Photo courtesy of Pink Bee

A Sandwich to Beat the Banh Mi in Ballard

Pink Bee’s Thai sandwiches are out of this world.

Thai curries on a sandwich: Why didn’t someone think of it sooner? Well, someone finally has—and they are freaking fantastic.

In the former home of a Ballard Mexican restaurant, the tiny, family-run Pink Bee (2010 N.W. 56th St., 466-1650) is serving a handful of Thai/Malaysian dishes that you can get in three iterations: as a sandwich, over rice, or as a salad. The choices include chicken or tofu satay, chicken yellow curry, beef or chicken panang, braised pork, and green curry with eggplant. The sandwich, the friendly co-owner told us, came from her sister’s love of Caribbean sandwich shop Un Bien and Vietnamese banh mi.

And while the rice and salads are fine, it’s really the sandwiches you want to come for—served on a choice of Essential Bakery potato bread or Dutch Crunch. If, like me, you’ve never heard of the latter, here’s the deal: It’s essentially similar to a baguette, but originated in northern California and consists of a paste of baked rice flour and sugar, which gives it a crackly top and an ever-so-slight sweetness. It’s similar to a Dutch bread called Tiger Bread. I tried both breads, the potato bread for the pork sandwich and the Dutch Crunch for the beef panang.

Let’s talk about the pork first. You can order it with or without the shank; the owner suggested without, as the shank includes the skin, which makes it fattier. Some people will no doubt welcome that extra fat, but we took her advice. The filling combines juicy chunks of braised pork with pickled mustard greens, thick ribbons of caramelized onion, and a spicy but very subtle cilantro-lime sauce. I loved how the mustard greens cut through the fat, giving the sandwich an acidic, slightly bitter note. Pork and mustard greens are a classic Chinese combination, but I’d never encountered it in Thai food before. The whole messy lot was heavenly. The beef panang rivaled it, its coconut-milk/lime-leaf/fish-sauce flavor a hit between two slices of bread, also with the onions and a smattering of cilantro. I’d have to call it a tie.

If the chicken yellow curry over rice—red cargo rice, with a pink hue and slightly chewy bite—pales in comparison, it’s only because the sandwiches are so unique. The chicken and vegetables are fresh-tasting, and while the curry is on the sweet side, the pickled veggies served along with it help mitigate the sweetness. Likewise, a chicken satay salad is just fine, the thin, pounded pieces of chicken lightly rubbed with peanut sauce and served over salad greens with a deliciously creamy, lemon-grass-forward mung-bean satay dressing.

We skipped the sweet Thai ice tea so that we’d have room for dessert: mango black sticky rice served in a plastic cup. The bottom half of the cup is filled with the rice, lightly sweetened, atop which rests a half-inch layer of coconut cream and, on top, perfectly ripe chunks of fresh mango. Drag your spoon through it so you can get a bite of everything in one mouthful.

Pink Bee is a simple space with lovely wooden ceilings and tables, a white, wainscoted counter where you order, and a counter at the window. When we were there, the family business was evident as two children sat behind the counter playing games on their tablets—not intrusively, though. It’s nice to see this kind of smaller mom-and-pop shop find a home in trendy neighborhoods like Ballard, and supporting these places may help save Seattle’s soul a little.

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