Lee’s Sandwiches

Okay, I’m trying to get back on this writing wagon, so to put me back on track I’m coming to you today with a special report on one of my favorite lunchtime spots. Some of you who know me well are already pretty tired of this restaurant. Too bad, I’m not. Lee’s Sandwiches, on North Classen, is my go to deli and the most reliable Banh Mi shop in town. Lee’s started out in California and has becoming a slow-growing niche restaurant and grocery store with locations specially selected to hit target audiences; lucky for us there is a fairly large Vietnamese population in Oklahoma City (one of the largest in the Midwest) who were clamoring for their favorite Eurasian sandwiches.

Eurasian, you ask? There is a lot of history here, but the short story is that Vietnam was, for a time, a French colonial territory. They were unwelcome rulers in the East and were eventually chased out through uprisings and wars, and in their flight they left a lot behind. One of those things that remained was a love of European style sandwiches and specifically the French baguette. That hard, crusty bread has almost entirely changed the world’s perception of Vietnamese food, and it gave us the Banh Mi style sandwich. A warning to the casual consumer, Banh Mi refers literally to the bread itself and has become colloquialised to include sandwiches made from that same bread, so in some heavily Vietnamese influenced areas don’t be surprised if you order one and receive only dry white bread. The Banh Mi sandwich combines the traditions of both the East and the West, and does it with far fewer wars than past interactions by the same people, bringing together sandwich bread, aromatic vegetables, and sliced European style deli meats, with Asian influences such as grilled meats, cilantro, jalapenos, and daikon radish.

Everyone does theirs a little different, and I happen to love Lee’s version. Guaranteed to be delicious with little variation between visits means that this is a go to comfort food for me when I need a break from adventure. The range of available combinations can be a little overwhelming at first, with typically unfamiliar options such as head cheese and jambon, two types of thin sliced pork, but fear not because they also have more traditional toppings such as ham, turkey, roast beef, or tuna salad. You have an option of the true Banh Mi style with peppers, cilantro, carrots, and daikon, or a simpler version with lettuce, tomato, and american cheese, served up on a baguette roll or croissant.

That brings me to my next topic, their bread. Lee’s doubles as a bakery, making their baguettes, croissants, and many various pastries fresh daily. I’m not big on pastries or breads in general, but I am there for both when I go to Lee’s. You can get a hot, fresh baguette or croissant for about a dollar fifty here in OKC, or you can go for the day old bread section where you get about three times as much for the same price, your call. They even offer a lot of their products pre-packaged to take home in their grocery area near the front, and also have a hot and ready section full of spring rolls, stuffed croissants, and pate chauds (goose liver stuffed pastry, try it you’ll like it). They are always willing to take on large orders, but you may have to give them a little prior notice.

Back in December I ordered a batch of croissants at my mother-in-law’s request, and the manager seemed a little shocked when I ordered two dozen. When I returned the next morning he gladly took my money and handed over a giant packing box full of warm, flaky croissants that were larger than both of my fists together; but hey, the price was right, so we spent the next month eating every meal either on or with a nice croissant. Lessons learned.

Their prices are fantastic though, which is part of why I eat there so often, and why I too was shocked by both the size and quality of their baguettes, as well as everything else in the store. I can pick up a full size (10″) sandwich, spring roll, and a soda for less than five dollars. I haven’t found anywhere that can make food that good and still beat that price. They also make their own brand of coffee, which you can get hot, cold, or Vietnamese style with ice and sweetened-condensed milk. I highly recommend the latter. Last, but definitely not least, is dessert, homemade ice-cream with all of your favorite flavors, as well as a few I am certain you’ve never had before. My suggestion, try the green tea ice cream when it’s available, avoid the durian always. I would eat there just about every day, and there have been weeks where I did, so if anyone is feeling hungry then call me, I’m probably on my way there already.