Burger & Lee's Sandwiches, Anaheim, CA, tasted on May 3, 2004 —
There is something about southern California and high quality fast
food. Never mind the incredible Mexican food, I mean American chain
fast food. The kind decried in
Supersize Me (which have you noticed, now
that guy is
his own crimes of scale - ok I should wait to see his new show
before passing judgment). The really gross stuff. Or is it? It's
kind of ironic that for our first really positive food experience
around Disneyland we had to go to the places that embrace their mass
marketness, and don't try to pretend they're anything different.
First off, I'll admit, I love fast food. It's delicious.
I'll also admit that I almost never eat it since I decided not to be a
fatass. Unluckily (or luckily) my two favorite fast food chains in the
world are not located where I live in the pacific northwest. However in
southern California they are everywhere. Just a few minutes from
In-N-Out Burger and a
Sandwiches live not 50 yards from each other. I'm thinking of
setting up a tent in the parking lot.
Here's the deal. You can turn up your nose at fast food
all you want. But I claim that most of the great food in the world is
fast food. After all, what makes for great food in general is focus,
simplicity, and freshness. And the original fast food on this planet is
street food. Street food often by necessity is focused, simple, and
fresh. It's focused because they have to differentiate from the
competition of which there's usually a lot. It's simple because how much
choice do you have when you're working out of a cart (or a box) in the
street? And it's fresh because, where would you store the ingredients?
The big guys in American fast food, McDonald's, Burger
King, etc. have tuned their menus into choice after choice of item tuned
to stimulate our fat and sugar pleasure centers until we're passed out
in a puddle of... well... fat and sugar. It's like a drug. You keep
needing more to get the same high. And frankly, that's why I love eating
Big Macs and Egg McMuffins. They taste absolutely great when I eat them.
But afterwards I feel sick. One day I simply stopped thinking that the
sick feeling was normal, and since then they've been a once a year
But back to southern California. In-N-Out Burger, about
which I've written already, and Lee's Sandwiches get it right. In-N-Out
was actually not the best In-N-Out experience I've had, but it was still
better than everywhere else. Not sure if this was a fluke for their
Anaheim location, or a pattern. Hard to say until I go back. But Lee's
Lee's is basically a Vietnamese deli done at scale. I'm
not a fan of colonialism, but if there's any upside to the French
presence in southeast Asia it's Vietnamese subs. The combination of
fresh Vietnamese ingredients - various hams, cilantro, hot peppers,
jicama, etc. on a French baguette is pretty amazingly delicious. And
Lee's has a huge variety. They even do them on these extra thin
baguettes which for some reason I find even more delicious as they have
a less bread to contents ratio. I could eat three of these sandwiches in
a sitting. Lee's also tries to expand a bit by making European
sandwiches. I'd tell you how they are but I can never bring myself to
order one as the Vietnamese subs always beckon me with their siren song.
Those harpies! Lee's also has a host of Vietnamese appetizers and
drinks. You can check out the whole menu
here. Lots of smoothies, and cool southeast Asian teas and coffees.
And Italian sodas? OK. Never mind. That and the weird wireless internet
access with a time limit based on how much money you spent are just odd.
But that's part of the charm of Lee's. The Delimanjoo pastries are
another. These are from a cool Korean machine that just creates pastries
in front of your eyes. For the complete description of these check out
this report from the Fancy
Food Show when we first encountered them. I think the folks at Lee's
corporate are experimenting. More power to them as long as they keep
focused on making simple great food.
And to the folks in Southern California, please a)
create more fast food chains like Lee's and In-N-Out, and b) please let
them have some franchises outside of California. We're dying out here.