Corn smut is Mexican food porn at its finest.

Cincinnati Bites
Mushroom and Swiss Burger from Main Street Cafe from

Posted Sunday, June 20, 2010

UPDATE: Le's has moved to 3 E. Court St. and is now called Le's Pho and Sandwiches.

Very recently I was introduced to a culinary secret most public library regulars have enjoyed for years. I'd read about Banh Mi (I pronounce it "BUN me"), a Vietnamese sandwich being served in a little place inside the Main Library downtown. It's called, Le's Cafe, where in addition to some standard Americanized options, you can also enjoy Asian menu items like potstickers; spring rolls; egg rolls; spicy chicken with rice; Teriyaki chicken with rice; and lo mein, all at insanely cheap prices.

Banh Mi is a unique baguette sandwich that has its origins steeped in both Vietnamese and French culture, thanks to French colonization of Indochina. The sandwiches are typically filled with roast pork, liver pate, cucumbers, carrots, fresh cilantro sprigs, hot peppers and daikon radish shavings. It's an excitingly fresh-tasting sandwich that, at first glance, may look similar to something you'd get at Subway, but is far better.

Alas, my first visit to Le's was a Banh Mi bust. When it was finally my turn in line, I asked Le Ha's husband, Hai Bai, if the Banh Mi was still available, but he shook his head. "We're out of bread," he shrugged, absently glancing over at the empty shelf. I frowned, quickly regrouped, and instead ordered the spicy chicken and rice and a side of potstickers.

spicy chicken with rice

No joke: I got the small order of spicy chicken and rice and five potstickers for $4.50. The "small" order was quite generous; I mean, look at this photo! I'd initially thought there was a mistake and he'd served me up the large portion. But no: it was $2.50 for the chicken and rice; $2.00 for five potstickers. Where has this place been all my downtown life?

My ignorance of Le's Cafe simply underscores the severity of my book drought these last several eons. I enjoy a good read, but most of it comes off the web these days. I'm simply not a library regular. Maybe that should change.

A couple days later, my second Banh Mi attempt went much better. Upon request of the sandwich (using the proper pronunciation this time), Hai Bui smiled and was a bit taken aback. "How do you know about Banh Mi?" he asked the curious Caucasian before him. I explained that I'd read a story about it online. He nodded in recognition, telling me they'd only recently started offering them again for the first time in three years. He asked if I'd like a 6-inch Banh Mi for $3 or a footlong Banh Mi for five!...FIVE!...FIVE DOLLAR FOOTLooooooongs! (Sorry, that Subway jingle left a bad taste in my mouth). So, yeah, I chose the footlong.

His wife, Le Ha, smiled and proceeded to upsell me on other offerings. "I just made these fresh spring rolls today! And it comes with our homemade peanut dipping sauce. Only $3.50!" I stared at the rolls behind the glass counter, bundled and paired snugly together on small paper plates. They were wrapped in semi-transparent rice paper, each roll allowing the three plump, bright orange shrimp to peek through. How could I say no?

Several minutes and $8.50 later, I carried away what would become both my lunch and dinner that day. It was a lot of food.

spicy chicken with rice

Banh Mi sandwiches have a rather ineffable quality about them: the fresh taste of cilantro combined with the savory roast pork, the slight iron bite of the pate and the heat of the fresh jalapenos is a taste experience like no other. I'm not sure if they make their own bread, but it tasted very fresh, light and airy, with a slightly chewy crust.

The spring rolls were characteristically large, chock full of shrimp, rice vermicelli, carrots, and cilantro. The shrimp tasted fresh and the peanut dipping sauce lent a surprising bit of pleasant heat to the back of my throat.

In subsequent visits, I've had more Americanized fare at Le's Cafe, including the fried fish sandwich. It was tasty, and for $2.50, it's hard to beat. In fact, most of the items on the menu seem to have been designed for the price-conscious. You'll get an excellent deal here.

Le's Cafe on Urbanspoon
Le\'s Cafe

Price: Cheap (under $11 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars






Other Recent Reviews

  1. A Mediocre Lunch at Firehouse Grill
    -posted Sunday, October 8, 2017
  2. Southern Indian Impressions: Udupi Cafe
    -posted Saturday, September 23, 2017
  3. New Downtown Korean Restaurant: Haru
    -posted Tuesday, August 29, 2017
  4. Pleasant Ridge Impressions: Nine Giant Brewing
    -posted Monday, August 7, 2017
  5. Mediterranean Musings at Milya Cafe
    -posted Sunday, July 16, 2017
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From TJ Jackson about Udupi Cafe:
    I do not know if it is truly a match for the product you remember, but Frostop Root Beer is sold at Jungle Jims and is a personal favorite of mine.
    posted: Fri., Sep 29th, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    yes!
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
  • From holly may about Urban Grill on Main:
    This is Israeli couscous, the super tiny stuff is Moroccan. I personally prefer the Israeli (also known as "pearl".)
    posted: Fri., Mar 24th, 2017 @ 4:28 AM
  • From Sommer about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    We really love having Chilango so close to us in the Kings area!!! We have gone a few times and you are right - the Chicken Tinga is the best chicken taco you can get in Cincinnati!!! Thanks for reviewing this little neighborhood gem!
    posted: Tue., Mar 21st, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
  • From Tabitha about Lalo:
    But...do they have margaritas?
    posted: Thu., Jan 12th, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Swad Indian:
    @MJ: I heard family members of those who'd run Dusmesh now work out of the former Amol India in Clifton. It's called, Grill of India (http://grillofindiaoh.com/).
    posted: Thu., Dec 29th, 2016 @ 11:45 PM
  • From mj about Swad Indian:
    It seems Swad has changed hands. Have not see the former Dusmesh owners in my last visit (10/1/2016) and the food is just ok. Wonder where they went this time?
    posted: Wed., Dec 28th, 2016 @ 8:22 AM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design