Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lotus Cafe & Banh Mi Sandwiches

Location: 719 W. Maxwell St., Chicago, IL 60607
Lotus Cafe & Bánh Mì Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
Finally!  Lotus Cafe is one of the first Vietnamese restaurant to open near UIC or better yet, the south side of Chicago!  I have been waiting forever for a place to serve banh mis and THEY DO IT WELL!  The concept of Lotus Cafe is great... if you are hungry you can order one of the larger banh mi sandwiches, but if you are just looking for a small quick snack, they offer the recently-made-popular bao!  Each of the options pack a lot of flavor, especially with the pickled vegetable toppings, and best of all, for a good price!  It is hard to choose just one so enjoy mixing and matching and hope this blog entry helps you make the right decision!  By the way, the ladies that run the shop are extremely nice!

What We Ate:

Shrimp and Pork Eggroll

This egg roll is stuffed with chopped pork belly, minced shrimp, taro, sweet potato, vermicelli, and mushrooms.  It is then deep fried and served with a chili sweet and sour sauce.  Overall, the egg roll wasn't as crispy as I hoped and there was an overwhelming shrimp flavor.  I did like the textural difference created by the other ingredients inside.  I will say I had my order "to-go" so I can understand why the crispiness may have been lost.  I will definitely try it again at the restaurant or one of their other egg roll options.

Shrimp Spring Roll

This is another one of the "appetizers" that they offer.  Unfortunately, this was isn't as great as I was hoping.  Each of the rolls is stuffed with a couple of shrimps, romaine lettuce, vermicelli, and some cilantro.  The overall flavor is fresh and plain.  The sauce is a life saver because without this soy sauce-based sauce with spices, the dish would not be tasty.  I would skip out on this option if I were you.

Belly Classic Banh Mi

I love banh mi sandwiches, so I have definitely had my fair share throughout the city of Chicago.  I was happy to finally find a restaurant that serves a legit banh mi that wasn't located in the neighborhood of Argyle or in a market that is difficult to park.  Anyway, the sandwich had steamed pork belly, pate, headcheese, and pork roll.  It was topped like all their sandwiches with pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, cilantro and a thick slice of jalapeño. The bread was extremely soft except for the thin crispy crust which I thought was an amazing vessel for the banh mi.  The juices of the meats and pickled vegetables dripped out the end every bite I took.  For just under $6, the size was huge... I was pleasantly surprised and I know I will come back to try they other options.

Honey Grilled Pork Bao

This is one of their bao options that is the alternative to the banh mi.  The smaller rice flour bun (for less than $2) is filled with the same ingredients that would be in the traditional vietnamese sandwich.  This one in particular was filled with sliced pork shoulder cooked in a honey and lemongrass glaze.  It was served with they typical pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, cucumber, and of course the jalapeño pepper for some spice.  I thought the pork was a little sweet, so I added some sriracha sauce which gave it a nice kick.  The bread was fantastic!  It was soft and fluffy and also soaked up the natural juices really well.  I can't wait to try this one banh mi style.

Sunny-side Beef Bao

I had to try the beef bao mainly because it had a sunny-side up egg inside of it.  Unfortunately, this bao singlehandedly made me drop the rating of the restaurant because the meat was horribly tough.  I honestly couldn't bite a chunk of the meat off and had to chew vigorously for several minutes.  The flavors were there, but I couldn't look past how tough the beef was.  Also, the sunny-side up egg was actually cooked "over hard" so no yolk was running down the side... I was definitely disappointed.  I wouldn't suggest this sandwich to anyone until its changed, so I hope they find a better way to make the meat tender.

Ginger Chicken Bao

After the disappointing sunny-side beef option, I was happy to try another great bao or banh mi filler.  The chicken option is a steamed and shredded chicken cooked with a soy-ginger sauce and served in my case on the rice flour bun with the typical pickled vegetables and jalapeño.  You could definitely taste the ginger, which I really enjoyed, and this time the jalapeño added just enough heat to make the bao very enjoyable. If you are a little hesitant to try pork belly or some of the other more creative option, this is definitely the choice for you!  It is delicious!

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Do order a couple of the Baos if you intend for them to be a meal.  They are good sizes for the price but to be full you will probably need a couple.
- I liked to add the sweet and spicy sauce to my sandwiches.
- Do spread the word! It's a newer restaurant in by UIC and one I hope to be around for a while!

- Personally, I would stay away from the beef unless tough meat is something you enjoy.

How far would I walk for this food?

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