Chicago is a sandwich city, although we love our Italian Beef and bratwursts it’s time we mix things up and start taking a new direction with a fresh Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. The banh mi sandwich is a product of French and Vietnamese ingredients coming together to create a memorable eating experience. The fusion of fresh vegetables including cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon, and jalapeño is combined with a French baguette stuffed with your choice of protein ranging from roasted pork to pâtés. This perfect harmony of French and Vietnamese ingredients can be traced back to the mid 19th century when the French introduced the baguette during their colonization of the Southeast Asian country. Thanks to the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine in the 1950s the sandwich became a Saigon street food staple and was eventually brought back to America following the Vietnam War. Thankfully, the savory banh mi sandwich ultimately found its way into Chicago and can now be found all around the city.
Nhu Lan Bakery
Arguably the best banh mi in the city is at Nhu Lan Bakery located in Lincoln Square. The small Vietnamese bakery bakes its fresh baguettes daily to go along with their variety of twenty different sandwiches. With options including ham, pork, and lemongrass tofu, there is undoubtedly a banh mi sandwich here for everyone. This place is a must stop destination if you are looking to add a fresh twist to your lunch routine, not to mention, their fresh fruit smoothies with tapioca. You should stop by to try a banh mi sandwich when you are in the neighborhood but take note of limited seating inside the bakery, and on Tuesdays, they are not open. The Yelp reviews are in, and Nhu Lan Bakery is a Chicago favorite.
Lotus Café & Banh Mi Sandwiches
Located in the UIC Chicago area, Lotus Café aims to bring tasty yet affordable band mi sandwiches to their local community. What separates Lotus Café are the ingredients and their creative takes on classic Vietnamese sandwiches. The popular “Sunny-Side Beef” Banh mi contains sautéed beef, caramelized onions sweet potatoes fries, and a Sunnyside-up egg, a hearty breakfast meal for any student on the go. They also have many other menu offerings including a honey grilled pork banh mi, pho, rice bowls, and spring rolls.
Lastly, we cannot forget about Ba La Sandwich Shop located in Uptown, Chicago. Le Vo, the founder of Ba Le, was 20 and living in Saigon when he began selling his banh mi sandwiches at his food stand during the French colonization of Vietnam. Nearly 40 years after Le Vo’s arrival in the United States and today, Ba Le's legacy has been passed on to his youngest daughter Thuy. With its prime location in Little Vietnam, the family-owned shop has been pumping out excellent banh mi sandwiches for affordable prices since 1982. These made to order banh mi sandwiches are a classic take on the sandwich and go great with all their other offerings including soup and noodle salads. Oh yea, they also offer exotic tropical smoothies including jackfruit or sapote.