Saigon Sisters

 

Ba Le

Chicago’s best Vietnamese for $20 or less

By Nicole Schnitzler


When cravings for pho and bánh mì strike, your first—and best—thought is no doubt Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, which is lined with dozens of authentic Vietnamese mainstays. But if a trip there seems unlikely, rest assured: We’ve pulled together some top choices for high-quality Vietnamese eats all over the city, from the traditional (hello, Pho 777) to the rethought (we’re looking at you, Saigon Sisters). No matter where you go, one thing is for sure: You can count on great food for $20 or less.

Experience a bánh mì legacy at Ba Le
If it’s bánh mì you’re after, head to this Second City staple, which opened it’s doors back in 1988. It’s the second location from founder Le Vo, who knows a thing or two about the Vietnamese specialty (which start at $4.25 here)—he began selling the sandwiches in Saigon in the 1950s during the country’s French colonization.

Opt for a menu full of pho at Pho Lily
The menu at this cozy corner venue covers all the bases, from papaya salad and bánh mì, to buns and hu tieu noodle soup. The selection continues with the restaurant’s namesake: Pho options are $8 or less and include everything from round steak and tripe to shredded chicken breast and meatballs.

Round the troops at Tank Noodle
It’s best to bring a group to this beloved Uptown hangout, which boasts more than 250 items, spanning the cuisine of Vietnam and China. The kitchen may be well known for its pho, but don’t stop there—items like sizzling crepes, squid salad, and duck vermicelli soup (all $16 or less) beckon for share plates.

Updated takes on traditional plates at Saigon Sisters
What began as a pho station in Chicago’s French Market in 2009 quickly evolved into two more locations from sisters Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen, along with their mother, Mama Suu. Expect modern, from-scratch takes on Vietnamese fare, such as BBQ eggplant with chile bean paste and pho spices ($13), and lamb burger bánh bao with mint and jalapeño jelly ($12).

Make it a mid-day excursion at Le Colonial
Dinner may get pricey at this French-Vietnamese Gold Coast eatery, but lunch isn’t entirely off the table—especially if you stick with starters. Seafood dumpling soup and bánh uot—grilled sesame beef in rice noodles—clocks in around $20, making it the perfect office escape.

An abundance of fairly priced pho at Pho 777
If you go strictly for the food, and don’t expect anything over the top, this no-frills venue won’t disappoint. Authentic plates like bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancakes), bún khô (cold noodles), and com tam (broken rice plates) round out a menu of nearly 150 options. But perhaps the best part? More than 20 variations of pho are on offer, all priced at $7 or less.

A French-Vietnamese fix on a time crunch at Banh Mi Baget
This fast-casual concept prides itself on nearly 10 versions of Vietnamese sandwiches (all at $6.55), starting with the classic—a fresh baked baguette filled with ham, pâté, cucumber, pickled carrots, and daikon. If a bánh mì craving comes on out of nowhere, fear not—five citywide locations, from Logan Square to Lakeview, have you covered.

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