It started with the coffee.
Yeanie Bach and Phi Pham wanted to share Vietnamese coffee culture with Boston. Vietnam is the second-largest producer and exporter of coffee in the world, after Brazil, and its streets are lined with cafes brewing coffee in the metal filter called a phin. Bach and Pham, a software engineer and a photographer who are engaged, were inspired by that filter when they named their first business: Phinista. They began making drinks out of a commissary kitchen, hosting pop-ups and doing delivery while they looked for a spot to open a cafe.
Then a space in West Roxbury opened up, previously home to a Vietnamese bánh mì shop. “We took over in a week. It was very fast,” says Bach. The location seemed better suited to a restaurant than a cafe, the couple thought. “I didn’t want to open a restaurant. It’s a lot of hard work. But I think it chose me.” They opened Bánh Mì Oi in July. (The phrase is what you’d call to catch a sandwich vendor’s attention: “Bánh mì oi!”)
Bach’s mother, Lien Bui, used to run a banh mi shop in Saigon, and Bach helped her out as a young girl. Now Bui, who relocated from Virginia, is doing the same for her daughter. “We’re using the recipe she had like 20 years ago,” Bach says. “We are very proud to say we are very authentic.”
The menu begins with the namesake Vietnamese sandwiches, baguettes filled with classic pate and cold cuts, BBQ pork or chicken, tomato basil sardine, crispy shrimp, and more. Each gets a slather of house-made aioli, pickles, cucumbers, cilantro, and jalapeños.
There are also crispy spring rolls and fresh rolls; two kinds of pho, a brisket noodle soup and a chicken version; and vermicelli bowls and rice bowls. Everything is made with care and fresh, high-quality ingredients: The bánh mì bread is nice and flaky, the aioli made in house. Bánh Mì Oi is also a boon for those who don’t eat meat, with vegetarian versions of every dish and two protein options: five-spice tofu and a flavorful, texturally satisfying lemongrass seitan.
There are fruit smoothies, lightly carbonated teas made with fresh fruit, and milk tea drinks, with or without crystal boba. Bánh Mì Oi doesn’t use any powders or artificial syrups. And guests can still drink in some Vietnamese coffee culture here, with cafe phin da (drip coffee), cafe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk), and cafe mocha, a chocolate-y version of the iced. Bach and Pham import the beans from Vietnam and roast them on these shores. “It’s straight from the farm. At most it’s 25 days. It’s very fresh,” Bach says.
For more options (including ube lava cakes, brunch crepes, and egg coffee), customers will have to head to the Fenway. In August, Bach and Pham opened the brick-and-mortar Cafe Phinista on Peterborough Street. “We want to introduce our coffee to more people. That’s our mission,” Bach says.