13 June 2023

Five minutes with Joseph Lee, Joe's Milkbar Albion Park

| Katrina Condie
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Chef with burger

Joe serves up one of his favourite burgers at Joe’s Milkbar in Albion Park. Photos: Supplied.

Who are you? I’m Joseph Lee (Joe), the owner of Joe’s Milkbar in Albion Park. Born and raised in southwest Sydney to two Laotian immigrants! The only restaurant I’ve worked in before this was Manpuku in Kingsford. The decision to open this restaurant without any business experience was the best and worst decision I ever made.

What is your business? The aim has always been to serve locals with delicious and affordable burgers served with a smile, and to support the community in what ways we can. I like to think our goal is to make people happy through food.

What’s a dish that you make that best sums up your venue and why? Probably the Americano! It’s a double cheeseburger with bacon. Confession: the “bacon” we use is not actually bacon, it’s smoked pork scotch from our friends at Bringelly Pork and Bacon. The smokiness and savouriness you get from it is unbeatable. The beef is a mix of brisket and chuck from the best butcher in town: Albion Park Village Meats. We make the caramelised onion and pickles in-house, and top it with our special sauce. We tried to make each burger our own as much as possible, and I think this burger is a good example of that. I don’t think there’s a burger anywhere in the world that tastes like this one.


The Americano is a crowd-pleaser. Photo: Joe’s Milkbar.

Favourite Cuisine? My mum’s, whatever she may be cooking – usually Lao food. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s like Thai food … but better.

An ingredient you can’t live without? Salt? Water? Haha, that’s a pretty boring answer, but for me, everything else can be replaced or substituted. Maybe garlic is a better answer.

Who is your biggest culinary influence? My family. Food is a pillar of Lao culture, so growing up with that made it a pretty big part of my life and who I am.

What’s inspiring you right now? My partner Kiandra. She never fails to lift my spirits when I’m down. In fact, I wouldn’t be much without the people in my life that continually support and inspire me to be better.

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Where do you dine out in the Illawarra for comfort food? Depends what we’re in the mood for, but Beast ramen or Tsuki both serve great authentic Japanese. The goat curry from JJ’s Indian is my go-to for Indian. I love a good Vietnamese noodle salad too.

Where do you dine out for special occasions? Somewhere delicious and interesting, and usually somewhere we haven’t been before. We went to Babyface recently for my partner’s birthday and that was fantastic. Korean BBQ is my favourite for large groups.

What’s your go-to coffee? An espresso, because I’m lactose intolerant (I know right!)

Where would you take out-of-town visitors to show off the best of the Illawarra region? To one of the many amazing beaches, or maybe a hike. I love the scenery around The Farm, and Sublime Point lookout is great for a view of the city.

Who do you admire in the local food scene? All of the people involved in small restaurants that continue year after year. The cooks that make great food, the waiters that make you feel right at home, the owners that try their best to run a business that does good by their staff and the community. It’s an industry that feels like it was designed to destroy your soul sometimes, and I admire those that persist, and those that try and make it better.

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Where are you travelling to next? We were thinking New Zealand! I’d love to go visit Japan again too. Wherever it is, you can bet trying new foods is at the top of my itinerary.

Where are you excited to eat next? Whatever my next meal is!

What are your top recipe tips? Food is an art and a science, so be bold! Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail; worst scenario is you order pizza. Don’t forget to measure your ingredients, and record what works for next time because, if you’re anything like me, you will forget.

Joe’s Milkbar is located at Shop 11, 60 Terry St, Albion Park Shopping Village and is open from 7:30 am daily.

Follow Joe’s Milkbar on Facebook and Instagram.

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