Sai Sai's Banh Mi Soup | Downtown Los Angeles

When banh mi becomes soup

A bowl of soup and half a sandwich.

It's the hallmark American lunch special, a wholesome combination that both fills and soothes. But what if the sandwich were in the bowl of soup?

Tomato soup has not consumed a grilled cheese sandwich at the new Sai Sai Noodle Bar. But the Downtown restaurant's banh mi ramen (pictured; $11) gives an Asian-accented answer to that question. The characteristic banh mi toppings of pickled carrots and daikon and sliced jalapeños swim alongside slabs of pork belly, grilled bread and noodles in the light vegetable broth.

Only the noodles and pork evoke a bowl of ramen; otherwise, the bowl tastes like its sandwich inspiration–bright with vinegar, interspersed with vegetal crunch and edged with jalapeño heat.

The bread is the only banh mi component that suffers. It might be grilled, but not enough to keep it from quickly turning to mush, obliterating any textural echo of a good Vietnamese baguette's gum-cutting crunch.

There are noodle soups that are noodle soups at Sai Sai too, including pho and other iterations of ramen. But this moonlighting sandwich has our affections.

Sai Sai Noodle Bar, 501 S. Olive St., Downtown; 213-624-1100 or