A Dallas-based Japanese sandwich pop-up with a rabid following teamed up with the number one barbecue joint in Texas last Tuesday. If you missed the bevy of sandos served by Sandoitchi at Goldee’s Barbecue in Fort Worth, you’ll get your chance again today and tomorrow when the doors open at 11 a.m. Just come prepared to wait in a line—not unlike on a normal day at Goldee’s. The queue was already about forty people deep by the time I arrived Tuesday at 10:05 a.m.
Sandoitchi specializes in sandwiches made on fluffy Japanese milk bread. They were inspired by the premade sandwiches sold all over Japan in convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Lawson’s. Anthony Bourdain was famously fond of the egg salad version at Lawson. When I visited Tokyo, I understood the allure after one bite of the unnaturally fluffy bread and well-seasoned egg.
The team at Sandoitchi—made up of Keith Tran, Angel Acosta, Andy Sirois, and chef Stevie Nguyen—wanted to bring those flavors and textures to Dallas. Nguyen, a Louisiana native, worked in New York kitchens for several years, including at Morimoto and Momofuku Ko. A position at Uchi brought him to Texas, and he eventually settled in the kitchen of Niwa Japanese BBQ in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas. After COVID restrictions shut down the dining room at Niwa, Sandoitchi used its kitchen and hosted its first pop-up in June 2020. By September, Nguyen and Tran were sitting on Chrissy Teigen’s bed for a photo she posted to Instagram praising their egg sandwich. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.
Tran’s background is in fashion, so presentation has always been an important part of the Sandoitchi experience, and a key to its becoming a viral sensation. Past pop-ups have sold out of online orders within minutes. “We aim for aesthetics, but we also want you to have the reaction that it tastes as good as it looks,” said Nguyen, who has no qualms about his move from fine-dining cook to roving sandwich hawker. “I started my career making sandwiches, and now I’ve come full circle,” he said with a laugh.
At Goldee’s, Nguyen ran the line from the cutting block, just like the pitmasters do on a normal day of service. He sliced away the crust from the square loaves, and assembled the sandwiches for each order. The sandwiches are cut into rectangular halves (sorry, triangle lovers) and packed cut side up into individual takeout containers. It may be cute food, but the flavor combinations are also stunning.
Half-moons of oranges are nestled into pillowy Chantilly cream in a sandwich that tastes like a creamsicle ($9). Nguyen brushes a syrup of reduced orange soda onto the bread before building the sandwich to enhance the orange flavor. The classic deviled egg sando ($9) is an egg salad sandwich of a higher order, but I was more taken with the ham and egg ($11). A trio of Italian cured meats, including a spicy soppressata, joined the eggs along with a swipe of giardiniera mayo. The two side options were a clumsy “mac and cheese” made with pasta shells, corn, and partially melted cheese; and masterfully fried Japanese sweet potatoes. The ends of the potatoes were so sweet and pleasantly chewy that I mistook one for a fried plantain.
A couple of smoked meat items made it onto the Sandoitchi menu, which changes with every pop-up. Thin slices of smoked prime rib were paired with fermented cabbage, kewpie mayo, and a squirt of Goldee’s barbecue sauce. Sandoitchi uses Washugyu beef, which comes from an American-raised cross of Angus and Wagyu cattle, hence the $24 price tag for the sandwich, which seemed like a bargain compared with the $65 smoked Wagyu tartare sando made with diced ribeye of A5 Miyazaki Wagyu imported from Japan. Chef Nguyen prepared just thirty of the latter and sold them all. I thoroughly enjoyed both. The smoke came through with more force in the shaved prime rib, while the buttery tartare was blended with a tangy dressing made with labneh, which is somewhere between yogurt and cream cheese in texture. It was made more vibrant with herbs and lemon juice, and the sandwich was gilded with bright orange smoked trout roe.
Sandoitchi’s model has been to take preorders for its pop-ups, which happen about once a month. The business often uses the kitchens of other restaurants, but it doesn’t usually collaborate with them otherwise. Teaming up with the guys at Goldee’s has been a departure: it’s a collaborative menu, no preorders, and they’ll complete three services at the restaurant over eight days. Nguyen said they’re planning to change up the menu a bit for the next two Goldee’s pop-ups in case they get repeat customers. This is also the first time Sandoitchi has worked with a barbecue joint, which has been rewarding for Nguyen. “Expect to see some more barbecue stuff in our future,” he said.
The future also includes a brick-and-mortar, which is what proceeds from the pop-ups are going toward. “We’re always changing kitchens and adapting to different environments,” Nguyen said. It’s a challenge the group has embraced for a couple of years now, but they’d prefer to work from their own permanent restaurant. Tran and Nguyen said they plan to open somewhere in Dallas by the end of the year. Then the culinary collaborators will have to come to them for a change.