Review: Why eat greasy fast food when unpretentious and delicious is just across the street?

Kelly’s Sandwiches, 1220 Mendocino Ave.
Kellys Sandwiches, open since 2019, is a close, affordable option for students at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Kelly’s Sandwiches, open since 2019, is a close, affordable option for students at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Sam Guzman

Whether you’ve eaten Vietnamese banh mi since childhood or are just finding out about this cross-cultural combo from Saigon, now is a great time to get acquainted with Santa Rosa Junior College’s closest banh mi hook-up: Kelly’s Sandwiches.

Family-owned Kelly’s opened in 2019 and, thankfully for its neighbors, survived the pandemic. Depending on where your class is, the small cafe is about a 10-minute walk from SRJC. It’s located directly across the street from Santa Rosa High School on Mendocino Avenue between a nail spa and a frozen yogurt shop.

Banh mi is a sandwich that brings together crusty French baguette, pickled daikon and carrot sticks, fresh cilantro, crisp cucumber, jalapeño slivers for the brave and, traditionally, pork or chicken prepared in-house. Each shop has its own special fillings and typically offers several options — roasted pork belly, shredded or steamed pork, barbecue pork or chicken.

At Kelly’s you’ll find the above mentioned pork preparations, a vegetable option and meatballs.

On a Monday evening, we tested three banh mi sandwiches: roasted pork belly, barbecue pork and the vegetable option. The sandwiches each cost $8.50. To round out our meal, we also sampled the shrimp spring rolls ($12.50).

We wanted to try some of Kelly’s desserts, like the Banh Flan (Vietnamese caramel custard), Rau Cau Dua (coconut jelly), Che Khuc Bach (almond-lychee panna cotta) and Che Sam Bo Luong (sweet dessert soup), but by 5:15 p.m. the shop had already sold out of desserts.

Our entire order of four sandwiches and one spring roll came to a smidgen over $57, including tax and tip. Kelly herself made our sandwiches in about four minutes while we waited. The spring rolls, pre-made in the mornings, take about “4-5 minutes” to make, her partner said.

We waited in the modest shopfront where staff had set up an altar just inside the entryway with today’s offering to the gods of a fresh baguette and a glass of boba tea. The shop has a few tables for dining in or waiting for your sandwiches.

Once, on a memorably rainy day, we waited for our sandwiches while entertained by the TV tuned to a travel channel that consisted entirely of escapist fantasies in the form of scenic drives. Mesmerized by the beauty of the Alps and picturesque European towns with cobblestone streets, we wished it took staff longer than five minutes to assemble our order.

When our order arrived, the four of us compared the barbecue pork, roasted pork belly and vegetable banh mi. The French baguette was pleasingly crisp. Each bite shattered the crust, sending flaky bits flying. It is advised to eat your banh mi outdoors at a softball game, for example, or to enlist your dog to help with the clean-up.

Kelly’s banh mi’s included sharp pickled daikon and carrot, softened by mayo and fresh cilantro and cucumber. The tasters unanimously preferred the barbecue pork for its crispy grilled texture and sweet flavor. Compared to the barbecue pork, the roast pork belly was salty and less flavorful, and its texture reminiscent of roasted pork loin. The vegetable banh mi included sautéed mushrooms but was underwhelming and bland in comparison to the pork versions.

A more generous layer of the pickled vegetables would have improved all of the sandwiches.

The flavor pop of fresh mint enlivened the shrimp spring rolls. The accompanying peanut sauce is sweet, effectively splitting the tasters into two camps.

Kelly’s location is an advantage or disadvantage, depending on time of day. At lunch, students from both the junior college and high school crowd the shop. Some evenings, as we discovered, the shop has sold out of certain menu items, like desserts or spring rolls, before closing at 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Our verdict on Kelly’s? Each of the four tasters would “definitely” eat sandwiches there once a week, and one revised his response to “seven times a week.”

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About the Contributors
Amy Moore
Amy Moore, Reporter
Amy Moore is in her first semester at The Oak Leaf. She has published poetry, essays, and science articles.
Sam Guzman
Sam Guzman, Editor
Sam Guzman is in his 2nd semester at the Oak Leaf, and is currently working towards transferring to San Francisco State to major in journalism next Fall.

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