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Newbie thanks & comments on some street food places.

Paul S. | Oct 17, 2001 12:54 AM

(long) Hi all. I recently found this thread and have tried to go through the first page of posts. There's a lot of good stuff you all have written about - too much for me to absorb at once.

Yesterday, after I caught C. Sprouse's report of Lee's Banh Mi shop in Little Saigon, I drove there to try it. It's good - as posters have noted. More meat, less fat, and baguette (harder roll) style.

These places are always an educational experience for me. Both on the surface (learning about different foods and a different culture) and on a deeper level too. That is, I'm sometimes the only white guy in the place, and how do I react to that and function in that environment. (I know Phillips barbeque very well.) Lee's was interesting because the counter person didn't speak much English (to me anyway), a description of the sandwiches in English does not exist (You can order by number - there are pictures on the wall for some sandwiches - but the pictures are too small (for me anyway) to be descriptive of the Vietnamese pork/chicken/fish/beef inside). Also for banh mi afficionados, be aware that at Lee's only some of the sandwiches are "muy 2 tang 1". So I got into a discussion of my bill with the counterperson. I realized I'm holding up the line (there's always a queue at these good places), so I just decided to go with the flow, my rationale being that I've never had a mischarge that I'm aware of at any of the Vietnamese places I've been to -- so just relax I told myself. Orders are quickly prepared (SOP at these places), and you wait with others until your check number is called. Now that's a first for me. Having check numbers at a banh mi place. And of course, the numbers are called out in Vietnamese.

Somebody, often a customer, sometimes a young employee (2nd generation Vietnmaese American?)_ - ALWAYS has taken pity on me or tried to be helpful when they see my dazed and confused expression. I very much like that aspect of trying places in Little Saigon. That the people are comfortable about trying to help a stranger, that people seem to be proud of their food/culture/heritage and will take the time (workers here work hard) to try to make a more pleasant experience for a non-Vietnamese speaker who makes just a very little effort to be in their environment.
("Excuse me, are you 523? They just called your number?") I see that my sandwiches are larger with more meat filling than the typical banh mi places I'm familar with.

Lee's is good. Not enough to displace my wife's and my favorite though, Che Cali, which marty mentioned and which is across the street and west a bit. I also like the desserts at Che Cali.

Something for you: try Lilly's bakery for French-Vietnamese cakes and better than average Vietnamese coffee. (same side of street as Lee's, east a little from the Shell gas station.

I recently read Bob Barnett's mention of La Playita in the discussion of Los Angeles Street Food, and I drove there today (Lincoln north of Rose). I tried a beef taco (did not like it, grisly), a carnitas burrito (average at best- though made more interesting I found with the very hot hotsauce they give you), and an octopus salad (Wow. fabulous: tender octopus, ripe avocado, bits of onion and cilanto in a very thin red sauce.) I saw that the overhead sign emphasizes seafood, although the menu mostly lists various kinds of meat and pork selections. I didn't see seafood burrito listed, and I wasn't aware of such an item until after I got home and looked up Mr. Burnett's mention again. I'll go back at a future date and try to order that dish as well as a shimp and another octopus.

I really appreciate the reports of places for chowhounds. I'm looking forward to trying many more recommendations.

Paul S.

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