Once upon a time humans used to go to restaurants to sit down and enjoy the ambiance. This “once upon a time business” was actually only a few weeks ago, but for now while we're stuck with Postmates and to go, let’s reminisce on the sit-down eating days…
Appearance seems to really entice the appetite. So it’s no surprise that curb appeal can really matter at restaurants and food stores. We associate nicer outsides with high quality food and vise versa.
But, what was once a Taco Bell is now an amazing bahn mi place that can break down our biases about restaurants, and startle the mind with high-quality food inside of a fast food exterior. Carrot and Daikon don't look much different than a Taco Bell. And its surroundings certainly don’t raise your expectations. It is located on the corner of Newland and Westminster Blvd. surrounded by a 7 Eleven, casket store, donut shop, beauty salon, and Shoppy Max. Each business is advertised with its name in two languages at the top or even just one you don't understand.
When first driving by, we missed the entrance to the lot because we were surprised by its curb look. Once we saw the place I worried they'd have a mediocre banh mi with a greasy fast food taste (don't get me wrong sometimes I crave that taste), but their fresh ingredients, perfect bread, and juicy, crispy-edge meat proves wrong every assumption we made before entering the restaurant.
The place itself reflected the culture of Garden Grove with old men enjoying Vietnamese iced coffee, regulars popping in, and a diverse group of customers eager to dig into their food.
At the front counter, there's a spread of food wrapped in banana leaf that to my surprise was Vietnamese bologna as well as plastic display cases filled with baked goods like an empanada-like pastry filled with a sweet pork mixture called a pate chaud.
Behind the counter are employees working nonstop pumping fresh bread out of the oven, assembling sandwiches, and making boba drinks. The airy and crispy French bread is slathered in a garlic aioli and topped with cilantro, carrot, daikon, and jalapenos. Both my dad and I tried the crispy pork belly sandwich which was the perfect amount of fatty, warm, and toothsome crispiness. Compared to all of the bahn mis I’ve ever eaten, this one was so perfect compared to the rest because of its ratios. At Carrot and Daikon they don’t skimp on the meat and they use perfect amounts of slaw and jalapenos. Next time, I’d be interested in trying the Vietnamese bologna, as it seems to be one of their specials. It’s only fair to warn you that the sandwiches are as big as your face and you will end up eating all of it.
The best restaurants could have Michelin stars and beautiful interiors, but they could also be holes in the walls or former Taco Bells. The famous Jonathan Gold birthed the idea that the best food finds in SoCal are often in strip malls. The best meals don’t have to be expensive and fancy either, the best meals can be simple but well made. After my visit to Carrot and Daikon I’ll definitely be more open to restaurants no matter their shape, size, or look.