-Grubbing in Chicago
Regional Vietnamese on Argyle
Vietnamese remains one of the worlds most underrated cuisines. While it is getting it’s due more and more than ever before it’s still relatively under the radar of many. It’s not hard to find a Vietnamese restaurant as long as you’re not in the middle of nowhere but it’s a little harder to find spots where the menu features more than the usual's like Banh Mi and Pho. If you go over to Argyle street there’s seemingly endless options for both of those but much less options for dishes like Bun Cha or Banh Cuon. Neither of those dishes are un-findable but most of the restaurants don’t serve them among an army of other popular dishes from the booming Southeast Asian nation. But I’m always on the lookout for the spots that are doing a little more than the usual stuff and today's post is one of those places.
Danang Kitchen opened a few years ago on Argyle towards the eastern end closer to Sheridan than Broadway. It's arrival was around the time that a handful of new school Southeast Asian restaurants were opening in an area that was for the most part filled with places that had been there for awhile. The type of places where the menus are worn down and Instagram is unheard of. Danang Kitchen is a family run joint like most of the restaurants in the neighborhood but there’s a younger part of the family that has the business on social media and such. They also do special pop-up dinners which in one instance featured one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes - Cha Ca Va Long - a turmeric fish dish with roots in Hanoi. You’ll find regional options on the every day menu too. Mi Quang Noodles are the house specialty and are what first got me to stop in. Mi Quang is a popular dish in Central Vietnam and cities like Danang and also Hoi An, the latter is where I first tried it. The main ingredients are rice noodles, meat, herbs and it’s most commonly served with a small amount of broth infused with turmeric. At Danang Kitchen the Mi Quang comes with wide rice noodles sitting in a puddle of turmeric based broth with pork belly, shrimp and quail eggs served up with a roasted rice cracker and Asian greens. It’s a delicious rendition and my favorite version of the few I’ve come across in Chicagoland.
There’s two Banh Mi options on the menu here and they’re both made with pork. One is labeled as grilled pork (Banh Mi Thit Nuong) and the other is just called "pork". It’s baked until tender and tossed in a sticky and tangy sauce that seeps into in a fresh, extra crisp French roll alongside some cucumber, house pickled carrots with daikon, basil, and mayo. It’s one of the best Banh Mi in the neighborhood and one of the city’s best sandwiches you can find for around $6. But it’s not that big so I suggest getting one as an appetizer or two to make it a complete meal.
Pay attention to the daily specials board hanging over the cash register inside (they also update their Instagram at times). Bang Bang Chicken was listed on a recent visit and if not for my friend asking our young waiter what that was I would likely still be unfamiliar with this dish that I had just assumed was similar to Bang Bang Shrimp (a popular dish at corporate type spots). But as I learned from the waiters description Bang Bang Chicken or Xoi Man as it’s called in Vietnam starts with a big pile of sticky rice that’s topped with shredded chicken, Viet jerky, crispy onions, sliced omelet, and a semi funky fish sauce plus cilantro. You mix it all up and dig in and that we did. One of the best things I’ve ate of late. The type of dish that still has me thinking about it now and then weeks after I ate it so I can only hope it’s still on the menu the next time I stop by. But either way I can count on whatever they’re doing to be different than most of the other spots on the block and for that I’m a fan.
1019 W Argyle St
Chicago, IL 60640