In an area known more for American fast food and Caribbean cuisine than other ethnic eats, Tân Dinh has something else to offer: Vietnamese banh mi and other delicate dishes from one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.
Banh mi is quintessential street food: a small, tightly-packed sandwich of meat, greens and pickled vegetables, pretty to the eye, easy on the digestion and neat eating, if it’s done right. And it is done right at Tân Dinh.
The tiny space, as compact as the sandwiches, has a kitchen, a counter, a cooler and two tables. There’s nothing fancy here and no wasted space. The only real decorations are the containers of colorful pickled vegetables and cups of fruit-based drinks, which can also serve as a healthy dessert. Those drinks range from Vietnamese iced tea and sweet-salty fruit sodas to fresh sugarcane juice and Vietnamese hot or iced coffee, a very strong brew served with sweetened condensed milk.
You can choose from ten banh mi, ranging from ham or paté to pork meatballs or grilled pork with garlic. Each sandwich is made to order, dressed with mayo, fish sauce or chili oil and layered with pickled vegetables and fresh cilantro before being wrapped tightly in wax paper and secured with a rubber band. In addition, there are soups, dumplings, salads and stir fry dishes with pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu or vegetables, served with rice, noodles or lettuce leaf wrappers. There is almost nothing deep-fried; everything is grilled, steamed or sautéed, to preserve color and freshness. And the bread used for the banh mi is perfect: fresh and French with its crackly crust and airy interior, a perfect bed for the pickled vegetables and liquid condiments.
The menu is in both Vietnamese and English, and although most of the customers are Vietnamese, the proprietress understands English. You can always point politely and say, “I’ll have that!”
This is not fast food; everything is done from scratch with the goal to please both the eye and the palate. It’s fine Vietnamese street food with four walls and a roof. And with everything priced under $10, it’s a place for everyone to try. It’s not sturdy, hold and reheat food; it's meant to be eaten fresh and now. Some of it can be challenging, but that's the purpose of Tân Dinh.
Tân Dinh, 2845 N. Military Trail (just south of Community Drive), West Palm Beach, FL. Phone (561) 686-4698. Open Wednesday through Monday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Cash only. No outdoor seating.