The Global Market That Helped Bring the World to Metro Phoenix

One of the multiple aisles in Lee Lee market.
One of the multiple aisles in Lee Lee market. Ofelia Montelongo
Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

5: Shopping at Lee Lee International Supermarket

This "international supermarket” carries items from at least 30 countries and regions, and they’re all represented at two sizable grocery stores in Chandler and Peoria (and one in Tucson, too).

Lee Lee International Supermarkets have been around for more than 25 years, and started when Meng Truong moved to Arizona from Cambodia. He and his wife, Paulina, noticed the lack of a diverse food market where they could pick up some of their favorite items from back home. Truong would frequently drive his van to California to pick up any ethnic ingredients, until – we assume – that became obviously tiresome. Now Lee Lee totals more than 200,000 square feet of grocery space across three massive stores.

click to enlarge Some of the fresh – and colorful – offerings at Lee Lee International Supermarkets. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Some of the fresh – and colorful – offerings at Lee Lee International Supermarkets.
Lauren Cusimano
The smell hits you first after you wiggle past the shoppers coming and going through the entrance/exit. Fresh fish is apparent, followed by an array of spices. Front counters yield bright green bamboo trees for sale and décor. You’ll also notice the small jewelry store right away, thanks to its colored neon sign.

Dozens of fluorescent-lit aisles yield teas and coffees, beauty products, noodles, rice, and other boxed and canned goods from around the world. The outer edges of the stores offer imported beers, wines, and sake, or fresh and colorful produce, eggs, and dairy products. There’s also an organic section.

Hang out in the back of the store to watch an employee fish out live crabs – the little guy scrambling while being held up by tongs as the shopper makes a yes-or-no decision. Live fish swim around in tanks unaware of their future, and shoppers wait patiently to reach the meat or deli counter.

click to enlarge The message board section of Lee Lee International Supermarkets in Chandler. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The message board section of Lee Lee International Supermarkets in Chandler.
Lauren Cusimano
According to the website, “Each store has become more than just a place to buy food and ethnic products, it’s become a destination.” That statement is apparent in the message board section/area of the stores. A whole wall is plastered with want ads, nail services announcements, notices of new restaurants, and more – each with tear-away phone numbers. The wall is lined with a vast selection of ethnic publications stacked in little wire newsstands along the base of the walls. This is certainly where you can imagine some patrons feeling like they’re truly part of this community.

The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express.
34: Smoked Prime Rib at Texaz.
33: Steak Salad at Feeney's.
32: Tasting Menu at Kai Restaurant.
31: Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
30: Big Jim at Welcome Diner.
29: Sonoran Hot Dog at El Caprichoso.
28: Sashimi at Nobuo at Teeter House.
27: Oysters at Casey Moore's Oyster House.
26: Spring rolls at Da Vang.
25: Bruschetta and wine at Postino.
24: Hot green chili fry bread at Fry Bread House.
23: The Big One at The Chuckbox.
22: Cahuamanta Stew at Cahuamanta El Yaqui.
21: Dim Sum at Great Wall Cuisine.
20: Fried chicken at The Horny Toad.
19: George & Dragon’s Famous Fish & Chips.
18: Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches at Pho 43rd Express.
17: Cerreta Candy Co. Factory Tour & Candy Sampling in Downtown Glendale.
16: Steak Dinner at The Stockyards.
15: Margarita + Guacamole del Barrio at Barrio Cafe.
14: BBQ Plate at Joe's Real BBQ.
13: Fried Chicken & Pork Chops from Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.
12: Breakfast Burrito at Yucca Tap Room.
11: Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies at Super Chunk.
10: Doro Wat at Cafe Lalibela.
9: Lunch at Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli.
8: The Chef's Counter at Posh.
7: Flour tortillas and machaca at Carolina's.
6: Wining and dining at FnB.
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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano