For years, the American viewing public has been subjected to the bombardment of the airwaves with the exploits of Jared. Once a corpulent fellow who weighed 425 pounds, Jared metamorphosed into a 190-pound shadow of his former self largely through a calorie reduction effort comprised principally of submarine sandwiches proffered by America’s most prolific sandwich chain. Many of us caloric overachievers regard those commercials with skepticism–not that Jared could lose so much much weight, but that any sane person could eat such a mediocre sandwich twice a day for an entire year.
I could understand it if Jared’s sandwich diet was comprised instead of banh mi, the unrivaled Vietnamese sandwich that surpasses any chain produced submarine sandwich in America. Banh mi are the culinary remnants of French colonialism in Vietnam, a marriage so to speak of French culinary modus operandi, Vietnamese resourcefulness and Chinese ingredients.
An outstanding banh mi sandwich combines sweet carrots; fresh cilantro; thinly sliced, cold cucumber; marinated slivers of daikon; fresh coriander and eye-watering jalapeno with such optional ingredients as sliced jicama, basil or mint leaves, onion and more. The banh mi also includes meat, but not a lot of it so as to detract from the freshness of the vegetables. The true banh mi can be served only on a slightly toasted and buttered baguettine (small baguette). While French baguettes can be used, true authenticity calls for Vietnamese baguettes in which rice flour is mixed in to create a bread with a lighter texture and crispier crust.
In the San Francisco area where I was first introduced to banh mi more than a decade ago, one of the most prolific practitioners in the fine art of crafting a great banh mi is a San Jose based chain called Lee’s Sandwiches. With a cult following that crosses cultural barriers, Lee’s launched its 25th restaurant in 2005, the first outside of California in Chandler, Arizona. The 8,000 square foot Chandler superstore is the second largest in Lee’s fleet and the first of ten Phoenix area restaurants planned.
Lee’s expansive Chandler operation bakes fresh ten-inch baguettes in-house every 30 minutes. The fragrance of baking bread as you approach the restaurant is like the siren’s call of Lorelei, the beautiful young maiden whom men could not resist. The aromatic allure is irresistible. During lunch hour, patrons queue nine or ten deep to place their orders from among the menu’s tempting listing of both Vietnamese and traditional Euro-American sandwiches, all served on ten-inch baguettes. The menu also includes homemade ice cream, Vietnamese spring rolls, pastries, croissant sandwiches and fruit smoothies.
The sandwich menu is formidable with 38 sensational sandwich selections from which to choose, none of which will put a substantial dent on your wallet. The grilled pork sandwich exemplifies all that’s great about Lee’s–the ingredients (house mayonnaise, house pickle (daikon and carrot), green chili, cilantro, onion, salt, pepper and soy sauce) bulge out of the fresh, toasty warm baguette. Ten inches of sandwich in which neither ingredients nor bread overwhelm the other make for an outstanding sandwich experience.
Lee’s spring rolls come two to an order and are six by one inches of julienned vegetables, sprigs of fresh mint and shrimp encased in thin, transparent wrappers. The spring rolls are served with a more than passable peanut sauce.
The most refreshing way to wash down a meal at Lee’s is with a smoothie, varieties of which are available for every taste preference: avocado, banana, cantaloupe, carrot, cranberry, green bean, honeydew, Jack fruit, lynchee, mango, mocha, orange banana, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, raspberry, red bean, sapodilla, strawberry, soursop, taro and even durian, the fruit virtually no person of western birth seems to like.
1901 West Warner Road
LATEST VISIT: 25 October 2005
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Grilled Pork Banh Mi; Honey Dew Smoothie; Spring Rolls