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Apr 16, 2007 08:36 AM

Banh Mi Crawl in Rosemead...Or Why Lee's Kicks The Crap Out Of Mr. Baguette!

SO was having a serious banh mi craving yesterday and I was intrigued by the many CH recommendations of Mr. Baguette - so we headed out to beautiful Rosemead. We were pleased to see an entirely Vietnamese clientele - always a good sign at an ethnic restaurant. The blow-up of the LA Times rave review on the wall was reassuring too. We moseyed right in and ordered one chicken and one grilled beef sandwich. So far so good. Then we got our sandwiches, and the confusion began. Where was the cilantro? Where were the hot peppers? Where were the pickled vegetables? Nowehere to be found. Both sandwiches had iceberg lettuce and tomatoes on them. They seemed to both have - could this be - mayonnaise? And the chicken sandwich had...cue the Jaws theme music...American cheese. Yes, you heard me correct - American cheese. As in Kraft singles.

Well, we said, perhaps this is a different kind of banh mi. Mayonnaise, after all, is a French invention, as are baguettes - perhaps this is not as incongruous as it seems. We started eating - and ate our way politely through one and a half sandwiches. We were trying to stay positive - but at the end of our meal, SO looked at me plaintively and said in a small voice, "Can we go to Lee's now?" One of the many Lee's outposts, it turns out, is just up the block from Mr. Baguette. So off we went, and SO got the banh mi he wanted, fresh and delicious, complete with cilantro, peppers, and pickled vegetables. Happiness was restored.

Now, I'm the first to make the disclaimer - I'm not Vietnamese, I've never been to Vietnam, and I had my first banh mi only a couple years ago. So I'm no expert. But I do know food, and objectively, Lee's banh mi is just better food - fresher, tastier, more unique, more satisfying. And - though again, I can't claim to be an expert - I have to believe that it is more authentic as well (American cheese - WTF?!). And, to top it all off, Lee's sandwiches cost half as much! So I won't be going back to Mr. Baguette - and I will continue to go to Lee's whenever possible!

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  1. I believe you ordered the wrong type of sandwich. They have American style and Vietnamese style. I personally don't like Lee's; instead take a trip to little saigon for the best Bahn Mi at Bahn Mi Che Cali .

    4 Replies
    1. re: dagrassroots

      Are you serious? We didn't get that at all from the menu! We'll have to try again - and I take back the blanket statements about Mr. Baguette - although my comments still absolutely apply to the "American" or "Contemporary" sandwiches - blech!

      1. re: dagrassroots

        Bahn Mi Che Cali can be very very funky and not the best bread.

        1. re: dagrassroots

          What's wrong with the Banh Mi Che Cali in San Gabriel?

          1. re: monku

            i've never had a bad sandwich from banh mi che cali. yum!

        2. As many will chime in to say, what you got was the "Western" style sandwich (classified as "Contemporary" on the menu), which are more expensive than the Vietnamese style sandwich (classified as "Traditional" on the menu) and I usually avoid at both Lee's and Mr. Baguette. Mr. Baguette offers these disparate kinds, and so does Lee's.

          For example, the "Special Sandwich" is the Dac Biet, special of the house, which has Vietnamese cold cuts, daikon and carrot pickles, cilantro, jalapeno. And it rings up at $2.85...still more expensive than Lee's to be sure, but there you are.

          Search out Banh Mi Che Cali. They're my personal favorite. More homey, and cheaper than the rest too.

          1. You got the amercanized sandwich, I always order by number, no confusion, happened to me my first time there. I really like Baguette express, they have a cajun shrimp i love. Lee's is my second choice. There is also Banh Mi Che Cali in Rosemead, which i like also. Good Eats!


            22 Replies
            1. re: Burger Boy

              Have you tried the xiu mai sandwich?

                1. re: Burger Boy

                  It's usually translated as "meatball sandwich", but it's really more like a chopped pork sandwich. I've had some that were dry, and others that were like a sloppy joe.

                  1. re: raytamsgv

                    Who makes a good one, I tried to order at Lee's last week, but they were out. I just call it a meatball sandwich, not the vietnamese name.

                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      Boy, I disagree -- xiu mai is always meatballs cut in half... where did you have the one that's like chopped pork?

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        I had them at the now-defunct Paris Sandwich. I also believe Che Cali served them that way, but I didn't like their version all that much. Of course, in the interest of the finding out the truth, I will need to obtain more samples for observation and testing. :-)

                    2. re: Burger Boy

                      Whenever I saw the xiu mai, it reminded me of the sui mai from dim sum, which my family always describes as meatballs. Often the flavor is similar, so I would also assume that it means meatballs, since it sounds similar to the chinese ones.

                      1. re: justagthing

                        In fact "xiu mai" is the same exact word that Vietnamese use to describe the shu mai at dim sum! Notice how similar they are phonetically, especially when you consider that the Viet letter "x" is pronounced as an "s". They're meatballs, but most sandwich shops will mash up the ball when they insert it into the sandwich. I suppose this is for even distribution. Sometimes they overdo it to the point where the "ball" is unrecognizable...

                        1. re: hch_nguyen

                          Thanks, glad to know that my suspicions were correct. Just like sui mai in dim sum places vary, that would make the difference for the variance in viet sandwiches. I've had the ones that were unrecognizable, but as long as the meatballs were good, and the texture was on, then I don't have a problem with them mashing it. But, I do like the regular traditional ones best!

                          1. re: hch_nguyen

                            Thanks for the clarification. My wife informed me that the xiu mai sandwiches I ate were basically unidentifiable from that standpoint--mashed up beyond recognition. But they were so good!

                      1. re: WildSwede

                        Boy, reading Mr. Baguette's website, you'd think they created the notion of french-vietnamese culinary fusion when it was just a natural evolution of colonization.

                        1. re: WildSwede

                          Hum, the description for some of the classic sandwiches still contain mayo .

                          1. re: notmartha

                            Even the most classic Viet sandwich will have mayo. True it's not classic Vietnamese, but neither is bread, nor the concept of sandwiches for that matter. They all came in by way of the French through colonization. Even banh mi is a derivative of the French "pain de mie". Keep in mind that Viet mayo is not, say,'s generally a homemade whipped mixture of raw eggs, which is a major ingredient in traditional mayo.

                            1. re: hch_nguyen

                              I think the confusion is that Lee's don't put mayo on their Asian style sandwiches. I thought a lot of posters said get the classic, not the American ones and you will avoid mayo. Not so in Mr. Baguette, apparently.

                              I was rather put off by the mayo when I ordered sandwich at my local pho/sandwich shop one time too. It's like kraft's. But then everything on that sandwich was wrong - from the bread to the meats to the mayo, so I just chalked it up to a bad joint.

                              1. re: notmartha

                                Every asian-style sandwich I've ever had at Lee's has had the mayo on it. "Mayo" is as much a part of the traditional Viet Sandwich as the Russian dressing (or thousand island or what have you...) is a part of the reuben. There are other interpretations, but that is the exception and not the rule, so to speak.

                                1. re: hch_nguyen

                                  That's strange. I've never seen it on mine. But then I don't pick it apart so if it's itsy bitsy amount I wouldn't have noticed.

                                  Now I have to do the $1.75 experiment soon. ;)

                                  1. re: notmartha

                                    Viet sandwiches DO have mayo in them, however as somebody noted above, it's not a 'normal' american style mayo. Quite frankly, I was boggled by it myself. It's damn tasty though, and IMHO without it makes the sandwiches dry. But then again, I get mine w/o pate.

                                    1. re: notmartha

                                      Some places just put a dribble of it on. Lee's is one of those places. In addition, their rendition of the Viet mayo is runny, lifeless, and mass-produced and lacks the whipped and creamy texture that is the hallmark of any good mayo, including the Viet kind. Theirs is like liquid and to me is an abomination. It's like Ranch salad dressing that's like water, unappetizing needless to say.

                                      This is another reason I dislike Lee's sandwiches. If Lee's has set your expectations for banh mi, It doesn't surprise that you didn't realize that they are by default made with "mayo"

                                      1. re: hch_nguyen

                                        It's usually aioli, though, right? I distinctly taste garlic.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          Traditionally, I don't believe it's an aioli. That doesn' t mean that there aren't places that do make it as an aioli, although I think, if anything, it is rare. I've never really tasted garlic or anything else in it unless it absorbed those flavors from the seasonings of the surrounding meats, charcuterie, etc.....I'll play closer attention next time.

                        2. Not just to chime in with a ``me too'' post, but Mr. Baguette bakes its own bread continuously throughout the day (the sesame bread is worth the extra few cents), makes its own top-rank charcuterie, and has a liver paste - essential for the dac biet sandwich - that is second to none. And the pickles and fresh chiles come in a separate little baggie, so that you can get the sandwich home before it turns soggy; an elegant touch. That being said, the Vietnamese cold cut sandwiches there are almost always better than the others. Lee's is fine, but a step or two behind in banh mi quality.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: condiment

                            Are you sure they make their own, i looked at their web site and it does not mention that?

                            1. re: condiment

                              the thing i don't like about mr. baguette these days is that they've ditched the cucumber and skimped on the cilantro in the baggies. i find myself going to lee's a lot more now, despite them not having beef.

                            2. this is making me so hungry. where is some good banh mi closest to the westside?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: luvgrub

                                There was a brief discussion about this maybe 2 months ago. Sadly...there's not much supply.


                                1. re: Tmblweed

                                  as a vietnamese person who has frequented sandwich shops for the past 20 years, let me chime in

                                  Banh Mi Che Cali was the originator, however they're not that great. They were the original pioneers of buy 2 get 1 free, and are known for cheapass sandwiches. Their Cali restaurant on McFadden/Brookhurst in Santa Ana though is great tasty, esp. french cubed beef steak.

                                  I've been to Mr. Baugette a few times, and I gotta say their bread is f'n amazing. I've had their sandwiches a few times and thought them to be quite tasty, although I have no yet been their recently. Mediocre vietnamese coffee.

                                  Lee's is the McDonald's of vietnamese sandwiches. Their bread is very consistent and very good, although I find Mr Baughette to be just a bit tastier. Their sandwiches have gotten alot better through the years, and their almond pastries are fantastic. Also mediocre coffee however.

                                  1. re: ns1

                                    Have you been to Baguette Express? It's my favorite so far but I'm by no means an expert. Curious as to your opinion