Along the car-centric city artery that is Southeast 82nd Avenue, countless fast food chains beckon drivers with burgers, fried chicken, and Mexican food, but among these, one local drive-thru stands supreme. Since 2006, the denizens of Southeast Portland have steadily trickled around Best Baguette’s building to pick up banh mi and bubble tea and be on their merry way. It is an underrated city treasure, and it serves all-day breakfast to boot.
In my book, it’s also the undisputed MVP for a pre-road trip fuel up. The restaurant bakes its baguette a few times throughout the day, and if you’re lucky enough to pull up at the right time, the smell of freshly baked bread wafts out of the drive-thru window. In the mornings, huddles of middle-aged Vietnamese men hold court out front, smoking cigarettes, reading the newspaper, and trading gossip. Year in and year out, it’s one of those constant pillars of community I know will always be there, and one that brings a smile to my face no matter how weary of a traveler I may be that day.
When I’m driving up, I have a strategy. Yes, Best Baguette offers an extensive selection of bubble tea, juices, and smoothies, but the Vietnamese iced milk coffee is the only way to go, swimming with crushed ice. My sandwich order fluctuates between the pork roll, meatball, and the always-solid Best Baguette special. Number one on the menu for good reason, the sandwich is a marriage of meats — pate, ham, pork roll, and head cheese.
If I’m not feeling a banh mi, I have options. Although the restaurant’s drive-thru menu only lists its sandwiches and drinks, drivers can order anything else Best Baguette sells — steamed bao, che, assorted pastries — assuming they know what they want and it’s available. Sandwiches can come with the restaurant’s quick-pickled vegetables inside (ready to eat), or outside (packed in a little baggie for later assemblage lest your sandwich gets soggy). Attention to detail — we love to see it.
Eating banh mi one-handed while steering my car with the other is a skill I’ve perfected over time. The downside is the inescapable cascade of crumbs that tumble down my person and onto my seat. However, this is a small bother I’m happy to bear for the intersection of deliciousness and convenience.
Fundamentally, one of the things I love best about Best Baguette’s drive-thru is the inadvertent question it poses about drive-thrus in general: Simply, what foods are not being served via drive-thru that could be? Sushi burritos? Pizza by the slice? The drive-thru is truly our oyster.