For Northwestern students craving Vietnamese classics like crusty bánh mì sandwiches and steaming bowls of phở, look no further than Nha Hang Viet Nam.
Okay, I’m not going to beat around the bush. This Vietnamese family restaurant is a 40-minute CTA ride away from campus, all the way out in Uptown, in Chicago’s “Little Saigon”. It’s located just two blocks away from the Argyle CTA stop at the corner of Argyle and Kenmore, and will serve you lunch for less than $5. And while you’re at it, why not get dinner to go?
The restaurant, owned by an elderly Vietnamese couple, seats about 25. Multicolor stringed lights add festivity to the dark green walls, which are decorated with pictures of landscapes and waterfalls. The mom-and-pop-shop vibe makes you feel like a friend, not a customer; these people will treat you like they just want to serve you good food.
Take a few minutes to digest the hundreds of items offered on their menu. A note at the top of the page encourages you to ask the kitchen to personally customize your order. The employees fire orders in rapid Vietnamese to each other, and deliver your food in five minutes, tops.
One quintessential element of an authentic Asian restaurant is the sauce and condiment station, usually complete with a large container of chopsticks and a stack of those Asian soup spoons (you know the ones). This restaurant offers a comprehensive selection of chili sauce, fish sauce, sriracha and hoisin, all of which could take your meal to the next level.
The bánh mì averages out at $3.50. The one I ordered came layered with pork cake, pâté, cilantro stalks, jalapeño slices, parsley leaves and cucumber matchsticks. The portion size is a bit meager, but the sandwich still leaves you satisfied. The bread tastes the way it’s supposed to be, crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Eat it immediately for maximum texture and crunch, but if you take it to go, it still tastes pretty good a few hours later.
The phở is above average, and you can normally grab a bowl for around $7 or $8. I got decent portions of flavorful broth, soft noodles and tender and chewy beef, with a side of fresh mung beans, Thai basil and slices of lime.
Avoid the bánh xèo ($9). This Vietnamese “sizzling pancake”, tinged bright yellow with turmeric, does not taste impressive. Layered with chopped shrimp, mung beans and green onion and served with a side of basil and sliced cucumber, it got soggy with grease quickly and started to fall apart on the plate.
I also had their Cà phê sữa đá, or the Vietnamese iced coffee ($3), which is simply espresso, condensed milk and ice mixed together. The rich and intense flavors gave it a bittersweet kick, but for the price and scanty serving size, I’d rather spend my money on a sandwich.
I’ve visited on a Wednesday afternoon with my journalism class, and on a Friday afternoon with Christina. Both times, we had no issues being seated or receiving our food promptly.
When I went with Christina, the elderly Vietnamese man even brought us free vanilla ice cream with peanuts, a sweet gesture to end the meal.
All in all, Nha Hang Viet Nam is just one of many Vietnamese restaurants in Uptown worth visiting, but out of the few that I’ve stopped at, I believe Nha Hang is worthy of your consideration. As I continue to explore what else Argyle has to offer, I’ll keep you all updated.
1032 W Argyle St
Chicago, IL 60640