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Look to the noodle soups at Mai Sandwich 

I had no idea how much I liked bubble tea until I discovered how hard it is to find them the way I like them (fruity, no milk, with cubed, not crushed, ice) anywhere close to where I live or work. On one of several fruitless outings to perpetually closed Jinhuchan Tea in Buford Highway's Orient Center strip mall, I finally noticed the large laminated photo of a rainbow assortment of boba teas in the adjacent Mai Sandwich's window.

Boba fête: Mai Sandwich's interior is split between a dining area and a takeout counter that is a blur of activity. While waiting for kiwi "boba" teas, we watched a heavily jeweled lady feed lengths of sugar cane into an extractor while an older gentleman assembled banh mi at lightning pace. It was enough to lure us back for a meal, though the boba tea turned out to be a smoothie thick with milk. It's not what I had in mind, but still went a certain way toward satisfying a craving. The meals we had at Mai Sandwich can be described in a similar light.

Rolling downhill: The shredded pork skin roll ($3.25) is a monster serving, with three large rice paper-wrapped logs of bean thread noodles, lettuce, mint, basil and shredded pork skin. Sadly, even dipping the rolls into nuoc cham sauce couldn't disguise their bland chewiness.

Service needs a bit more pizzazz as well. It's a puzzle as to why two young ladies speaking perfect, accent-less English hang out behind the counter while the restaurant's lone, inattentive server stumbles through the simplest requests.

Zippity do blah: The prospect of chomping into a fresh banh mi sandwich -- with its promise of sparkling flavors and play of textures -- excites, but the combination sandwich ($5.95) doesn't. Loaded with slices of head cheese, pâté, chicken, pork and mortadella, the sandwich is perfectly acceptable, but nothing like what we'd hoped for. The meats are bland, indistinct. There's no zip or zing in the crunchy bites.

Organ grinder: The house special, thick rice noodle soup ($5.75), serves as a clue to where the restaurant's real talent might lay. Rich, crystal clear broth sweet with caramelized onions and fried garlic form the base of a soup chock full of liver, kidney, cubes of pork blood, squid, shrimp, imitation crab meat, roasted pork and tubby, chewy little rice noodles that could be mistaken for fat bean sprouts at first glance. The soup boasts the satisfying, zesty flavors I'd been hoping for in the other dishes we tried. Despite its name, maybe Mai Sandwich is really all about the noodle soups.

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