A Neighborhood Gem

Sometimes we are so busy trying the newest restaurants and going into downtown Boston and Cambridge that we forget some of the really cool things available in our own neighborhood, Dorchester. For those of you not familiar with Boston, Dorchester is its largest neighborhood. On the South side of the city, Dorchester spans a pretty large area, much of it edged by sparkling blue ocean and views of the Boston Harbor Islands. Our proximity to the beach for walks, runs, and picnics, is one of the reasons living here can be great. The diversity in people, and therefore in food, is another.

Dorchester Avenue runs the length of Dorchester and sports shops, restaurants, and bars that proudly display the neighborhood’s prominent cultures which include Irish, Vietnamese, and Cape Verdean residents. From bars like the Banshee and the Harp and Bard to the rows of Vietnamese bakeries, salons, and clothing stores, it is quite an interesting mix and, in my opinion, is a great little slice of America.

Ba Le Banh Mi

My husband and I love banh mi sandwiches, Vietnamese creations with a French flair, crusty French bread topped with various fillings, most important for me being cilantro and pickled vegetables. However, when we are in the mood for a banh mi, we usually head to Myers + Chang. Yesterday, with no desire to move the car or take the T, we decided to explore a little bit of our own back yard. We ended up at Banh Mi Ba Le, a small shop featuring a variety of types of banh mi, in addition to French bread and pastries, a juice bar, and countless other treats.

Ba Le Dorchester

Ba Le is a complete feast for the senses. Everything was so bright and beautiful; stepping inside from the blinding, cold snow, and into the shop was truly like traveling across the world.

Ba Le Dorchester

I will fully admit that I don’t know what most of the items in the store were, but I am interested in learning. We were quite hungry and stuck to ordering banh mi, fried tofu for me and shredded pork for the mister.

Vietnamese New Year

In the very short amount of time it took for our sandwiches to come out, I looked around and observed bustling New Years activities taking place. The staff were assembling bunches of baskets, decorated in red, gold, and pink.

Ba Le Dorchester

On the other side of the store, colorful sweets filled the space.

Ba Le Dorchester

As I was taking photos, the store’s owner, Jennifer came over and introduced herself to us. She explained that the Vietnamese New Year was coming up and that the store was decorated as it would be in Vietnam. She wanted to bring that experience to neighbors, like us, and to Vietnamese children growing up in America so that they could experience the New Year celebrations as they would be in their parents’ homeland.

Jennifer made us feel so warm and welcome in the store that it made me excited to explore more of the neighborhood.

We brought our banh mi sandwiches home for a leisurely lunch on the couch. They were not just $3 a piece, they were all sorts of mmmmm’s and yummm’s delicious. As we chewed the bread, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, we oohed and ahhed. Each bite brought slightly chewy marinated tofu with crunchy vegetables, spicy jalapeno peppers, and flavorful bursts of cilantro.

tofu banh mi

tofu banh mi

Each bite was perfect, so incredibly fresh and bright. It was just the thing we needed to add a little sunshine to a cold and wintry day.

tofu banh mi

I am thinking of organizing a Dorchester adventure day for the spring. It would be a fun mix of food and drink that might include a football (soccer) or rugby match and perhaps end in a night dancing at a local pub. Stay tuned!

Do you have a hidden gem in your neighborhood I should know about?

Ba Le Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Tags: adventure days, banh mi, Dorchester, Food, hidden gems, Vietnamese food

  1. Michelle’s avatar

    Yum! I love banh mi and you are so lucky to have such a great place in your neighborhood.

    It is not so much of a hidden gem anymore but I adore Villa Mexico in my neighborhood for the awesome guacamole and carnitas burrito!

    Reply

  2. Megan’s avatar

    It’s so nice to have good restaurants nearby. I can’t tell you how many times we run down the street to All-Star to grab sandwiches for dinner. We just got a new Turkish place that’s really good too (a little pricey though). Glad you found a new neighborhood spot!

    Reply

  3. Elizabeth’s avatar

    Thanks for this review Meghan! I just read about Ba Le in the Globe. I love banh mi and I’m always looking for new places to one. A totally self-serving request, might I suggest you do a post with a sample itinerary for a day or half-day in Dorchester? I’ve never been and I’d love to know more about your favorite places and what spots I should hit up.

    Reply

  4. Daisy’s avatar

    What a great little shop. It is fun to learn more about dorchester. I’d definitely be interested in a dot adventure day ;)

    My favorite north end hidden gem was flameporia a coffee/breakfast/lunch/art shop, but it unfortunately closed down. I feel like the gems of the north end are pretty well known!

    Reply

  5. alicia’s avatar

    I LOVE places like this. When I lived in Worcester there was a vietnamese restaurant nearby that I had on SPEED DIAL.

    I would love a Dorchester adventure day. In all my years in Boston I was only in Dorchester a handful of times…..just make sure this place is on the itinerary!

    Reply

  6. Amanda L.’s avatar

    If only I had a car and Dorchester wasn’t so out of the way for me I would totally be there all the time. Their Vietnamese restaurants are suppose to rival though in Chinatown!

    Reply

    1. traveleatlove’s avatar

      If you are near the red line, it is an easy straight trip to JFK, Savin Hill, and for good Pho, Fields Corner. Let me know if you ever want to meet!

      Reply

    2. MelissaNibbles’s avatar

      That sounds like a delicious sandwich. I’ve heard Dorchester has a lot to offer. My area has a TGI Fridays and a Longhorn Steakhouse…so yeah.

      Reply

    3. MarathonVal’s avatar

      That looks like a blast! We live mere blocks from Chinatown but haven’t been in years….. something I should add to me to-do list for this summer!

      Reply

    4. Enrico’s avatar

      Where does dorchester start? Is it the start of Dot Ave? – in which case Broadway station? (Yay Teriyaki House). or Andrew station – (Yay Andrew House of pizza). Or JFK (Yay Banshee, Avenue grille, The SugarBowl and Real tacos). For that matter where does Dorchester end??? Is it Ashmont (YAY Ashmont Grill), or Lower Mills (Yay the Ledge). Once this is understood – where is the heart of Dorchester? And what is the Restaurant a tthe heart of it? The D bar? The Pho Restaurant in Fields Corner? The Blarney Stone? And no chain Restaurant can count in this…. I took your recommendation of Ban Le – really great Tofu Banh mi and really friendly staff. (Happy new year in February). and what is with all hte ( )’s

      Reply

    5. Kate @ Diethood.com’s avatar

      That sandwich looks incredible – I’d love a bite! I enjoy going to the “mom and pop” neighborhood restaurants … they’re so authentic and you know that the shop owners give that food all the attention that they can.

      Reply

    6. Dina’s avatar

      Love love love banh mi. I’m lucky to have lots of choices here in San Francisco, but even after years of going to shops just like this, I, too, don’t have any idea what half the things in the shop are!

      Reply

    7. Leeanne’s avatar

      I adore banh mi, as well as all Vietnamese food – Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood has its share of little pho places and Vietnamese bakeries. My coworkers and I love going there for lunch.

      Reply

      1. traveleatlove’s avatar

        Mmmm sounds great! I will be in Hartford on 2/19 to visit Alicia from The Clean Plate Club with some other Boston bloggers. You should meet us for drinks if you are around!

        Reply

      2. Susan’s avatar

        I think I drove by it the other day, I’ll have to stop in next time! My favorite hidden gem was finding Savenor’s market in Cambridge when I first moved to the area. A Dorchester adventure day sounds so fun – you had me at rugby.

        Reply

      3. Mario Buttali’s avatar

        I love Banh Mi! And I’ve been hard at work in Dorchester lately…
        You can see some other options in eastern MA (and beyond) here:
        http://buttali.blogspot.com/
        If anyone has any suggestions (I still have to get to downtown Boston I know), pass them along, please.

        Reply

      4. Jason Phelps’s avatar

        I’d be in for a romp around Dorchester. I am not familiar with the area so this would give me a great opportunity to discover some new things.

        Jason

        Reply

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