Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi from Nhu Lan Bakery in Chicago

"The tofu...looks and texturally feels almost like the tender ribeye on a Philly cheesesteak."


[Photograph: Michael Nagrant]

I've finally found a reason to stop making fun of vegetarians and to become one myself: lemongrass tofu banh mi at Nhu Lan, in Lincoln Square. I know people who are crazy banh mi freaks, who consider the Vietnamese sandwich their desert island or death row meal. I am not one of those people.

In fact I probably wouldn't have stopped at Nhu Lan, but after getting through a laundry list of chores and shopping, I found myself in Lincoln Square with my two-year-old screaming for lunch and my own low blood sugar about to do me in. I turned to the iPhone and the old trusty LTHforum.com, Chicago's best online food community, for advice.

My buddy Gary Wiviott was raving about the sandwich. Wiviott is certainly an equal opportunity eater, but he is also one of Chicago's barbecue kings, co-author of the excellent barbecue method cookbook Low and Slow BBQ. The man likes meat like Ellen DeGeneres loves to dance. If he lauds tofu over pork, you should listen.

The tofu on the Nhu Lan veggie sandwich is marinated and shaped so it looks and texturally feels almost like the tender ribeye on a Philly cheesesteak. It's juicy like a good steak and the lemongrass perfume roils up in your nostrils and tickles your brain.

The sandwich is topped with a balanced sweet, spicy citrus-infused garden of julienned daikon, carrot, jalapeno, and cilantro. All of this is nestled inside a flaky French roll with a chewy interior crumb that's so warm, you could use it as a torpedo shaped body warmer if you were stranded outside during a frigid Chicago winter. Of course, I didn't entirely listen to Wiviott and I also got the pork belly, headcheese, and pate bahn mi (at $3 a sandwich, how could I not) too, but it wasn't nearly as good.

Nhu Lan Bakery

2612 W. Lawrence, Chicago IL 60625 (map) 773-878-9898