The sizable crowd milling around the new Rebel Heroes truck told me one of several things: The Ballston neighborhood continues to struggle for cheap and decent lunch options, the magnetic pull of street food remains undeniable, or the banh mi sold from this mom-and-daughter operation is something special. Or a combination of all three.
I put 30 minutes’ worth of coins into the parking meter and got in line with the rest of the hungry masses. Standing right in front of me was another professional mouth, whose name I won’t reveal. We decided to buy two sandwiches apiece and divide the bounty between ourselves. We had plenty of time to strategize; hell, we had enough time to plot out a Middle East peace plan, since co-owner Tan Nguyen and her mother, Ninh, don’t prepare anything ahead of time, whether their traditional “Old Guard” banh mi and Cubano sandwiches or the cheese-laden “Rebel” bites.
I fear that the crush of humanity surrounding the truck — with its fidgeting need to get its order now — caused some lapses in service with the stressed-out Rebel Heroes crew. Nguyen never asked us what kind of sauce we wanted with our sandwiches nor whether we wanted our Rebels pressed, Cubano-style. The sandwiches merely came out as the RH team decided they should.
Now, let me just say for the record: I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the four sandwiches we ordered — the roast pork banh mi and the pressed Cubano from the “Old Guard” menu and the “che-che-che chicken” and the “eggs de resistance” from the “Rebels” menu. These are lusty and multi-layered sandwiches that lean on tradition without being beholden to them. They are far more successful at hitting the sweet spot of the American palate than any of the items sold from the high-tech Sâuçá truck, which also aims to adapt international street foods for hungry office workers.
Part of Rebel Heroes’ success, I think, can be traced to the owners’ decision to rely on traditional Vietnamese-style French baguettes, which are fresh and crusty and sturdy enough to ferry all the juicy ingredients that could destroy lesser breads. The crunch on these sandwiches is as satisfying as the savory, mayo-slathered meats, the pickled veggies, and the fresh, aromatic garnishes combined.
I hate to put so much pressure on such a young business, but I think Rebel Heroes may already be the best food truck going. Note that I said food truck. The little yellow bulgogi cart is still untouchable.
And by the way, when I got back to the car, my meter had expired. Factor that into any trip you plan to make to Rebel Heroes.