Dinner was banh mi from Nhu Lan. These are the best banh mi outside of Vietnam (and maybe even including Vietnam. I’ll have to go there to find out).
Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich served on French bread. The vegetarian options at Nhu Lan are ginger tofu, lemongrass tofu, and veggie classic (my favorite).
My husband wanted the ginger tofu:
And I got a veggie classic + a cantaloupe avocado bubble tea:
I’m not completely sure what is on the veggie classic, but like the other sandwiches, it includes slightly pickled cucumber, carrots, taro (I think), cilantro, and jalapeño. That is, if you say yes when the lady taking the order asks, “Jalapeño Everything?”
This restaurant is so delicious and so cheap. All the bread is made in-house, and it’s crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The vegetables are flavor packed, and the Vietnamese mayo is just right. Each sandwich is $3.50. The bubble teas are also $3.50 each.
It’s also super small- the ordering/eating/waiting area is approximately 8 feet by 12 feet. Yet there were 16 people there when I was ordering these sandwiches. The only downside is that there have been a couple of times when I wanted to go, but had to skip it because it was so packed, I couldn’t get in the door.
I love taking out-of-town guests there, especially ones who do not generally like trying new foods. Everyone who has gone has been impressed by the quality and taste of the sandwiches.
So next time you’re in Chicago, stop by Nhu Lan. Maybe I’ll see you there.
The Chicago Reader has a cover story this week entitled Eat Your Veggies. It is a guide to vegetarian dining in the city. They say that they consulted chefs, entrepreneurs, bloggers, dietitians, and artists (emphasis mine), but they didn’t check with me! My post from just four days ago highlights many of the same places. I shared the same opinion about Chicago Diner relying too heavily on faux-meat products and the same opinion that Nhu Lan banh mi sandwiches are one of the best foods in the city.
Reading this article, especially the section about favorite vegetarian meals at non-vegetarian restaurants made me realize that I prefer non-vegetarian restaurants to vegetarian ones. Non-vegetarian places create interesting flavor combinations without a meat center surrounded by sides. The vegetarian restaurants often borrow from meat-based dishes, replace the meat with tofu, or worse, processed soy proteins, and serve an uninspired meat knock-off dinner. That’s not to say that many of them aren’t delicious. They are, and there are other benefits to the vegetarian places. Mostly the abundance of options. Anything on the menu is an option for me! Ordering can be simpler at a non-veg place, though, because there I may only have one or two choices. Actually, when I tire of people asking me why I chose to be a vegetarian, I have taken to saying, “So that it’s easier to decide when I go out to eat.”
There are tons of reasons why I have eaten essentially no meat over the past 11 years. It’s not one single thing and it’s never a simple answer.
I remember listening to an npr interview with Grant Achatz, the head chef for the edgy, innovative restaurant Alinea. Unfortunately, I won’t eat at his restaurants, not only because I don’t have a spare $250 or so for my dinner, but also because the tasting menus are not vegetarian. But he said something that stuck with me which is that meat loses its flavor after chewing it for a short time. Once the juices are gone, you’re left with a hunk of unflavored texture. Vegetables, on the other hand, retain their flavor no matter how long you keep chewing on them. You could chew on a carrot for several minutes and still taste the carrot. Sounds like a good reason to me!