Restaurant name: Xankia
Restaurant address: 222 W Wells, Milwaukee, WI 53203
Phone number of restaurant: 414-817-0241
Business hours: 11a-7p Monday-Saturday, Closed Sunday
I had probably walked or driven passed the non-descript storefront hundreds of times before ever walking in. Adjacent to a now defunct Subway and occupying the old Armenian Arin Bert space, Xankia (pronounced Sun-kia) offers downtown Milwaukee’s only Vietnamese dining option.
Owner Xa Xiong purchased the restaurant in 2014. Formerly known as Banh Mi Nhu Y, Xankia has been open since 2010. Originally located in the grocery store Pacific Produce in Greenfield, Xankia moved its operations to downtown Milwaukee in January, 2015. Since then, they have provided downtown Milwaukee with premium banh mi sandwiches.
Banh mi have been trendy the past few years, with local restaurants trying to cash in on its popularity with variations like Banh Mi burgers or empanadas. But for those unfamiliar, the authentic sandwich has a rich past.
Banh mi sandwiches come from the marriage of French and Vietnamese culture and food. When French forces occupied what is now Vietnam in the late 1800s, the banh mi was born. Combining French ingredients like baguettes, jalapeno and mayonnaise with Vietnamese ingredients like cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, the unique sandwich has many variations.
Late on a recent Tuesday afternoon, after hearing about amazing pork sandwiches from friends, I finally walked in the door to Xankia to get myself a banh mi for a late lunch. The fast-casual restaurant has a no-frills interior, with blue tables and black chairs strewn throughout the floor. There are no hosts or servers to greet you so you have to walk up to the register to order, where a menu is taped to the counter top. Across from the cash register is a coffee bar where you can order from a number of boba teas ($5.50), iced or hot coffee ($3.75) and Thai iced tea ($3.75).
There is seating for about 25-30 people, with a variation of high-top and low-top tables, and a long bar set against the windows. I was one of four other customers when I arrived, so I didn’t need to worry about finding an open seat.
Specializing in banh mi sandwiches, Xankia offers eight different variations (pork, steak, meatball, tofu, rice noodle and more) as well as pho ($8.50-$10, unavailable on Monday) and noodle bowls. Since I’ve heard so much about the pork, I decided to order a pork banh mi ($6.75), a pork noodle bowl ($8.50) and a side of egg rolls ($1.25 each). My bill was under $18 for all three items.
After ordering, I sat at a bar against the windows looking onto West Wells Street and waited for my order. After about 10 minutes, my oversized meal was delivered. The sandwich, served in a plastic basket, was incredible. A toasted baguette lined with a house-made sriracha mayo filled with seasoned pork, cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro and jalapeno (optional), this sandwich was unlike any other. The baguette was crispy on the outside but soft and moist on the inside, soaking up the juices of each ingredient. The pork was both sweet and savory, with the jalapenos adding a strong but not overbearing kick, while the cucumber, carrot and daikon provided a cooling crunch.
Once I was done inhaling the sandwich, I moved on to the egg roll. There are a lot of egg rolls I’ve never had, but these are among my favorite. I’ve found that most egg rolls I’ve had are kind of soggy and wilted. The egg rolls at Xankia are crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Dipped in the Xankia sweet and sour sauce, these egg rolls are delicious.
After eating the pork sandwich, one would suspect that I would be tired of those flavors. Wrong. My taste-buds craved the savory pork. Giving the sandwich and egg rolls a few minutes to digest, I finally started digging into the pork noodle bowl.
The noodle bowl is essentially a deconstructed banh mi sandwich. With all of the same ingredients, it is served in bowl with rice noodles rather than on a baguette. What I liked most about the noodle bowl was that I could portion how much of each ingredient I wanted in each bite. If I wanted to feel the heat, I could combine the jalapeno and pork. If I wanted some extra crunch, I’d grab a fork full of carrot and daikon. The problem is I’m so stuffed from the sandwich and eggrolls that I knew after my first bite that I would be taking home leftovers.
Since my stomach had reached its capacity, I decided to forgo the lotus cookie ($3.50) dessert.
I walked up to the register to ask for a to-go container and was promptly handed one from across the counter. Only 30 minutes had passed from the time I ordered to the time I was boxing up my left overs.
If you find yourself downtown and hungry for a quick, affordable and unique lunch or dinner, Xankia is the place to go.
Cuisine type: VIETNAMESE
Price per entrée: $5.99-$12.99
Payment: CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED