Whether you’re trying to cure a hangover, add some green to your space, find some cheap groceries or test a new rice pudding flavor, Viet Town off the Argyle stop on the Red Line is packed with Vietnamese goodies.
My motivation, I admit, was a hangover cure. Nothing jump-starts the day after a long night like a banh mai sandwich, so I grabbed my roommate, Chenault, and made the trek.
Ba Le, 5018 N. Broadway St., ChicagoThe wall of pudding selections at Ba Le, by Tara for TKGO.
Our first stop: Ba Le French Bakery (5018 N. Broadway St., 773-561-4424) for some banh mai sandwiches. Don’t be fooled by the name; it’s anything but French. I ordered the house special ($2.95), with ham, pork, cilantro, carrots and other assorted veggies, and maybe some headcheese. Though New York has thousands of better banh mai places in Chinatown alone (my fave is Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich’s house special, 369 Broome St.), but this one did the job! The bread isn’t great by French standards (according to Chenault, who spent five of the last nine months in Paris), but for a U.S. rendition, it’s top notch. The cilantro and veggies are fresh, and it’s not too heavy to finish in one sitting. Be sure to pick up some pudding! This was a definite highlight. We tried the mung bean and coconut milk, and the taro — both great, original flavors. The consistency is grainier than the creamy rice pudding we’re used to, but the effect is a dissolve-in-your-mouth sweetness.
Sandwiches, dumplings, and pudding are recommended — skip the rest, by Tara for TKGO.
Next, we headed to Viet Hoa (1051 W. Argyle, 773-334-1028) for affordable Asian groceries. Chenault and I picked up kimchi, udon noodles, fresh loose tea, lychee sodas, miso soup mixes, gummy candies and Durian fruit, and heavily debated getting a live crab before deciding storage may be a problem. The vegetables, especially the mushrooms and bok choy, are cheap and fresh.
Chenault, in front of the pastries at Chiu Quon, by Tara for TKGO.
Heading back to the car, we spotted an irresistibly decadent bakery with a line nearly out the door. Chiu Quon (1127 W. Argyle St., 773-907-8888) had some of the tastiest BBQ pork buns and custard buns I’ve ever had! Chenault picked up a sesame ball, which was equally warm with a crispy shell.
With bellies full of banh mai and arms full of groceries and pastries, we attempted for the third time to leave Viet Town and walked toward the car. But, of course, we met one final obstacle: Q Ideas (5100 N. Broadway, 773-989-8283), a bamboo garden you can take home. With our last dollar, we took home a tiny bamboo plant.
Chenault and I will be back — but with emptier bellies and far more cash.
–Tara for TKGO