Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Chain Restaurant . . .

has “one of Phoenix’s top sandwiches?”

“Yes,” said Phoenix Magazine, and we wanted to test their judgment. So we took the drive to Chandler (over an hour from the campground) to try the Barbequed Pork sandwich from Lee’s Sandwiches.

(The following information is from the Lee’s Sandwiches web site.)
Chieu Le, the founder of Lee’s Sandwiches, came to America and settled in San Jose, CA in 1980. He began taking adult education classes to study English and frequently bought food from a catering truck before and after class. Seeing the potential of a portable food service vehicle, Chieu Le worked on a catering truck to better understand the business. By 1981, he bought his first catering truck and started his route around San Jose.

But Chieu Le didn’t stop with the catering truck. He saw the need for trucks to have a place to easily restock food and ice. The idea developed into Lee Bros. Foodservices, Inc, which he and his younger brother Henry Le started in 1982. They chose the name “Lee” so it would be easily pronounced. In time, they created the largest industrial catering company in Northern California, serving more than 500 independently owned and operating catering trucks at one time.

In 1983, Chieu’s parents, Ba Le and Hanh Nguyen, started serving banh mi (Viet-style french baguette usually made with a combination of rice and/or wheat flour, resulting in a very light, crackly crust and not overly dense bread) Vietnamese-style sandwiches from their catering truck by San Jose State University to the students and residents in the area. It became an instant hit, and wanting to create a more permanent location and expand the options for their patrons, they opened the first Lee’s Sandwiches location on Santa Clara Street.

In 2001, Chieu Le and his eldest son, Minh Le, developed a new concept of Lee’s Sandwiches. In addition to the traditional Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, they added Euro-style sandwiches, fresh baked baguettes and croissants, an extensive line of drinks. Lee’s Sandwiches grew rapidly, locations opening in Northern California and Southern California then onto Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. Currently there are over three-dozen stores, with plans to expand across the country.

We walked into Lee’s sprawling restaurant at about 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday and found the place almost empty. I suspect that such is not the case of weekdays and that Lee’s is a favorite lunch spot for the local office and retail store employees.

Lee’s combines very reasonable prices with quick service and highly creative food.

Both of us started our lunches with an order of the spring rolls. The rolls came two to an order and were filled with shredded lettuce, vermicelli noodles, shrimp, pork, and mint and came with a cup of hoisin, peanut, and chili sauce.

Sandwiches are either Asian or Euro with the latter coming on either a croissant (turkey/salami/cheese, turkey/bacon, or turkey/roast beef/cheese) or baguette (BLT, tuna, turkey club). Since Chuck was boycotting (due to dental work) anything hard and crusty, he ordered the turkey, roast beef, and cheese on a croissant.

While I had come for the BBQ pork, I still spent some time surveying the other Asian options (all on the baguette) which included: cured pork and pork roll, vegetarian, pork roll with pate, jambon (ham) and pork roll, cured pork with pate, grilled chicken, grilled pork, pork meatballs, shredded pork, or sardine. But I stuck with my original inclination and ordered the BBQ pork.

I will admit that I didn’t taste Chuck’s roast beef and turkey sandwich. He said it was o.k. Mine, on the other hand, was more than o.k. The baguette was a wonder. The crust did crackle and the interior was soft and airy. Topping the slices of traditional Asian barbecue pork were shredded cabbage and carrot with sliced jalapenos and whole sprigs of cilantro. I was disappointed in the skimpy amount of pork, but for about $5.00, you can’t expect too much.

I enjoyed my meal and this would probably be a lunchtime favorite if I worked in the area, but I can’t go any higher than 3.5 Addies.

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