(At the direction of our Chowhound moderators, I am posting this review on the general board since Lee's covers two states now. You can see additional photos at my food blog which is linked below.)
For some odd reason, I wanted a sandwich for dinner. This happens to me about once in a blue moon. I am a "a sandwich is for lunch" type of guy. That still doesn't change the fact that I had a craving for a sandwich. But I wasn't going to settle for just any sandwich. Subway, Quiznos, Blimpie, and the other usual suspects were out.
In East Phoenix, there aren't too many sandwich shops that aren't part of a major chain, so I decided to head out to Chandler and try one of Lee's Sandwiches, which are currently en vogue all over California. I thought to myself that these sandwiches had better be pretty darn good because East Phoenix to Chandler is not a quick drive. But I have been told and read reports that these Vietnamese sandwiches are exceptional. (For those of you who are not familiar with Vietmanese cuisine, baguette is a major staple in Vietnam due to its French colonial history.)
I hopped the criss-cross of freeways (okay, so I only took the 202 to the 101) and was there in about 30 minutes. I pulled into the strip mall and found a spot fairly close to the entrance. Lee's was brightly lit with lots of neon and a solid amount of interior lights. I walked in and was just about knocked unconscious by the wonderful aroma of freshed baked baguette. You could have used a mop to wipe up all the drool.
After recovering from my initial reaction, I noticed how insanely large Lee's was. This wasn't just a large place; it was a gigantic amount of floor space. To my immediate right was a huge seating area. In front of me was a series of picture windows that peered into the baking room. This was the "baguette factory." Loaves and loaves were bring created and I could have parked myself in front of the oven and just dined on baguette.
To my left was the ordering area broken into sections, including an ice cream stand, the general ordering area, the pick up area, and a self-serve case featuring a variety of drinks in cans and bottles.
I approched the ordering area and looked at the menu. I was a bit overwhelmed because I wanted one of everything (well, except for the sardine sandwich). I was tempted by the Turkey and Cheese on Croissant, but couldn't turn down the Sliced Chinese BBQ Pork Sandwich ($2.50) and had them add extra meat ($0.75). I also wanted to try the Shrimp and Pork Spring Rolls ($2.45). To wash it all down, I went with a fresh brewed iced tea ($1.50).
The manager was on double duty and was handling some breads in the proofing room along with taking my order. I assured him it was okay to take his time and he was back in just a few moments. I placed my order and they gave me a number. I looked around and decided to take one of the tables near the self-serve cold case. Only a few minutes passed and my drink and spring rolls were ready.
I took my first items back to my table. The manager came over and told me the rolls were made fresh about a half hour earlier. I noticed they were wrapped in plastic wrap and peeled it back. The two large spring rolls were side-by-side and accompanied by a small container of peanut sauce. I could see the large shrimp through the rice wrapper and dipped one end into the peanut sauce and took a bite. Yummy indeed. The roll was cold and it was very fresh. The wrapper had a nice texture and some pull without being gummy. The shrimp were quite nice and perfectly cooked. My only complaint was that the pork flavor was lacking. The vegetables inside the rolls were crisp, but the pork seemed more like filler than flavor. The peanut sauce was good, but I think it would have enhanced the dish better if it was not as cold as the rolls themselves, but that is strictly a personal preference.
I waited about 10 minutes and my number was called again. I picked up my sandwich and headed back to the table. It was served on a tray and had been wrapped in butcher paper and secured with a rubber band.
I opened up the paper and got a nice whiff of cilantro. The sandwich was on a 10" baguette. Inside was a nice serving of BBQ Pork, pickled daikon, pickled carrot, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, mayo, soy sauce and salt and pepper. I was very excited to take my first bite and it didn't disappoint.
The bread was stellar. A crusty exterior hid a salty, soft interior that was excellent. The Chinese BBQ pork was very good. It was fairly lean, with the traditional pink/purple color from the sauce and slightly sweet. The veggies on the sandwich were a wonderful contrast and were all very crunchy which was a nice treat. And I have to mention that mayo and soy sauce were meant to be wed together like this. From start to finish, the sandwich was a success. For $3.25, this sandwich was a steal.
After finishing my sandwich, I finished my drink and reflected a bit. If I had to think of one way to improve upon the sandwich, I would have had asked for a hot baguette instead of a room temperature one and/or asked the pork be heated. This would have made a great contrast and I know the next time I go, I will request that both be done.
The service was fast and accomodating. The manager was a trooper. And the place was spotlessly clean.
Just before I left, I decided to grab a baguette to take home. A large baguette set me back all of a dollar and this one was hot from the oven. Only half of it made it home. It truly was an excellent baguette and could easily compete with any of the specialty bakeries in the metro area.
I drove away from Lee's hoping that they open more of this chain in the Valley. For the price, quality and taste, I was hooked after bite one. I can only imagine that my cravings for sandwiches for dinner will now be increasing.
That is a good thing!
1901 West Warner Road
Chandler, AZ 85224
Notes: Many locations across California, but only this one location in Arizona. Get a baguette to take home.