Lee's Sandwiches, a 28-unit, San Jose, Calif.-based chain, has a very heavy base of Vietnamese customers but it also sees its growth and vitality tied to non-Asian diners.
This article first appeared in the 1 June 2006 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
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To draw both demographics, it serves 38 combinations of proteins, veggies and other toppings nestled between crusty French loaves and buttery croissants.
More than a dozen of these options are adaptations of Vietnamese banh mi, street snacks omnipresent in that country but now finding notice in US eateries. Lee's most popular version is barbecued pork
Traditional banh mi often include pâté and headcheese, though these components are optional on American menus.
At Jujube, a casual Asian restaurant in Raleigh, N.C., Chef-owner Charlie Deal builds sandwiches using pork, barbecued chicken or a soy-based protein topped with chiles, cilantro, pickled vegetables and chile-spiked mayonnaise.
Featuring the same garnishes, eight filling choices at O Sandwiches in Philadelphia included shredded chicken, tofu and sardines.
- For operators without baguettes in their inventories, hoagie or ciabatta rolls are well-suited stand-ins.
- Vendors can supply an array of pre-made spreads that contrast nicely with cool, crisp banh mi toppings.
- Get creative with riffs on other ethnic creations such as Cuban sandwiches, Mexican tortas and Middle Eastern pitas.
Above all The traditional banh mi garnish of pickled carrots and daikon radish, red onions, tufts of fresh cilantro and slices of jalapeÅo also makes a crisp, fresh-tasting topping for favourite proteins such as turkey, chicken and ham.
Vive la France
Bits of French culinary influence continue to pop up in Vietnamese food, perhaps none more obvious than the baguettes that hold banh mi. Other sandwich rolls can be used instead, even something as simple as a kaiser roll.