Top 5 Banh Mi in Chicago

The exquisite banh mi from Ba Le in Uptown (photo: Steve Dolinsky)

The exquisite banh mi from Ba Le in Uptown (photo: Steve Dolinsky)

Truly great sandwiches are studies in contrast. The soft chew of a Leidenheimer French bread encasing warm, fried shrimp, crisp lettuce and tomatoes in a New Orleans po’boy at the Parkway Tavern; the perfect crust of a D’Amato’s loaf housing a bevy of thinly-sliced, appropriately fatty Italian meats, dressed with fruity olive oil and thick slices of eggplant at Bari; even something as simple as a well-constructed club sandwich can make me swoon – as long as the bacon is crisp and the bread is properly toasted. Yet for my money, the Vietnamese banh mi ranks as one of my all-time favorite sandwiches.

 

I think it’s a combination of the exquisite French bread (a result of French colonization in Vietnam that left behind a devotion to properly made daily bread), along with the crunch of pickled daikon and carrots, plus the bracing jolt of sliced jalapeños, occasionally shards of white onion, fresh cilantro and squirts of salty soy or fish sauce (or both). Purists will ask for head cheese, a shmear of pâté on the inside of the bread and some sliced pork or ham. I’m just as happy to have lemongrass pork or Chinese sausage as the featured protein.

 

There are several places to find good banh mi in Chicago; usually within a bakery, such as Ba Le or Nhu Lan. Even easier, most people simply head to Argyle, the “Little Vietnam” of Chicago, in the Uptown neighborhood. But there are still a few that exist outside of the neighborhood that are worth seeking out. Here are my top 5:

 

1. Nhu Lan

2612 W Lawrence Ave

Chicago, IL 60625

(773) 878-9898

www.nhulansbakery.com

(Bread comes from on-site bakery)

 

Also: 602 W. Belmont Ave., (773) 857-6868

 

2. Bun Mi Express

3409 N. Broadway

(773) 661-2228

(Bread comes from Gabby’s in Franklin Park)

 

3. Ba Le

5016 N. Broadway

Chicago, IL 60640

(773) 561-4424

www.balesandwich.com

 

also:

2141 S. Archer Ave. (Chinatown)

312-528-6967

(Bread comes from on-site bakery)

 

4. Del Seoul

2568 N. Clark St

Chicago, IL 60614

(773) 248-4227

(Bread comes from Ba Le Bakery)

 

5. Saigon Sisters

567 W. Lake St.

Chicago, IL 60661

(312) 496-0090

www.saigonsisters.com

(Owners won’t say where bread comes from)

7 Comments

  1. kari

    May 5, 2013 at 11:47 am

    opening a Banh Mi food truck in Indy – getting bread from Chicago- who has the best viet french baguette?

    • admin

      May 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      I think Nhu Lan and Ba Le are both great. It’s worth doing your own taste test.

  2. tg

    September 16, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    nhu lan is the best

  3. Sam A.

    June 10, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Been going through a bunch of your lists today, Steve. The research on beefs was incredible, and I agreed overwhelmingly with your words on the ten or 15 places I’ve been too (Jesus, more people need to know about Freddie’s—probably my favorite food joint of all in the Chicagoland area).

    Anyway, a few thoughts on the banh mi list. First, I’m a fan of Nhu Lan. Everything within the sandwich is executed perfectly. But the bread? House-baked doesn’t equal good. Their sandwiches are basically great banh mi fix ins in some half-assed bolillo bread, in my opinion. I highly, highly recommend you check out the grilled pork banh mi at Pho 888. Many people consider this place the best pho in Chicago (including myself), so maybe the banh mi gets slept on a bit. Their bread is closer to the chewy French bread you’d find in Vietnam, and whatever they do withe Vietnamese mayo and pork takes this thing over the edge. Would be very interested to hear your thoughts. Also, Ba Le? I know it’s popular and all, but I had one of the most boring banh mi’s of my life there several years back and haven’t revisited. Great blog, btw!

    • Steve Dolinsky

      June 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Wow, thanks. I will definitely check out 888 asap. Thanks.
      S

      • Sam A

        September 16, 2016 at 9:50 pm

        I stand corrected, Steve. Revisited Ba Le and it is certainly deserving of top 5 status. I think they went through an ownership change at some point? Also, my words on Nhu Lan’s bread were too harsh. It really is one of the best banh mi’s in Chicago–I just personally prefer the bread at 888. Lastly, just went to Co Co tonight for pho. Wow–one of the best bowls I’ve had in the city, and some of the most likeable and friendly owners around. You did a great service by giving this place a spotlight. “Who needs Argyle?” haha. Great recs as always, Mr. Dolinsky!

        • Steve Dolinsky

          September 19, 2016 at 7:48 am

          Glad to hear it! So happy you tried Co Co. Very deserving of more love from Chicago media.

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