One of the things my husband and I like best about living in Chicago is the diverse, multicultural culinary and culture options that abound across the city. Within the span of just a few miles, you can find amazing cultural institutions, unique retail stores, and of course, a seemingly never-ending flow of restaurants, bakeries and cafes.
It would be entirely possible, and completely pleasurable, to eat your way across the globe within a few blocks of most Chicago neighborhoods.That's why it still hurts just a little bit every time my older son requests a sandwich from Subway for lunch. And, it's exactly why we're slowly, but surely, opening our sons' eyes - and appetites - to the delicious array of global sandwiches that would trump a grilled cheese sandwich on six-inch whole wheat bread any day.
Here are a few of our current favorite global sandwich offerings we're exposing our sons to as we work to broaden their culinary horizons right here in Chicago.
Ba La / 5014 N. Broadway Ave.
Ba Le is known across the city for its delicious Bahn Mi sandwiches. The vietnamese sandwiches are filled with your choice of tofu, chicken, pork, beef and more, and perfected with the addition of pickled daikon and carrot, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. In my opinion, the key to a perfect Bahn Mi sandwich is the french bread - and the bread in Ba Le's sandwiches is the best.
My family typically goes to the Ba Le in the stretch of Chicago's Uptown neighborhood where Broadway Street intersects with Argyle Street, which also is known as "Little Saigon." Thanks to the increasing popularity of Ba Le and its number of loyal fans, you also can enjoy Bahn Mi sandwiches at its locations in Chinatown (2141 S. Archer Ave.) and the Loop (166 W. Washington St.).
Cafecito / 26 E. Congress Parkway
I was fortunate to try my first Cafecito pressed sandwich when my son was enrolled at the same school as one of the owner's children. At the time, the owner promised me the sandwich it would be delicious - and it sure was.
Cafecito offers a number of pressed sandwiches inspired by Latin America. You can choose from Chimichurri, Pollo Chipotle, Jamon, Tilapia Criolla and more. I recommend the Ropa Vieja, made with skirt steak, plantains, black beans, tomato and creole sauce - my first bite is what got me hooked on these savory sandwiches.
The original Cafecito location is on Congress Parkway near the Auditorium Theatre. Cafecito recently opened a second location at 7 N. Wells.
Duran European Sandwiches Cafe / 529 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Duran European Sandwiches Cafe opened its doors in Chicago back in February, and just recently started serving up tiny, Eastern European-style, open-faced sandwich offerings. The cafe currently offers more than 25 sandwich varieties, which range in price from $2.50 to $4. You can choose from sandwich selections such as Brie, Greek, Turkey Olive Tapenade and Mediterranean Tuna.
It is a fantastic place to take your family - even if you have a picky eater or two. The current sandwich selections for the day are easily visible behind a glass-faced shelf. My sons enjoyed checking out each one, asking questions about what each one had, and then making their own selections. We ended up sharing about nine of the sandwiches, and were amazed that our sons demanded that they try the ones with tuna, sardines and lots of veggies! It was great to expose them to European sandwich combinations and new foods all at the same time.
Falafill / 3202 N. Broadway St.
When my family traveled to Paris last summer, we enjoyed many al fresco lunches with falafel sandwiches in hand. While it is far from a quintessential Parisian meal, it truly is the thing to savor in the city's Marais district. So, of course, we've got a special place in our hearts (and stomachs) for a good falafel sandwich loaded with all of the traditional fixings.
To me, the key truly is in the "fixings," which can include hummus, roasted eggplant, picked beets, tahini, tabbouleh and more. That's why my family is drawn to Falafill, which offers you the choice of a falafel sandwich or plate - with the option to load it up high from their Mezza Bar. It's the sure-fire way to personalize your falafel sandwich so it's in complete synch with your culinary desires. And, it's an easy way to get your children to demand more and more veggies!
My family usually goes to the Lakeview location. But, you also can get your falafel fix at falafill locations in the Loop (72 E. Adams) and suburban Oak Park (1053 Lake St.).
Flip Crepes / Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton St.
To me, crepes truly are the key to a perfect meal. You can fill them with cheese, meat and vegetables to create a savory sensation. Or, if the mood strikes, you can select chocolate, nutella, fruit and sugar to make it a true dessert delight.
Flip Crepes offers you the best of both worlds - right from their stand at the Chicago French Market. My sons tend to lean towards the sweet side, choosing crepes laden with peanut butter and jelly or banana and sugar. Each time, it's sure to be a delight - good to the last bite taken and finger licked.
Irazu / 1685 N. Milwaukee Ave.
After I first published this post, my friend, Micky Baer, eagerly recommended the Costa Rican burrito (with fried plantains on the side) at Irazu. So, of course, my family ordered take-out food from Irazu that very same night! We sampled a few of their global sandwiches, including their Costa Rican sandwich with thinly sliced beef and their amazing salsa Lizano - and we loved it all. So, I am glad to add Irazu to this growing list of the best global sandwiches in Chicago, and I am grateful to Micky for the recommendation.
Nhu Lan's Bakery /2612 W. Lawrence Ave.
I can't deny it - my family loves Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. That's why they're on the list twice! We recently tried the bang mi sandwiches at Nhu Lan's Bakery in Lincoln Square - and we were so glad we did! Let's just say that if it was closer to where we live, we'd be there every day! Nhu Lan makes its bread right there onsite at the small bakery. You can taste the freshness of the bread as soon as you take a crispy bite of their banh mi sandwiches. You can choose from a list of 17 banh mi sandwich options. My personal favorite is the #11 - veggie ginger tofu.
When we ate at Nhu Lan, we grabbed one of the three tables there. From our vantage point, we saw a never-ending stream of people coming in to grab their Saturday lunches. And, for the most part, everyone walked away with a banh mi sandwich, a smoothie - and a smile.
It's been a few months now, and I'd like to say that the thought of a chain-restaurant sandwich never crosses our sons' minds, but that's far from true. I'm proud to say that we're making progress. And, we're having fun along the way, exposing ourselves to all of the best global sandwiches Chicago has to offer us - and everyone else who travels is diverse avenues each and every day.
So, as we continue to eat our way across the city, our list of favorite global sandwich offerings in Chicago will be sure to grow. Stay tuned for more updates on some of our top recommended sandwiches for you and your family to enjoy too.
What are your favorite global sandwiches in Chicago? What should my family check out next? Please share your recommendations in the comments below.
If you liked this post, you also should check out my one on global ice cream in Chicago.