Saturday, September 4, 2010
I love walking into a new food store or restaurant and instantly knowing I've found something authentic, different, and good. I'd heard about Lee's Sandwiches for a while and thought I would finally investigate. The closest one is in Sunnyvale so it was not along my usual driving route. Lee's offers mostly traditional Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, a wonderful combination of French baguette and Vietnamese fillings. It also has European style sandwiches, breads and pastries, Asian drinks and smoothies, and desserts. The company started in 1981 with a catering truck in San Jose. It has since grown to dozens of retail locations in California, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. Lee's Sandwiches represents both a wonderful melding of Asian and French cuisines, and American entrepreneurial zeal.
It takes several visits to get a good sampling of Lee's offerings. There's so much to try! The company's website gives a good overview of the menu, complete with photos, descriptions, and nutritional information. I truly enjoyed the vegetarian sandwich with fried tofu, vermicelli, bean curd, yam, carrot, house pickle, jalapano, cilantro, salt, pepper, and soy sauce all tucked into a soft baguette. I also loved the BBQ pork sandwich, which had the same tangy pork that's in Chinese bao. I also savored the grilled chicken sandwich with its soft baguette featuring just enough al dente on the crust, nicely seasoned chicken pieces, and crunchy julienne vegetables. The grilled pork sandwich is similar to the BBQ pork sandwich (I prefer the more flavorful BBQ pork to grilled). My daughters gobbled up the more familiar ham & cheese baguettes, a nice option for the less adventurous and for kids. What delicious sandwiches! The combination of spicy, tangy, savory, and sweet flavors, the soft bread with crunchy vegetables, and the melding of red, green, orange, and other colors makes for a satisfying new kind of fast food meal.
To top off the sandwiches, Lee's has many unusually tasty drinks. The Thai iced tea with tapioca pearls features a refreshing black tea with sugar and condensed milk flavor, a pumpkin orange color, and the dark, chewy tapioca pearls which find their way up the extra large sized straw. Many different smoothies also tempt the palate. These are quite large, and in between what I think of as a smoothie and a milkshake, so be forewarned that either you drink up with an equally large appetite, save some for later, or share. The avocado smoothie was so unexpected and yet familiar with its green color, smooth texture, and unique creamy flavor. It was like drinking a guacamole elixir, with no salsa or chips needed. The mango smoothie was sweet and refreshing, more of an Asian mango flavor (such as Indian mango lassi) and probably more likely something kids would enjoy. I always opt for the big, chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom of smoothies. I also enjoyed the coconut delight dessert, which is like coconut Jell-o. It's not for everyone but I found its light coconut flavor and wiggly Jell-o texture a refreshing finish to my meal.
Here's hoping a Lee's Sandwiches will move up farther north and closer to Menlo Park. I have no doubt it would be full of hungry, happy customers as soon as its doors opened. I'd be first in line, eating my way through the menu.