Hoagies From the Far East

Unique sandwiches and sincere effort make Asian Sandwich Deli worth visiting

I was sitting at Asian Sandwich Deli, enjoying my special combination sandwich, when two guys walked up to the outside of the tiny eatery and started examining the menu taped to the window. My Dinh, the proprietress of the restaurant, spied the two men and walked outside to encourage them to try the place out. Her sales pitch worked, and they followed her inside to enjoy a Saturday lunch.

I smiled. You've got to appreciate it when someone's willing to go the extra mile on behalf of their business endeavor--and then back up their work with quality.

You see, I wasn't supposed to be reviewing Asian Sandwich Deli this week. This slot was reserved for a veteran Tucson restaurant that hadn't been reviewed for years. The owner had requested a re-review months back, and Garrett and I finally got around to visiting the restaurant (several days before my Asian Sandwich Deli visit). It turns out we never got anything to review; after sitting around ignored for more than 15 minutes, a server finally took our order. More than a half-hour passed before we saw another server again, when I flagged down a passing employee and politely explained that we had not even received a salad yet. When he responded with attitude, Garrett and I bade him farewell, putting to an end one of the worst (non-)dining experiences I've ever had.

That's why that extra effort by My Dinh made me smile. It was such a contrast to the other experience, and I can only hope that Asian Sandwich Deli stays in business for a long time.

Asian Sandwich Deli occupies a tiny hole-in-the-wall space in the Speedway Boulevard shopping center best known for housing Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea. Four tables constitute the seating area, where you can plop down after ordering your food at the counter. Predominantly empty glass cases (at least on this Saturday afternoon) join some plants to make up the décor, and the only soundtrack is provided by the humming of the refrigeration units. The tables don't match, and the walls are white and light lavender.

At a place like this, you're not there for the décor; you're there for the food. Asian Sandwich Deli offers two dozen Vietnamese-slanted entrées--a third of those are vegetarian--along with spring rolls, a handful of desserts, sweet rice and about a dozen appetizer-type options. But the sandwiches are the main attraction. Diners can choose between a dozen sandwiches (two of those vegetarian) featuring ingredients including Vietnamese ham, marinated pork, BBQ grilled chicken and Chinese sausage. All the sandwiches are a dirt-cheap $2.95, except for the one I picked: the special combination ($3.50). I also ordered a three-pack of shrimp-and-pork spring rolls ($3.50) to fill out the meal.

I was handed the cold spring rolls--pre-packaged and sitting in a refrigerator case--and within several minutes, my sandwich was served. Both dishes were tasty. The cool, clear spring rolls (at other restaurants, these would be called summer rolls) were not the best I have had--the pork wrapped up with noodles, shrimp and vegetables was lacking in flavor--but the sweet peanut sauce turned them into a treat.

But as I said two paragraphs ago, it's the sandwiches that star here, and star, my sandwich did. Inside a French baguette roll were marinated pork, Vietnamese ham, thinly sliced pâté, vegetables (including carrot and cucumber) and mayonnaise. It was fantastic. The flavors worked together perfectly, and the meats--even though I wish there had been more slices (and next time, I'll pay extra for more meat, if that's allowed)--made this sandwich unlike any I'd ever eaten. I know the thought of an Asian sandwich may sound strange, but trust me: It works.

I was pretty full after devouring the spring rolls and the sandwich, but I couldn't resist getting another item to go, to enjoy later. I wanted the pho (beef noodle soup, $6.25), but they were out of that, and Dinh recommended the spicy seafood white noodle soup ($6.25) instead. After a short wait, I had my food. After my short drive home, I could not resist trying the soup. Everything was still warm, so I simply threw some noodles, sprouts and Chinese cabbage (which were packaged together) in a bowl and ladled some of the broth/veggies/seafood over it all. The soup was very flavorful and tasted great, with shrimp, orange-colored fish balls and other seafood driving the flavor. My only complaint was that I would not consider the soup spicy, even though it had a little zip and was packed with flavor.

I recommend checking out Asian Sandwich Deli for the tasty, unique sandwiches. I further recommend the place because of the effort being put forth by Dinh and her associates. You've got to appreciate a business owner who's going all out--which is all too rare these days.