Vietnamese restaurant guide

For pork-stuffed banh mi, banh xeo and steaming bowls of pho, visit a great Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago.

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Photograph: Jeff Catt

Ba Le, which has a huge banh mi menu, is a great Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago.

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Nhu Lan Saigon Subs offers both banh mi and pho and is a great Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago.

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Pasteur, which has a stunning dining room, is a great Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago.

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Photograph: Maddie Blecha

Pho Lily, which has terrific papaya salad and pho, is a great Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago.

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Photograph: Marina Makropoulos

Saigon Sisters has excellent banh mi and is a great Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago.

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Photograph: Erica Gannett

Tank Noodle's mixed beef pho and shaking beef make it a great Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago.

When the craving for Vietnamese food—banh mi stuffed with pork and pickled vegetables, steaming bowls of beef pho, fried banh xeo—strikes, all you need to do is hop on the Red Line to Argyle. The street is teeming with restaurants of all sizes, offering some of the best Vietnamese food around. But there are a couple gems off that strip: French-Vietnamese Pasteur, an elegant space known for banh xeo, and Saigon Sisters, which puts creative spins on banh mi, pho and other dishes. Whatever dish you're in the mood for, there's a Vietnamese restaurant that's serving it.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best Chicago restaurants

Vietnamese restaurant guide

Ba Le

Critics' pick

When the French controlled Vietnam, baguettes crossed cultures, and one of the finest results of this is the banh mi sandwich. They’re plentiful in this area, but this bakery creates most of the bread restaurants use, so go try the source, a cute and colorful counter-service spot with stimulation galore. Jump in line for the barbecue pork or the Ba Le special, which piles housemade pâté, headcheese and pork onto a baguette with tangy carrot and daikon slivers, cilantro and jalapeño. Grab a coconut custard (served in an actual coconut!) for an interesting ending.

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Argyle

Nhu Lan Saigon Subs

Does the second location of this Vietnamese sandwich shop indicate the beginning of a banh mi war? If so, Ba Le (Nhu Lan’s competitor) should be a little worried. The savory pastries are flaky and decadent, the iced coffee is sweet and strong, and the sandwiches are delivered on crusty mini baguettes and sport flavorful toppings such as a lush pork liver pâté. If there’s a deficit to these banh mi, it’s that they go light on the jalapeño. But Nhu Lan still has a leg up: This location offers something Ba Le doesn’t—a full line of pho.

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Lakeview

Pasteur

Arguments for getting your Vietnamese fix here instead of on Argyle: (1) The space is stunning, with chandeliers that look like atoms, dark leather banquettes and tropical plants evoking a French-colonized Vietnam. (2) When you’re served the banh xeo, the friendly waiter will explain not only how to eat it, but its history. (3) That banh xeo is incredible. (4) The ca hong dam nuoc mam (whole red snapper) is so tender, so lightly fried, so flaky, you’ll pick at the bones like an alley cat. (5) The prices are pretty much the same as Tank Noodle’s. (6) There’s booze.

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Edgewater

Pho Lily

This tiny spot off Argyle’s main drag serves Vietnamese standards with precision, if not flair, in a stylish setting (though we could do without Two and a Half Men on the TV—with the sound on). Start with the papaya salad—crunchy, full of shrimp and delivering heat—and the bulging, heavy-on-the-coconut-milk banh xeo. Our banh mi was a little dry, but you can’t go wrong with phos 55 (pork, fish ball, shrimp, squid) and 45 (eye round steak, beef meatball), both chock-full of perfectly cooked noodles and deeply satisfying.

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Andersonville

Pho Xe Tang (Tank Noodle)

Critics' pick

Known as Tank to Anglos, this spot is the answer for indecisive diners wandering Argyle Street. For Vietnamese-food pros, authentic picks are done well; for novices, the staff is apt with both English and suggestions. Lotus-root salad is everything this cuisine can be—limey and minty with shrimp flavor, crunchy peanuts and a subtle chili kick. Pho is among the best around. Creamy coconut-milk chicken curry gets oomph from both sweet and new potatoes and garlic-fish-sauce-marinated “shaking beef” is flash-seared and served with vinegar-laced watercress.

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Argyle

Saigon Sisters

Critics' pick

Whereas Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen stick mostly to banh mi sandwiches at their French Market stand, here, at the slick little eatery they opened around the block, they’ve gone upscale. A plate of three delicious (if sweet) bao is a good place to start; grilled confit octopus is a playful and decadent second course; and che, a dense sweet potato pudding, is the perfect way to end.

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West Loop

Comments

1 comments
Alex P
Alex P

Sorry, but the best of all is:

BB Bun Mi Express at 3409 N Broadway