Chicago is jam-packed with sandwiches of all sorts, from local sensations like the Italian beef to international staples and hybrids in between. In honor of August being National Sandwich Month, here's a roundup of some of the city's greatest sandwiches.
Nini's Deli (543 N. Noble St.)
One of the coolest sandwich counters in town can be found nestled on a quiet corner in Noble Square. Nini's Deli offers an array of Cuban-focused dishes, along with some Middle Eastern additions. It's a unique medley, to say the least, but it works surprisingly well. The burlier Cuban sandwiches are great, but my favorite is the Cuban PB&J, an indulgent and tropical refresh of the childhood favorite made with housemade guava jam, peanut butter and fried plantains. It's like an Elvis sandwich that went on vacation and got a tan.
Boeufhaus (1012 N. Western Ave.)
The best Reuben I've ever had in my life is the version served at Boeufhaus during lunch. The meaty Ukrainian Village newcomer serves as more of a fine steakhouse by night and a casual sandwich eatery by day. But the core carnivorous ethos stays the same all day long. Various meats lend themselves to sandwiches like boeuf on weck, cheesesteaks, and Italian sandwiches, but the Reuben is key. Heaped on doughy bread, the corned beef is succulent, fatty, and unabashedly salty, laden with tangy sauerkraut and 1,000 dressing.
Duran European Sandwiches (529 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
For a slice of something special in Chicago, head to Vienna via West Town. Duran European Sandwiches focuses on open-faced Viennese-inspired sandwiches in a stunning array of flavors and styles. Aesthetics, layering, textures and flavor balance are paramount here and dutifully tended to, as evidenced in the artistic sandwiches, twee little creations mixed and matched for a full meal. Flavors range from the Hungarian salam with French salad - Hungarian salam, spring garnish, cucumber, egg and green olive - to crab salad with puda spread, lettuce, tomato, egg, peppers, dill and Creole seasoning, and a plethora of both vegetable and meat-centric options in between.
Nhu Lan Bakery (2612 W. Lawrence Ave.)
The greatest example of cultural sandwich fusion is the banh mi, an exquisite combo of Vietnamese and French ingredients married in perfect, toasty harmony. From pâtés and pickled vegetables, the sky is the limit when it comes to banh mi innards, as long as they're sandwiched inside warm, crackly baguette. The template is best at Nhu Lan Bakery, a Lincoln Square sandwich shop that has perfected the formula. Of all the sandwich options, one of the perpetual standouts is the lemongrass tofu, a mildly spicy sandwich that does wonders with a surprisingly meaty tofu composition.
Borinquen Lounge (3811 N. Western Ave.)
One Chicago innovation that deserves acclaim on the same level as Italian beef and hot dogs is the mighty jibarito. Originated in Chicago's Puerto Rican communities, the sandwich subs fried plantains for bread, resulting in a decadent, crispy sandwich that necessitates about 100 napkins. Most jibaritos at this Roscoe Village lounge, one of the progenitors of Chicago's jibarito culture, are slathered in garlic oil and mayonnaise before layering on the various meats and vegetables.
Bari (1120 W. Grand Ave.)
Comfort food reaches an apex at Bari, a grocery store/deli counter rich with old-school Italian charm. And meatballs. Of all the Italian subs to emerge from the well-oiled sandwich counter, the hearty and soulful meatball sub is among the finest. It's the length of a forearm, filled with loosely packed meat morsels, and slathered in tangy marinara sauce, all held firm by a perfectly doughy roll.
Cemitas Puebla (3619 W. North Ave.)
One of the more under-the-radar sandwich sensations in terms of ethnic dishes is the cemita, a sort of jumbo torta filled with hefty meats served on sesame-laden rolls. The place to go is Cemitas Puebla, a concept that originated in Humboldt Park and opened bigger, more modern digs in Fulton Market. Most options at Cemitas are porky, notably the incredible milanesa made with breaded butterfly pork chop.
Leghorn Chicken (959 N. Western Ave.)
Sometimes you crave a fried chicken that doesn't come from a chain. In which case you'd be wise to visit Leghorn in Ukrainian Village, a fried chicken sandwich shop that flies in the face of corporate frivolity and thinly veiled disdain for minorities. Here, all are welcome to feast on sustainably sourced chicken, available either spicy or pickle-brined, breast or thigh, on biscuit or bun. Have it your way. The best part is you can feel good about eating it, because not only are the chickens sourced from small local farms, but two percent of proceeds are donated to gay rights organizations. There's a newer Leghorn location open in River North as well.
Nonna's (925 W. Randolph St.)
Old-school Italian haunts are good and all, but it's nice to raise the bar a little bit and give your comfort food cravings a makeover now and again. Nonna's does a nice job meeting those needs. The slick sandwich shop alongside Formento's in the West Loop offers a spiffed up interpretation of Italian sensations like eggplant Parm, meatball subs, and a particularly incredible chicken Parm. Be sure and chase your lunch with a blondie for dessert.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (1505 N. Milwaukee Ave. and 3404 N. Southport Ave.)
Not all sandwiches skew savory. When it comes time for dessert, there's nothing more summery than a good ol' ice cream sandwich. Especially when said sandwiches are made with giant macarons wedged around ice cream at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. The Ohio-based company now boasts two Chicago locations, each home to some of the prettiest and most satisfying ice cream sandwiches anywhere.