Lee's Asian Restaurant
4510 California Ave SW
Seattle WA 98116
Healthy Yet Flavorful Meals at Lee's
By: Grant Chen
Leisurely walking down California Ave on Alki, one would often be more interested in the breathtaking views of the Puget Sound, the cool sea breeze or the sunny days that brings most urbanites out to the far west reaches of the city. For a select few however, a dilapidated pink banner that reads Lee's Asian Restaurant is a reason alone to venture across the West Seattle bridge.
Taking in the lackluster dwelling of Lee's, it's pityingly boring, albeit tidy and well-kept. Three long isles of tables sweep the spartan rectangular room and ends at a partially open kitchen. A few wines and sakes perch shyly behind the young Asian girl at the bar, but a maze of open beer boxes in the narrow bathroom hallway quietly suggests you to forgo the Merlot.
Nothing grabs your attention until an elbow bumps you in the back, causing you turn and see that a line of patrons has managed to materialize behind you. While these hungry lunchers may not even know that Lee's Asian Restaurant was the progenitor of the reknown Wild Orchid restaurant, located in downtown Seattle, their appetites show an instinctive and irresistible draw to this rickety hole-in-the-wall.
Like Wild Orchid, Lee's primarily serves Chinese dishes, but incorporates elements from Thai and Vietnamese cuisines as well. Thus, the same menu that offers the fabled seven-flavor beef also invites you to try the pad thai and yee-mein (hand rolled noodles) at the same time. For those that worry, Lee's strategically places a "No MSG" line at the bottom of each page.
Our review was uncommonly broken up over separate days, which resulted in a wide variety of dishes: Honey-Glazed Walnut Prawns, Imperial Chicken, Seafood Chow Mein, Seven Flavors of Beef, Kan Gai, Lee's Specialty Duck and Lo Mein.
Among our favorite dishes, the prawns were deep fried and glazed in a sweet, creamy sauce, served on a bed of roasted honey walnuts. The batter was light and crisp, making for a delightful contrast in texture. The lo mein was favorably noted as very fresh, with a thick, chewy texture and a smoky after flavor. Fans of Sichuan style hand shaven noodles would be wise to reserve room for this noodle pasta.
Lee's fragrant duck is meatier and crisper interpretation of Peking duck. Served with hand buns and a hoisin and tart sauce, the moist meat and heavenly layer of crisp duck skin/fat made this an unforgettable delight, comparable only perhaps to the pork belly sandwich at Facing East in Bellevue.
Praise was also given to the intimidating seven flavors of beef, which was loaded with chili peppers and spices. Its bark is worse than its bite however, as the meat was modestly mild and quite tender. Connoisseurs of the typical Mongolian beef in slathered brown sauce will realize their folly with one taste of the seven flavor beef at Lee's.
The kan gai, a Thai dish that was consisted of a mix of vegetables and chicken in peanut sauce, didn't stand out as expected (peanut sauce only goes so far). The imperial chicken was a rehash of kung-pao chicken, except layered in a white sauce. We thought the seafood chow mein was good, with crisp noodles and a tasty white gravy, but didn't stand out on the level of the lo mein.
While Seattle Chinese restaurants have a reputation for bad service among foodies, Lee's manages to dodge this particular stereotype. The wait staff was reasonably quick to take orders, fill water, and bring out our check.
Lee's Asian Restaurant showed an ability to serve up a number of fantastic dishes that rivaled the quality of restaurants in the international district. As a tiny restaurant with a big punch, it's no wonder that locals in West Seattle have known about this little gem for years.
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