New Kalispell restaurant offers bánh mì sandwiches and specialty Vietnamese coffee

Story by Justin Franz | Photography by Hunter D’Antuono

Four years ago, Chi and Tony Tran were seeking a better life and moved to the Flathead Valley. It’s a story familiar to many locals who came here on vacation, fell in love and never left.

Chi has a master’s degree in business and accounting and was looking to become a certified public accountant. Her husband Tony, who had made a name for himself in the restaurant scene in Florida, was busy opening Blue Samurai Sushi Bar & Grill, a sushi restaurant in downtown Kalispell that quickly cemented itself as a popular culinary destination.

But soon, Chi decided she wanted to take her life in a different direction and use her knack for business in a new way. Instead of becoming an accountant, she decided to open a restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese cuisine.

“I wanted to introduce people to my culture,” she said, as she made a bánh mì sandwich just a few weeks after Chi Cafe opened in late July.

A bánh mì usually consists of a flaky baguette, pickled vegetables, spices, herbs and grilled meat or a spread of pâté (or both). The sandwiches were first made in the late 19th century and were frequently filled with some of the most expensive meats around, meaning only the wealthy could enjoy it.

Chi said she went to Vietnam recently to learn how to properly make the baguette from scratch. She said making it is a laborious activity, and if you skip one step or one ingredient it won’t come out right.

“I’m really focused on quality,” she said. “You can’t skip anything or you’ll mess it all up.”

Chi Cafe’s menu includes five different bánh mì sandwiches, including options with grilled pork, grilled beef, chicken or tofu. You can also get it on a gluten-free wrap, although Chi points out that she only uses organic ingredients in her bread. The most popular bánh mì on the menu is the Vietnamese special sandwich, which has ham and Vietnamese marinated pork belly with a spread of pate. It’s topped with pickled radishes, carrots, sliced cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeño slices and house-made organic egg yolk mayonnaise.

The restaurant is also specializing in coffee, which Chi has shipped from Vietnam. Chi said the cafe’s speciality is a coffee served with egg yolk that must be eaten with a spoon. The sweet treat is best enjoyed sitting before or after a meal and isn’t ideal to grab on the go.

“I look at coffee like people look at wine,” she said. “Where coffee comes from, what region it comes from, really matters.”

Chi Cafe is located on the corner of U.S. Highway 93 and U.S. Highway 2 in Kalispell. In early September, only the cafe was open, but soon it will be sharing a space with the Samurai Seafood fish market. Chi said people have long wanted to buy the fish used at Blue Samurai Sushi Bar & Grill, and now they can.