When No Thai! moved under Landmark last January, I couldn’t wait to see what would take its place in that tiny-yet-prime South U location. On a street overcrowded with Korean, sushi and sandwich shops—Maize and Blue, Subway, Jimmy Johns, need I go on?—I thought, finally, we might get something new on the strip.
Nope. Under the misguided assumption that students just couldn’t choose between a basic sub or a plate of Korean spicy pork for lunch, the spot has been filled with a restaurant that combines the two. Behold, Belly Deli: a “gourmet Asian salad and sandwich” shop.
But don’t be fooled. There is nothing “gourmet” about this place. The refurbished interior matches the eclectic menu; neither seems able to make up its mind between modern American and Asian influences. Stainless-steel countertops are set against a gray wall of cartoon graffiti characters, while the menu essentially offers a spicier version of your average deli sandwich or Cobb salad. Meat options of bulgogi beef, char su pork, spicy chicken, or soy garlic tofu add to the Asian-fusion twist of the cuisine, but also up the spice level. (Read: if you’re not a fan of Korean/Vietnamese food and don’t like a spicy aftertaste, grab Subway next door.)
As an exotic-food lover, I wanted to love this place more than the other sandwich shops peppered all over the area, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Belly Deli’s homemade taro chips tasted old, and overwhelming saltiness was attempting to drown out the blandness (imagine: consistency of a plain tortilla chip, but without any dip to improve the taste). The grab-and-go style ordering left the freshness of the food a mystery.
However, if you have a strong stomach, like spice or feel adventurous, maybe give the “Belly Sammy” sandwiches a try. I found that the bulgogi beef “Sammy” was surprisingly flavorful with well-seasoned meat. Served on a colossal, crusty French baguette, the Sammy’s portions were generous – even if the ratio was a tad off, with too much bread per bite. And while the sandwich’s additional toppings are pretty awesome—pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño peppers—they get soggy quickly, so if you pick up a Sammy, eat it STAT.
That said, while certainly an OK occasional option, the sandwich would still taste better hotter, or if the bread were at least toasted. Meh.
Now, if you’re looking for really cheap, authentic Asian cuisine, go with Kang’s Korean Restaurant a block away. Or for the best sandwiches on South U walk a foot further to Maize and Blue Deli. Sometimes, in my book anyway, exotic and all-American fare are better left separate.
Location: 1317 S. University Ave. Ann Arbor MI
Hours: 11:30 am-10 pm Daily