Vietnamese Dining Guide to Chicago's First "Shared Street"
The Argyle St. area of Uptown, home to the city’s largest Vietnamese population, just took a huge leap in becoming the city’s first “shared street,” which means the three-block neighborhood hub that runs from Broadway to N. Sheridan Rd. is now more like a plaza than a street. By raising the street to the same level as the sidewalk, implementing paved stones in place of asphalt, lowering the speed limit and enhancing the entire area with fresh landscaping, the district looks to breathe new life into the area and encourage passersby to branch out beyond the busier intersections. In light of Argyle’s evolution, it’s an apt time to revisit and explore the restaurants and markets that helped distinguish its identity in the first place and what’s going to make Chicago’s first “shared street” a success.
The most iconic restaurant in the neighborhood also has the most visible real estate. Situated at the corner of Broadway and Argyle on the Western terminus of the street, Tank is regularly regarded as the most famous Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago, renowned for its steaming bowls of pho that single-handedly make Chicago winters tolerable. In many ways, it serves as the launching point for many Argyle first-timers, which makes sense not only for its location but for its phone book-sized menu that affords a comprehensive glimpse into Vietnamese cooking. Rice flour rolls, squid salad, sizzling savory crepes, rice congee and banh mi sandwiches are all well and good, but you’re really here to focus on the pho, the aromatic noodle soup native to Vietnam lore. The best versions are the beefy ones, like the oxtail pho, the sliced beef pho with bible tripe and the flank pho. Each and every cut is rendered tender by simmering away in the aromatic broth, absorbing all those spicy, herbaceous notes. Accent your bowl as you please with customizable add-ons like bean sprouts, basil, cilantro and jalapeños.
Further east down the shared street, Pho 777 is more of a hole-in-the-wall than gargantuan Tank. Here you’ll find locals pouring over nourishing bowls of pho, like the insane bargain that is the Special 777, which contains eye of round steak, well done flanks, brisket, soft tendon, tripe and meatball. They also have non-beef options like tofu and barbecued pork, but with so many solid beef bowls to order, it’s certainly the way to go.
Don’t be shy about eating with your hands at Cafe Hoang, a prominent Argyle fixture that his since expanded with an outpost in Chinatown. Some of the best dishes here are ones that get you up close and personal with meatballs and shrimp. Case in point, the sensational DIY rice paper rolls served with grilled shrimp, beef, chicken, meatballs and additional accents like lettuce, cucumber and various basils. Wash it down with one of the drinks off the dizzying beverage menu, like preserved plum juice, young coconut juice or egg yolk blended with condensed milk and soda.
One of the snazzier dining options in the neighborhood is Hai Yen, a restaurant that sports an artsy and romantic dining room with traditional Vietnamese cuisine and even table-side cooking that allows guests to cook some of their own food. Unique appetizers include marinated beef and pork wrapped in Hawaiian leaves and Vietnamese-style calimari, and while pho, stir-fries and banh mi are all on hand, you’ll want to save room for heartier fare like the “shaken filet mignon,” a hearty portion of beef with red wine, butter and garlic served on a bed of watercress.
Argyle is also home to a couple excellent Vietnamese bakeries, which balance sweet baked goods with just as many savories. Chiu Quon is a longstanding bakery famed for their dim sum-style buns and pastries. These include bean paste buns, egg custard tarts, winter melon cakes and Chinese sausage buns, among numerous others. Keep an eye out for seasonal specials too, like lotus paste mooncakes in the fall.
La Patisserie P is another noteworthy spot, owned and operated by award-winning baker Peter Yuen. Here you’ll find an array of freshly baked breads inspired by numerous areas of Asia and Europe, including Filipino-style ensaymada and strawberry rhubarb brioche. The vibrant pastry cases are also stocked with copious goodies like croissants, Danishes, pork buns, red bean paste cakes, steamed rice cakes and lots more.