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Sep 11, 2006 09:05 AM

Lee's Sandwiches - Irvine, CA (Review w/Photos)

To read the full review with photos, please visit - http://epicurious-wanderer.blogspot.c...

It's 12:30am. I had a late lunch and no supper. I've been food blogging for the past three hours, and the latest round of photos that sexy bastard Kirk from mmm-yoso!!! put up has planted rumblings and grumblings in my tummy that just won't stop.

It's crunchings and munchings time.

Fridge? Some leftover tomato soup and lotsa raw ingredients. Screw cooking. Push on.

Freezer. A few of Cat's emergency TV dinners (ain't touchin' those) and lotsa raw, frozen ingredients. Crap. I'm really getting hungry now.

Snack cupboard. Trusty old cupboard. You won't let me down. I believe in you. Whadda ya have for me today? Tins of chicken noodle soup, a few packets of kimchee ramen, and some candy bars. This is what I get for forgetting to hit Costco this weekend.

Great, some assembly required for everything other than the candy. Dammit, I'm an American! Instant gratification is my god-given right. I live in the land of plenty. Surely there must be a place nearby where I can get something decent to eat before bed. Aw hell. I forgot. I live in Irvine, the city of plenty, but only until 9:00pm. I'm facing a valley of dearth, beset on all sides by the tawdry temptations of fast food and the tyranny of the Irvine Company.

Chowhound. Chowhound will show me the way. Let's see, late night places in Orange County...

Too far, can't make it in time, can't make it in time, too far, too far and scary as hell at night- hang on a second. Lee's Sandwiches in Westminster, eh? Definitely too far, but I think there's one near UC Irvine. That's doable. I can get there, score some grub, and be in bed by 1:30am. Gotta be rested for work early tomorrow.

Wow, this place looks awfully superficial. That doesn't bode well for the food. Meh, it's Irvine. Everything is polished. I've still got a shot at style with substance. Why hello pretty counter girl, bahn mi me baby!

Rub a dub dub, time for some grub.

Hot Wings - Huh. Came from a tray under a heat lamp. Heat lamps aren't evil; they're just the tools of evil. Mmm... Crispy, salty, spicy, chickeny. This stuff is pretty good. Is chickeny even a word? I've definitely been awake for too long.

Shrimp & Pork Spring Rolls - Uh oh. Came prepackaged. Hey! Who are they kidding!?! If this crap is goi cuon, I'm a flag-waving Chinese Communist. Flavorless shrimp, dry and tough BBQ pork, and shredded Romaine lettuce. Where are the herbs? Where's the flavor? Oooh! Thai basil leaf! Bah. Tastes like grass. Maybe the sauce will help. ... So this stuff is like hoisin with peanut butter and oil, eh? Awesome. Instead of flavorless goi cuon I now have goi cuon that tastes like ass. Mr. Garbage Bin, meet Ms. Goi Cuon. Awww... Don't you two make a cute couple.

#4 Grilled Chicken Sandwich - Hefty. Not bad. The meat is pleasant. Good pickles:meat:cilantro:jalapeno ratio. Mayo used sparingly. Baguette is kinda chewy, though. Seems a bit dry and stale. At least they used the right pickles. It's not Westminster/Garden Grove good, but it'll do. I'm just happy I'm not at the bloody Taco Bell.

Might be the goi cuon talking, but let's go for broke.

Medium Gelato Cup (half durian/half honeydew) - Aww jeez. How long has this been in the case? It's gooey and lumpy. I can't tell which is which, and they both have that nasty sugar-crystal crust you get when ice cream sits in the freezer for too long. Mr. Gelato, meet Mr. Garbage Bin and Ms. Goi Cuon. Uh oh, it's a three-way love triangle. That's not tasty.

Time to get my ass home and into bed, with a brief stop to post this.

Lee's Sandwiches in Irvine: If you're hungry early in the AM and you want to avoid hitting the nearest McCrap Shack equivalent, you could do a lot worse. But stick to the sandwiches; it's safer.

Bill (for two):

Hot Wings (5 pieces) - 2.75
Shrimp & Pork Spring Rolls - 2.50
#4 Grilled Chicken Sandwich - 2.45
Medium Gelato Cup - 3.64

Tax - 0.59
Tip - 0.00 (Not the type of place where you leave one.


Total - 11.93

Flavor: C-
Ambience: B
Service: B+
ROI: A (As long as you're careful.)

Overall: B

Lee's Sandwiches
4127 Campus Dr. @ University Center
Irvine, CA 92612
Open daily from 8:00am - 2:00am

Other Locations:
Aww hell, I've gone corporate food whoring again. Here's the list.

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  1. This morning I was cruising around the SGV and stopped in at Mr. Baguette, Bahn Mi Che Cali and Lee's. Bought a different sandwich at all three. I've had them at all three many times and I think the best of the three is Lee's. Lee's just over the border of Alhambra is having a special 2 for 1 on fresh baguettes right now (2 for $1). Noticed they're going to open a Lee's just a couple blocks from Mr. Baguette on Valley in Rosemead. Stopped in the new Mr. Baguette on Atlantic in MP yesterday and it has a very Parisian look to it.

    I don't get the wide varied price in the iced milk coffee though.
    Lee's $2.20
    Bahn Mi Che Cali $1.25
    Mr. Baguette $1.85

    5 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Hi... We just tried Lee's last Friday night (thanks, Das Ubergeek, for the directions), down near Fullerton. Having only had the faux-banh mi at Westwood's EastWest Sandwich, we enjoyed what we sampled at Lee's. For starters, the baguettes were much much better than what passes for a baguette at EastWest. The fillings we tried were better than average ( the grilled pork, the chicken, and the vegetarian), though they could've used more lemongrass or some type of herbal vigor. The carrot and daikon were also sparse, but that was OK. Between the better bread and less gristly meat, the banh mi at Lee's were, at around $2.20 each, infinitely more satisfying than EastWest's $4.95 versions in Westwood's street-parking Hell zone. Lee's also has much more to offer in the way of apps, desserts, and beverages (loved the chrysanthymum tea over ice). Little suppository-shaped filled donuts called manjoo were very OK. And the prepackaged shrimp & pork springrolls that original poster detested were, for me, a bargain at $2.50. I'm well aware that my positive response to Lee's overall offerings has more to do with my admitted banh mi inexperience and under-exposure. I'm also certain that smaller and funkier joints in Westminster deliver a vastly more authentic experience. Looking forward to those, but until then, we're OK with Lee's...

      1. re: silence9

        One thing that most Lee's locations have going for them is plenty of place to sit. Mr. Baguette and Banh Mi Che Cali have some seating issues when there's more than about 20 people in there, and the BMCC on Bolsa and Magnolia has no seating at all.

        Of Mr. Baguette, BMCC and Lee's, I'd choose BMCC every time. Cheap, good, plentiful veggies, and quick service if you're a tall chunky white guy who stands out in a crowd of Asian women.

        The manjoo were just OK... I like the kind you get outside the 99 Ranch and the Hong Kong Superstore in the winter better.

        1. re: silence9

          Hey Silence9,

          You know, I agree with you about the bahn mi at Lee's. If I were to rate them, I'd give them a B; better than average, but not the best. Actually, I think even most experienced bahn mi aficionados would be fine with the bahn mi at Lee's. You may knock your inexperience there, but you've got good taste.

          The goi cuon, on the other hand, would get a C; bland and about average. They weren't bad, they just weren't good. At $2.50, they're definitely a bargain. I'd just advise most people to stay away from the sauce.

          Let me describe an A level goi cuon. Goi cuon don't need to fit this description to get an A, but it should make my problems with the ones at Lee's clear. The rice skin is soft and springy, with just a little bit of resistence before it gives. The shrimp or chicken has been lightly poached in salted water, so it's gently flavorful. The filler is equal parts shredded greens, like Romaine, and softened rice vermicelli. The rice vermicelli has also been poached in lightly salted water. There's a strong but tempered herbal presence of either cilantro or Thai basil. It should not be overpowering. The overall effect should be a mild yet flavorful harmony. A spring roll, in short, should taste like spring, not like a convenience store salad in wrapper.

          Like a lot of Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food is all about the balance between salty, sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and astringent. The flavors don't need to be in-your-face, but they should be present and they should play together nicely. That's what I look for when I eat.

          Good luck with your bahn mi exploration. Let me know how it goes.

          Good eatings!

          - CP

          1. re: Chubbypanda

            I'm an experienced banh mi eater, and I'm ok w/ Lee's. I'm there at least twice a week because I'm on campus and it's so damn close by. Would I rather eat at Top Baguette or Banh Mi Che Cali? Yes, without question. But if you can't eat at the one you love, love the one you're with.

            Or something.

            1. re: Chubbypanda

              Hi... Thanks for the comprehensive description of A-class springrolls! Sounds like you've done alot of delicious research or cooking or both. And your explanation of the necessary and balanced interplay between, sweet, salty, spicy, sour, bitter and astringent makes good sense. I'll employ those standards in my own further explorations. Thanks again...

        2. Wow - after all that, you rate it a B overall. I'd hate to see how poor the food would have to be get a C.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mr mouther

            Hola Mr. Mouther,

            The real equalizer in my rating system is the ROI (Return on Investment) value. The food at a restaurant can be great but overpriced, like at most steakhouses or corporate drone eateries, and thus get a lower ROI score. Or it can be mediocre and a great bargain, as it often is at mom & pops, and get a higher ROI score. In this case, the flavor got a C-; average and a little disappointing, but servicable. But, due to the very low (for Irvine) prices and the large amount of food provided, the ROI was an A. I average out all four of my scores to provide an overall score. That way people can evaluate the review based on the specific criteria they value the most, or just go with the overall conclusion.

            Hope this helps.

            - CP