After our first few visits to Sab-E-Lee, we knew we had a "keeper". Even if we didn't find any other dishes we enjoyed than the few had tried, we'd still be coming back for more. As I got to know Koby a bit, I learned a bit more about him, and his crew. They had worked in the kitchen of a little restaurant in Thai Town(LA), and when the place was being sold, and the previous owner retired, they decided to move on.
On to the food......
Thai Beef Jerky ($6.95):
The Beef was more tender than what I've had before. It was also fairly mild in flavor, though the fish sauce-chili dip added some decent punch. It goes well with sticky rice ($1.75). The sticky rice here is on the uneven side, some of it too dry and hard, and portions of it too mushy. The Jasmine Rice that is served has always been fragrant and cooked perfectly...though there's something to be said about grabbing a clump of rice, and using it to wrap around your food, than plopping it into your mouth.
Catfish Larb ($6.95):
The chopped catfish is so crunchy that I thought it was fried (the menu says grilled). Combined with the roasted rice powder, this dish was very nice texturally. The lime juice, mint, lemongrass, and other herbs made this a bracingly refreshing dish. It had nice spice, that wasn't overwhelming.
Pad Woon Sen with Beef ($6.25):
This was a disappointing dish. Very bland, and the "glass noodles" were a bit over-cooked and mushy.
Issan Sausage (Thai Sausage - Northeastern style. $6.95):
Though not made inhouse, this was good. This style of sausage, studded with rice, and a bit of pork skin, with a nice sour finish, is one of favorites. I've had this 3 times, and it has always been prepared perfectly.
Nahm Tok (Nahm Dtok - $6.95):
Why not Yum Nuea? This type of beef salad is a Northern Thai style beef salad, prepared much like larb, featuring a generous amount of rice powder and chili. I enjoyed that we weren't asked how spicy we wanted our food; it was prepared in the manner the cook thought was best. In this case the spice level approached incendiary! Still, I couldn't stop eating it. The name Nahm Tok means something along the lines of "water falling", referring to the meat juices that form and fall from the side of the meat away from the heat when it is being cooked. There is also a "Beef Salad" on the menu. i was told that it didn't use rice powder, and was prepared a bit differently.
Bamboo Shoot Salad (Sup Nor Mai - $5.95):
This is another Issan specialty, where the meaty texture of Bamboo Shoots is substituted for meat. In many ways similar to the Nahm Tok, except that the earthy flavor of the bamboo shoots added a nice depth to the dish. It was not quite as spicy as the Nahm Tok, which allowed for the lime flavors to come through...this is something I'll have quite often.
Of course, we just had to try the Pad Thai (with chicken - $5.95):
After the Pad Woon Sen, I had some concerns, but this turned out to be pretty good. Very tangy, the Missus loved the noodles. I thought the chicken a bit dry, but this was much better than Pad Thai twice the price. I think the Missus will order this again.
So just today, I walk into Sab-E-Lee to place a take-out order, and Koby tells me; "Kirk, I have what you want, I have it today!" What was he referring to? It was this:
It's Koi Soi (Spicy Raw Beef on the menu - $6.95). When I first inquired about the dish, Koby said he couldn't make it because he wasn't able to source the appropriate grade of meat. And having had a very good version of Koi Soi (at Lotus of Siam), which was good. And one bad version, at a restaurant in LA, that I've blocked out of my consciousness...it was that bad...take my word for it! So I wasn't about to insist on getting some Koi Soi before its time. So this evening I lucked out....Koi Soi. Now, the beef has been "cooked" a bit with the lime juice, and the quality of meat, spices, and herbs have cut out any metallic or "raw" beef flavor. In fact, if I served this to you, you probably won't even know it's raw beef. The texture is a bit firm, in fact it reminded me somewhat of Maguro(Bluefin Tuna). It was pretty spicy, but just as the Nahm Tok, I just couldn't stop eating. I'll be having this again soon, and hopefully Koby will have the Pork Tongue Jerky, I guess good pork tongue is hard to find.
The dishes at San-E-Lee tend to be more savory and spicy than the usual overly-sweet stuff that is served in San Diego. Mainly due to the Northeast Thai roots of the Owner and cooks. Even if you enjoy the standards, I think this place is worth trying, in fact I think it belongs on our rotation. The restaurant is small, and you never know who you'll run in to. I ran into Captain Jack this past evening. How was the Koi Soi CJ? San-E-Lee is a small restaurant, and sometimes there may be a wait...but you can't beat the prices, everything is under 7 bucks. Like I said before, it's not LOS or Renu Nakorn, but it's my favorite here in San Diego. You may even run into me getting my Thai food fix.
2405 Ulric St
San Diego, CA 92111
Part one can be found here.
Thanks again for the rec SomTommy! I owe you one.