Editor's Note: In this great city of ours, one could eat a different sandwich every day of the year--so that's what we'll do. Here's A Sandwich a Day, our daily look at sandwiches around Chicago. Got a sandwich we should check out? Let us know. --The Mgmt.
Walking into Nhu' Lan Bakery is like being ushered into someone's eat-in kitchen, albeit one outfitted with reach-in refrigerators and LCD screen menus. The small storefront only has two tables, and if you come at lunch, there can be a line out the door. Luckily, the employees work with production-line speed, taking orders, wrapping sandwiches, and suggesting one of the many types of shrink-wrapped Vietnamese spring rolls and Vietnamese sodas. But the atmosphere is somehow homey and never rushed. Everyone waits with patient anticipation for their bánh mì. It's one of the more dignified lunch rushes I've ever been a part of.
I generally stick to the lemongrass tofu or grilled pork bánh mìs when I make it up to Nhu' Lan, but this time I decided to go with the namesake: the Nhu' Lan Special ($3.50). The best bánh mìs are all about contrasts, and this one is right on point. The warm baguette is the perfect foil to the chilled ham, headcheese, pâté, and pork rolls that make up the meat of the sandwich. The pickled carrots and daikon are enlivened by the fresh cilantro. The cool cucumber and spicy jalapeño cut the rich, creamy pâté. But the best part of this sandwich? The insane amount of black pepper that sneaks in right at the end of every bite. It gets me every time.
Honestly, the only thing the sandwich would benefit from would be a little more of the Vietnamese mayo that they smear on the baguette. Most of the other bánh mìs I've had at Nhu' Lan have a saucier filling, which helps to harmoniously bind all the contrasting flavors together. But I'll bet if I ask for extra mayo next time, the staff will be more than happy to oblige.