Area herbivores seeking lunchtime options in Wailuku: I have some good news and some bad news. Bad news first.
Pho is never, ever, ever vegetarian (unless otherwise indicated or served in Oregon). I found this out upon attempting to order tofu pho from Vietnamese sandwich and plate lunch joint Ba-Le’s newest location in the old Sweets & Treats building in Wailuku.
Pho—the classic broth-based Vietnamese dish served with loads of herbs, spices, noodles and your choice of meat—only comes with beef stock.
The good news: you have other options.
The menu at Ba-Le has a formidable list of veg items. A recent visit involved the tofu sandwich, which fellow vegans should remember to order sans mayo. It was served on a miniature baguette with strips of fried tofu, fresh veggies, kimchee and an array of tasty Vietnamese sauces. Another appealing option is the avocado sandwich, which, as of press time, I have yet to try. The sandwiches here are the shape of a football and nearly the size.
Meat eaters, I begrudgingly concede, have a seemingly endless array of sandwich options, from ginger chicken and beef teriyaki to the “special,” which consists of pate, ham, headcheese and steam pork.
Veg items go beyond sandwiches at Ba-Le. Their summer rolls are some of the best I’ve come across on the island (which may put them in the running for best worldwide). Their components, which include fried tofu and carrots, are chopped into tiny pieces and fried, then stuck with fresh herbs in a rice wrapper. The sauce is killer, plus they have additional Vietnamese sauces of varying spiciness that you can add before hauling your order back to the office.
On one occasion I tried the tofu noodles, which were pretty killer. They basically consisted of the same components as the tofu summer rolls, except instead of being rolled up in a rice wrapper they’re laid out over rice noodles alongside a bit of lettuce and a handful of fresh herbs.
The latter two entrees are listed under the “bread/specialty” heading, which also includes headcheese by the pound. Dare of the day: look up headcheese if you don’t already know what it is.
On the flipside, Ba-Le has a huge selection of coconut milk-based tapioca. The papaya flavor is inlaid with bright chunks of said fruit. Other flavors include honeydew, chocolate, sweet potato and taro. Omnivores have even more dessert options, including flan custard and rainbow Jell-o.
I’m focusing on lunch here, but the friendly staff at Ba-Le sling saimin, opakapaka and tofu alike through the dinner hour seven days a week.
Lunchtimers may be pleased to know that they don’t have to haul their orders back to their frigid, fluorescent-lit offices if they don’t want to; there are tables outside if you desire to do lunch in the sun.
Ba-Le is one of the most versatile eateries I’ve come across in a while. Given the crowd it has consistently drawn at its new Wailuku location, it may soon find itself a mainstay for herbivore and omnivore alike. MTW