Original Sab E Lee (Rancho Penasquitos)

>> Sunday, January 13, 2013

Date of Dining: 1/3/2013
Price: $6-10 per dish
Location: 13223-2 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129
website 

The Quick Bit

+ great authentic isan style thai food
+ numerous selection of dishes
Δ spice levels could be more accurate and use real chili
Δ new restaurant blues

You may be wondering why many Thai restaurants use some name in the for Sab E Lee. According to my friend and fellow food writer Yao at {insert-food}, it's because in Thai it means delicious.
When I heard that Sab E Lee was going to open in Rancho Penasquitos, I knew I had to try it out. I have been a loyal customer to both the Linda Vista and Santee locations over the years, but never remembered to bring my camera for a proper review. I felt that the opening of the new location was the perfect time to rectify my oversight.
There may be some confusion around Sab E Lee's various owners, so I'll do my best to clarify the story as much as I know. Kobe was the original owner of Sab E Lee in Linda Vista (SEL-LV). After opening to much success with Chef May Lee in the kitchen, he then moved to open Sab E Lee in Santee (SEL-S) with a new chef from Thailand. When he left, he left May Lee in charge of SEL-LV. After there was some confusion about which restaurant people referred to, SEL-LV added "Original" in front of the name. However, SEL-LV's limitation has always been its size - there are a mere 5 tables seating about 18 people. Therefore, May Lee entered into a partnership to open the new Sab E Lee in Rancho Penasquitos (SEL-RPQ). While May Lee remains at SEL-LV, SEL-RPQ is run by other members of her family, so it retained the "Original" in the name.
SEL-RPQ opened in the waning days of 2012, but I'll go ahead and call that a "soft opening" and consider it a new restaurant of 2013. As such with new restaurants, expect delays as the staff figures out how to run things effectively. We arrived along with several other tables to completely fill the restaurant, and there were long delays for the food to arrive. I was happy to wait, but I could sense some  frustration with some other tables.

tom yum soup with shrimp
I always enjoy Sab E Lee's soups, and with the recent trend to cold weather, I really enjoyed the heat from the soup. I'm not a big fan of lemongrass, but this soup had just the right blend of lemongrass to give it a sour and tangy flavor while retaining a rich and savory flavor.

spicy raw beef
There's a running joke that I have a "barbaric" palate and especially enjoy raw beef. It's probably true, but what first attracted me to Sab E Lee was this raw beef dish, and it has never disappointed. The beef is always tender and is dusted with rice powder to give it a nice crunch. The rest of the preparation resembles a larb with cilantro, lime, onions, and garlic. This dish was just as good as I expected at the new location, and I'm glad they haven't lost a beat in what I consider their signature dish.
catfish larb
If there's another signature dish of Sab E Lee, it's probably the catfish larb. Unfortunately, this dish was off from what I expected. The fish did not taste of catfish, and the lack of spice set the dish back.
drunken noodles with chicken
I really enjoy the drunken noodles because I like how the basil flavor infuses into the rest of the dish. While I really did enjoy this dish, so did the rest of the table as it was quickly devoured before my eyes. One great quality about Sab E Lee's noodle dishes are that they do not overcook the noodles. Most other Thai restaurants overcook the noodles so they become too soft and mushy. These noodles have some resistance to them, which enables them to carry a greater depth of flavor.
mango sticky rice
To finish things off, the mango sticky rice is a crowd pleaser. The sticky rice is infused with condensed milk, and the sweet mango gives a fresh feel to the sweetness.

Conclusion

Sab E Lee in Rancho Penasquitos definitely still has some new restaurant kinks to work out. However, if you are a fan of the other Sab E Lee restaurants, or just a fan of good Thai food, it is a great new restaurant in an otherwise cultural culinary desolace. 
Based on reputation, I give the kilobit award to all Sab E Lee restaurants in San Diego. The Rancho Penasquitos location is probably still a bit, but I have confidence that their level will rise to kilobit in the coming months.

Update (1/17/2013):
Kirbie and caninecologne also visited SEL-RPQ

5 comments:

caninecologne January 14, 2013 at 4:11 PM  

Hi there! Saw your post through Kirbie's sidebar. Triple posts on SEL the same day! I linked both of your posts in mine, if you don't mind. Good to know about the background of each restaurant. I always wondered why they called it "The Original" even if it wasn't the first one. I miss Koby, he was suchc a nice guy.

James January 14, 2013 at 4:18 PM  

You can still go meet him - just visit Santee :)

CAB January 16, 2013 at 9:18 PM  

I always forget about dessert. I'll have to remember to try the mango sticky rice next time.

caninecologne January 16, 2013 at 10:03 PM  

Good to know that Koby can be found at Santee! :)

James January 17, 2013 at 9:54 AM  

@CAB - yeah I usually order too much of the savory courses and forget about dessert, but I managed to remember this one time :)

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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
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