OGDEN — If there’s a more humble, unassuming restaurant in the greater Ogden area, we’ve yet to encounter it.
Sitting smack-dab in the middle of a nondescript strip mall — with a payday loan center on one side and a tattoo parlor on the other, no less — Lee’s Diner is the epitome of the modest eating experience. Inside, the homey, western feel of the weathered wood-paneling and the fluorescent light panels call to mind any number of other modest, blue-collar diners around the country.
And as for the menu? Nothing fancy there, either; just what owners Ching and Lee Liu describe as good, down-home American food.
Lee’s Diner opened a little over a month ago in its current location at 333 2nd St., replacing the now-defunct Beebop Korean BBQ restaurant. Although the new restaurant has only been around since early February, its roots go back much further than that. Both Ching and Lee grew up in the food service industry — they were originally associated with the Star Cafe in Clearfield, which Lee’s family owns.
Then, about a decade ago, Ching and Lee opened their own restaurant in Ogden, Uncle Lee’s Cafe, on 12th Street just west of Interstate 15.
Three months ago, Uncle Lee’s closed. Ching says she figured she and her husband would take some time off from the restaurant business, but she didn’t realize how much they’d miss it.
“After the place closed, we felt we lost something,” she said. “On Facebook, our customers were saying ‘We miss you,’ and we were saying ‘We miss you, too.’ I feel like I got lost and just missed my customers.”
The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.
Popular breakfast items include the Country Fried Steak, with a hand-battered steak topped with made-from-scratch gravy, for $9.69. The Pork Chop Eggs dish features marinated homestyle pork chops ($8.99/one chop, $11.99/two chops), while the Country Platter offers home fries or hash browns with bacon, ham or sausage and green peppers, onions and mushrooms smothered in country gravy and topped with two eggs ($8.99).
All breakfast meals include two eggs, hash browns or home fries, and a choice of scone, toast, pancakes or crepe.
For lunch, Ching says they make a pretty mean hamburger ($6.39-$8.69). The Hot Hamburger Sandwich and Hot Roast Beef Sandwich ($8.29 each) are also big sellers, as is the clam chowder on Fridays ($2.99/cup, $4.59 bowl).
“It’s really good,” Ching said of the chowder. “Some folks just come for that.”
Popular “Chef’s Specials” include the Pot Roast ($10.99), Seniors Chicken Tenderloins ($7.19), and Meat Loaf ($9.99). Specials come with Texas toast or dinner roll, vegetables, soup or salad, and french fries, mashed potatoes or baked potato.
The Liu family says they pride themselves on hearty meals for hungry people.
“That’s what we try to do — big portions and a fair price,” Ching said. “I just want people to come back. I really love to cook.”
Like the modest restaurant she and her husband run, Ching is equally modest about her cooking. And she’s always looking to improve her culinary skills.
For example, back when she first started making homemade salsa for Uncle Lee’s Cafe, Ching says people would tell her, “Your salsa doesn’t have any taste.”
“I tasted it and said, ‘Yeah, you’re right,’” she recalls.
It was a similar experience with their early attempts at hashbrowns.
“Our hashbrowns were originally kind of mushy,” Ching said. “People would say, ‘They’re not very crispy, and they’re bland.’ So over the years we’ve changed our hashbrowns. Now, they taste pretty good, and people tell me, ‘Your hashbrowns are improving.’”
Like their restaurant, Ching and Lee Liu are humble enough to take the criticism with the compliments.
“I like to hear from people,” she said. “That’s how you learn and improve. I think my cooking is improving, and I really enjoy cooking.”