4520 N. Tryon St., in Asian Corner Mall, 704-921-7498
Monday-Sunday 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Closed on Wednesday.
In addition to amazing banh mi (Vietnamese sub sandwiches), Le’s Cafe sells a variety of Vietnamese candies and condiments.
The parking lot of the Asian Corner Mall is full of potholes and surprise speed bumps that will rip the oil pan out from under your car if you don't drive slowly. Ten years ago the dilapidated shopping center was empty, but it's been half rejuvenated by ethnic shops and some really great dives. Inside, half the spaces are vacant, with windows covered by Asian-language newspapers. The others are occupied by the Asian Community Center, another nonprofit, a couple of gift shops, and a few restaurants.
Le's Banh Mi Thit Ngoui and Café is a small, brightly lit place. It is spotless. It serves eleven different Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi), which are shaped like po' boys. They're packed with healthful shredded vegetables: carrots, cucumbers, radishes, jalapeños, and fresh whole cilantro. I had a sort of meatball banh mi, which was sweet and hot and sour and tasted like warm French pâté. The peppers add quite a wallop, so if you're not up for it, ask to hold them. There are several choices of meat, from pork to chicken to sardines. The bread is beautiful. It's a freshly baked, light and crispy half baguette. Prices are $2.50 to $3.50. Not much English is spoken here, but you can order by pointing to a number. Number eleven is not listed. It is made from "fat meat," which is a Vietnamese version of bacon. You can also buy dried fish and Vietnamese candies, and they make cane juice from fresh sugar cane run through a press. On Sunday, Le's Café is packed with Southeast Asians coming from all over the region for an after-church sandwich.
Photographs by Chris Edwards