I was waiting at red light at the intersection of Tryon and Sugar Creek with a friend earlier this week when he pointed across the street to the run-down mall and said, “That’s where I’ve had the best Banh Mi in Charlotte.”
A statement like that requires verification, of course.
From the outside, the Asian Corner Mall doesn’t look like much and Le’s (pronounced Lay) Sandwiches doesn’t even have a sign on the front facade.
My friend admitted as much. His first experience here involved meeting his wife — both took separate cars — for lunch. They’d barely made it through the entrance when she decided she wanted to go somewhere else. My friend persevered, however, and said it was well worth it.
So, with all that in mind, I headed to Le’s for lunch with limited expectations.
Indeed, there’s nothing captivating about the look of Le’s.
Adjacent to the international grocery store, the entrance into the mall brings you past a vacant space and a nail salon that may or may not be currently doing business.
Only once you’re inside the building do you find an actual sign for Le’s.
It’s in front of an atrium that’s home to some empty planters, a few stones, and an array of cigarette butts.
To the right is Le’s, a small space with the feel of a cafeteria, but the food far outclasses the unimpressive surroundings.
While Le’s clearly caters to Vietnamese clientele, it’s not overly complicated to order upon a first visit.
In fact, the proprietor was inquisitive as to patrons’ experience and was happy to offer suggestions, and a menu with pictures of each sandwich made it easy to order.
The most popular item at Le’s is the No. 6, a grilled pork Banh Mi, but I went with the BBQ pork instead.
As promised, the sandwich was easily the best Banh Mi I’ve eaten in Charlotte.
The name Banh Mi actually means “wheat bread” in Vietnamese, a staple of French colonialism when the baguette became ubiquitous in Vietnam, and so the roll is clearly the star of the show.
Le’s roll was flaky and crusty on the outside, but light and airy overall. It never overpowered the sandwich, but added the perfect texture and taste.
A healthy dash of Sriracha was my preference, and the heat actually brought out the flavor in the its jalapeños, pickled carrots, daikons (type of radish), and cilantro — which were all fresh and delicious.
The pork was juicy and flavorful, too, but took a backseat to the veggies and baguette.
I washed my sandwich down with a Coke, but there were some more authentic options in the cooler, too.
Le’s also sells various candies, including gingers, gooseberry preserves and licorice apricots, along with beef jerky and other assorted treats. I picked up a package of “Asia’s Famous Rice Cakes” (made in Cleveland, N.C.) on my way out, and while I’d say it was the best rice cake I’ve eaten, that’s not a particularly high benchmark to exceed.
The Banh Mi, however, was a star.
As pho has become the most easily enjoyed Vietnamese staple around Charlotte, getting a taste of an authentic Banh Mi still requires a bit more local knowledge, and I’m thrilled I found Le’s.
That sardine sandwich (No. 9) is already calling my name…