Follow the aroma of anise-infused broth through Uptown to the corner of Broadway and Argyle Street and you'll find yourself immersed in the nexus of Little Saigon. Chicago's Vietnamese enclave is rife with heady, soulful fare indicative of Asian cuisine and culture, easily accessible off the Argyle Red Line stop or the Broadway bus.
Pho 777 (1065 W. Argyle St.)
While many come from near and far to fill their bellies at Tank Noodle, many Vietnamese expats and Uptown locals know that Pho 777 is the place to go for killer pho. The dining room radiates brothy aromatics, luring you in face-first to bowl after bowl of luscious soupy noodles, tender slivers of beef, vibrant herbs, and crunchy bean sprouts. When it comes to pho, it's all about the beef, and Pho 777 does a spot-on job with any number of beef cuts, from eye of round steak to brisket, tendon, flank, and meatballs.
Tank Noodle (4953 N. Broadway)
The quintessential foray into Little Saigon is Tank Noodle, the largest and most popular of the many Vietnamese eateries lining the Argyle strip. The spacious dining room is lined with large, circular tables just waiting to be stacked with deep bowls of pho, fresh spring rolls, and Hello Kitty-colored bubble teas. One offbeat item is from their small banh mi menu, wherein a loaf of crisp baguette is served with a bowl of beefy chili for dunking and devouring.
La Patisserie P (1052 W. Argyle St.)
For something sweet in Little Saigon, La Patisserie P can't be beat. This diminutive bakery peddles both Asian and American confections, but you're here for the former. Ogle the brightly colored, doughy, and glutenous chewy treats lining the pastry case and then plunge right in with red bean paste cakes, steamed rice cakes, taro-stuffed buns, and lots more. The shop also has a nice assortment of Filipino breads, such as ensaymada, a soft brioche laced with butter and sugar, and pan de coco, a rich bread filled with butter and coconut.
Ba Le (5014 N. Broadway)
Ba Le is one of Chicago's preeminent destinations for banh mi sandwiches, that French-Vietnamese mash-up of baguettes studded with herbs, chiles, vegetables, and meats. Few places do it better than this mod, stylish cafe, with its sprawling menu of carnivorous and vegetarian ‘wiches. Go for the pork-tastic banh mi special, a bracing medley of pâté, ham, headcheese, and pork roll, or try one of the tamer tofu sandwiches, sardine sandwiches, or pork-shrimp cake sandwiches. Ba La also boasts some impressive sweets, like brightly hued macarons, as well as a long cooler stocked with everything from salads and spring rolls to random Asian groceries.
Silver Seafood (4829 N. Broadway)
While you're off the path of Vietnamese cuisine, save room for standout Chinese food at Silver Seafood. This is the place to satisfy that insatiable need for Chinese comfort food, such as egg rolls, satay chicken, pot stickers, and chicken wings. But there's so much more to explore. Naturally, seafood is the way to go here, especially when the steamed crab is this stellar. The menu is so seafood-centric that it even devotes designated sections to items like abalone and sea cucumber. From snails and lobsters to conch and oysters, Silver Seafood does it all.
Thai Pastry & Restaurant (4925 N. Broadway)
It's not all Vietnamese food in Little Saigon. Thai Pastry is one of the better Thai restaurants in the area, offering a comfortable respite from the bustle of Argyle. The cozy nook has all the Thai standards, such as pad Thai and pad see iew, plus a particularly exemplary crispy noodle dish called golden noodles. Also, the drunken noodles are extraordinary, made with wide, toothsome, chewy noodles enrobed in gravy-like sauce and strewn with tofu and vegetables. But as the name suggests, the restaurant does a solid job with sweets as well, stocked in a pastry case by the front. They also make some of the best smoothies in the area, and they've got a rainbow of exotic ice creams in flavors as far flung as taro and red bean.
Photos: Pho 777, Tank Noodle, Ba Le, Thai Pastry