-filled puff pastry. Thai iced tea is available for $3.50.

If you’re one of the increasingly rare food lovers who hasn’t tried a banh mi, Banh Appetit would be a good place to start.