Little Saigon: An afternoon exploring Chicago’s Vietnamese neighborhood with your family

Chicago’s Little Saigon neighborhood is ripe with Vietnamese restaurants, bakeries, stores and markets. It’s centered around the bustling intersection of Broadway and Argyle Streets – where you’re greeted by the “Asia on Argyle” sign that graces the exterior of the Argyle St. Red line “L” station.

AST1Within a three-block radius, you can enjoy a banh mi sandwich, slurp beef pho, buy steamed buns, and pick up all the necessary fixings for a Vietnamese dish to make at home. Its manageable size, central location and easy (but not free) parking options, make Little Saigon a great neighborhood to visit as part of an afternoon urban outing with your family.

Here are my top suggestions for where to eat, drink and shop in Chicago’s Little Saigon neighborhood:

1. Eat a meal:                                                               
Whenever I’m in the mood for pho, I usually head to Little Siagon, with my sights set on Tank Noodle Restaurant (4953-55 N. Broadway St.) or Pho 777 (1065 W. photo 4Argyle St.). Both restaurants are known for their steaming hot bowls of pho (pronounced “fuh”) that come heaped with beef, chicken, noodles and/or vegetables. Since pho often comes with the spice served up on the side, it’s easy to make sure it’s “just right” for any picky eater – young or old!

Both restaurants also offer a selection bahn mi sandwiches, rice and noodle dishes, and other kid-pleasing options.

2. Grab a sandwich:
Jenny Yang, owner of Phoenix Bean, introduced me to Ba Le (5014 N. Broadway St.) just over a year ago – and I’m so glad she did. I now count the Vietnamese sandwich shop’s Vegetarian banh mi sandwich as one of my very favorite sandwiches in all of Chicago.

photo-41Ba Le’s banh mi sandwiches are made to order and come with picked daikon and carrot, onion, cilantro and fresh jalapeno and are served on fresh, perfectly crusty French baguette bread. For my sons, we usually order the BBQ pork – without any of the fixings.

I still follow Jenny’s advice and order the Vegetarian banh mi with extra tofu, with my own twist too – extra jalapenos!

No trip to Ba Le is complete without a selection of their macarons. They always have a wide variety of macarons readily tempting us from behind a glass case.

Ba Le is a fast-casual-style restaurant, and it’s typically easy for us to grab a bench or stool at a counter or one of the restaurant's handful of tables.

3. Get a treat:
photo 2
When we’re not stuffed with macarons, we usually head to Kho Bo (4945 B N. Broadway St.) to choose one of their many candy selections. The small store, which also offers a selection of rental videos at the back, offers everything from chocolate to beef jerky.

My sons love to buy a small package of chocolate rocks, which yes, look just like rocks, but are completly edible. You can even choose from several varieties of “rocks” – river, sparkle, natural and exploding!photo 3

Just around the corner on Argyle St. is Chi Quon Bakery (1127 W. Argyle St.). The bakery, whose original location is the oldest bakery in Chinatown, offers a huge selection of baked and steamed buns, dim sum, pastries, cakes and more.

I always pick up a few bean paste buns, which I am always so glad to share with my sons.

4. Take a sip:
Boba Teahouse opened in Little Saigon at 1024 W. Argyle St. at the start of this year. The teahouse, which offers a full Vietnamese food menu, but the main draw for me and my family is its extensive drink menu. You can choose from more than 150 teas, smoothies, and other beverages.

My sons always like to order a mango smoothie or hot green milk tea – both with tapioca beads and much-needed wide straws.

5. Shop for groceries:
photo 1
If you’re looking to stock up on all of the items needed for a Vietnamese-inspired meal, you don’t have to look any further than Tai Nam Market (4925 N. Broadway). The store, which has its own busy, often packed parking lot, is crammed with produce, meat, seafood, noodles, sauces, and more.

For fresh tofu, I always head just a few blocks north to Phoenix Bean (5438 N. Broadway St.). The 30-year-old tofu factory uses more than 1,000 pounds of soybeans each day to produce a wide variety of soy milk and tofu products.Jenny-Yang-Phoenix-Bean

You can stop into the retail store in the front to pick up fresh tofu, soybean noodles, bean sprouts, and soy milk. There, Phoenix Bean also sells its spicy tofu, which is just delicious - and something my sons like to eat as well.

The owner, Jenny Yang, also sells her tofu products are local markets and grocery stores – and to Chicago-area restaurants. Yes, it’s her tofu that you’ll get with your Vegetarian banh mi sandwich at nearby Ba Le.

Travel tips:

You can head by car, bus, “L” or Divvy bus to Chicago’s Little Saigon. Here are tips for traveling via each mode of transportation:

1. By car
photo 2
Little Siagon is easily accessible via car. The closes main intersection is Lawrence and Broadway Streets. The neighborhood is just over a mile west of Lake Shore Drive.

There is ample free and metered parking on neighborhood streets. When my family drives there, we usually park at a metered space on Broadway or try to get a free space on one of the surrounding east-west streets.

There also are parking lots for select stores and restaurants, which are often rather crowded - as to be expected.

2. By bus
You can access Little Saigon via the 36 Broadway bus and the 81 Lawrence bus.

Bus schedule and route information is available on the CTA website. You also can use the CTA’s myTransit app via your smartphone.

3. By “L”
You can easily travel to Little Saigon via the Red line “L” train. The Argyle Street stop lets you off right in the heart of the neighborhood.photo 5

“L” train schedule and route information is available on the CTA website. You also can use the CTA’s myTransit app via your smartphone.

4. By Divvy bikes
With Little Saigon situated close to the lakefront bike paths, families with older rides can choose to use Divvy bikes as another easy way to travel there. A Divvy bike station is located right near the intersection of Broadway and Argyle Streets.

You can find out more about using the bike service, on the Divvy website.

What are your favorite places to eat, drink, and shop in Chicago’s Little Saigon neighborhood? Please share your favorites in the comments below.

Want to visit other Chicago ethnic neighborhoods with your family? Then be sure to check out my other posts on the top, family- friendly spots in Andersonville, Greektown, Little Italy and Pilsen:

Andersonville (Swedish neighborhood)
Greektown (Greek neighborhood)
- Little Italy (Italian neighborhood)
Pilsen  (Mexican neighborhood)

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