Freshly-baked baguettes are the fabulously flaky foundation for the 20—count ’em, 20—banh mi varieties on offer at this petite Lincoln Square institution. Anchored by the quintet of porcine fillings—ham, headcheese, pork roll, and cool, creamy pâté—found in the most classic banh mi, the rich Nhu Lan Special will please traditionalists. Vegetarians rhapsodize about the aromatic lemongrass tofu, a sandwich that’s far from dainty rabbit food; in texture, taste, and appearance, in fact, the headline filling comes uncannily close to beef.
One of Vietnam’s finest culinary exports is the banh mi, an infinitely-versatile sandwich typically comprising a crackly rice flour baguette (an adaptation of the wheat flour loaves introduced to the country by its one-time colonizer, France) stuffed with proteins fragrant (like lemongrass beef) or funky (pork pâté), and topped with condiments like piquant pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno, and cooling mayo. Flavor packed, quick, and usually extremely cheap, they’re an excellent alternative to bland mega-chain lunch fare, and luckily, Chicago abounds with spots where you can get your fix. We’ve rounded up our favorite banh mi stops, from a bustling bakery that delights vegetarians and dedicated carnivores alike to a truck that turns out quirky takes on the iconic Vietnamese treat.