Fast-casual or "Chipotle-style" service is undoubtedly the new fast food of the modern era. It's fresh, made-to-order before your very eyes, and preferably not more than $10 for a simple lunch, oftentimes less.
Arguably, certain cuisines have been in the fast-casual game since long before it was a "thing," and we'd count Vietnamese, especially banh mi and rice noodle salads, as one of these exceptions. Walk into almost any Vietnamese restaurant at all, and pretty, freshly made banh mi sandwiches will be piled high, for little more than a few bucks apiece, wrapped in utilitarian waxed paper (doubles as a plate) and bound by a rubber band. Good enough for me.
Or order a rice noodle salad, officially the most delicious way to get lunch on a 90-degree day, and you'll wait no more than 10 minutes for something hot on top, cool on the bottom, and fresher than a college dude at his first frat party.
Lu's Sandwiches has been doing things this way on Eat Street for many years, and their banh mi, notably the sour sausage, are some of the best anywhere. They bake their own bread on site.
But format du jour is format du jour, and if a place has a chance of expanding their audience, then they might as well do so. So now, Lu's Northeast builds banh mi plus noodle and rice bowls before your very eyes, and while it seems a little redundant, the queues are queuing up.
Step up and select your pleasure. Bowl or bread? Then, meat. At the new Lu's, choose from about half a dozen options (but no sour sausage, sadly) including meatball, mock duck, and "special ham" -- an assortment of traditional pork cold cuts.
Lu's make their own pork pate in house, as well as an ultra-thick, dark yellow mayo that tells the tale of lots and lots of good yolk. On our visit, we had to wait about 15 minutes for the bread to arrive from the other location, well worth it for the fresh, shatter-crisp loaves. A Lu's banh mi is also an exceptional deal at $7 for something that's almost a foot long. It takes gumption to finish it all. (Visit the original location to do the 2-foot-challenge.)
The odd part about all of this is that aside from the meat, most traditional banh mi garnishes are, well, traditional, and unless you have a strong aversion to cilantro or peanuts (legit), you're probably going to want cuke, carrot, scallion, cilantro, peanuts, and chiles on your situation. Sauces come in portion cups anyway, so this setup isn't as imperative or personal as, say, a burrito.
Which is not to say that Lu's isn't worth a look. Quite the opposite. Their spring rolls are alone worth the trek, one of the freshest, best, and prettiest presentations we've seen, with plump al-dente shrimp, pink- edged BBQ pork, and wrappers as transparent as cellophane. Another ridiculous deal at $4 for a pair, but not as ridic as their taut, crisp egg rolls, available for $1.50 each, or complimentary with a noodle bowl, your choice of pork or mock duck. That little flourish adds a lot of value, particularly since the noodle bowl is just $7.
Vietnamese iced coffees might be the best in town in a town with a great many excellent versions -- step over to the fountain machine after purchase and ice it up yourself. Lu's even sells glasses of red and white wine for $5 apiece! The room is styled after all fast-casual rooms everywhere -- get in, get out, linger over your wine if you must, but don't linger for long. Can't you see the queue?
10 6th St. NE, Minneapolis