Follow along on a winding journey through one of Chicago’s most diverse dining neighborhoods where banh mi and mooncakes flourish beside Oaxacan cuisine
Pleasing a crowd can be a tall order. Every palate has different inclinations — some err on the savory, salty side of the flavor equation, while others harbor a serious sweet tooth. With a little time and pounding of the pavement, a hungry group can have it all in Uptown, one of Chicago’s most distinctive and diverse dining neighborhoods.
There’s no serious conversation to be had about the area around Argyle and Broadway without addressing its large, influential Vietnamese American community. The swath of the city is best known for a plethora of popular Asian restaurants including Pho 777 and decorated Hong Kong-style barbecue spot Sun Wah BBQ, and one easily could spend many afternoons exploring these neighborhood fixtures.
Alongside these strongholds, however, urban explorers will also find compelling options that don’t fall under that umbrella, including a Oaxacan culinary specialist and a virtual deep-dish phenomenon that has put down roots after a pandemic debut. Join Eater Chicago on a winding, leisurely afternoon jaunt for toothsome banh mi, delectable Mexican delicacies, standout deep-dish pizza, and more.
Ba Le Sandwiches
5014 N. Broadway Street
It’s a good idea to set a baseline for any midday dining adventure, and longtime banh mi favorite Ba Le provides a convenient meeting place and starting point for such an endeavor. Founded in 1988 by chef Le Vo, who opened restaurants in Chicago and San Jose after decades of cooking in his native Vietnam, it’s a chilly retreat from the steamy sidewalk laden with coolers of colorful jellies, delicate macarons, and a long lineup of sandwich options. It’s fun to order several varieties of banh mi to split with pals, but for a reliable hit, there’s always the “special,” a Saigon-style combination of pate, ham, headcheese, and pork roll on a crisp baguette loaded with pickled daikon and carrot, onion, cilantro, and jalapeno.
Tai Nam Food Market
4925 N. Broadway Street
Next, it’s time for a short walk to Tai Nam Market, one of several Asian grocery stores in the area that doesn’t always garner the same attention as its competitors. Tucked around the corner from Broadway, the store is simple but far from spartan — rather, it’s packed to bursting with colorful bags of packaged snacks, dewy displays of fresh produce, and shelves lined with jars of nearly every size, shape, and color. It’s a prime opportunity to snag Lays’ lightly sweet boat noodle-flavored potato chips that emit a pleasing Thai basil aroma when you crack open the bag.
Chiu Quon Bakery Uptown
1127 W. Argyle Street
Uptown’s Chiu Quon Bakery, which operates under different ownership than the famed Chinese bakery of the same name in Chinatown, manages to squeeze thrilling variety into a tiny storefront. Fluffy coconut buns, golden balls of fried taro coated in sesame seeds, and voluminous steamed egg custard bao provide all the decor that’s needed, flanked by wall-to-wall towers of white pastry boxes. Even on a sweaty day, glistening mooncakes filled with lotus paste make for a delicious, not-too-sweet bite.
5004 N. Sheridan Road
Several hours into a crawl can be a tricky period when it’s hard to access how much more food one can actually eat. Those who forge ahead will be richly rewarded at Ki-Gol-Lanee, a Bib Gourmand-winning homage to Santa María Quiegolani, the Oaxacan hometown of co-owners María and Reynel Mendoza and María’s husband, Léonides Ramos. The casual vibe belies a team that is serious about hospitality. Their dedication is apparent in the deceptively simple quesadilla de huitlacoche, wrapped in a hand-pressed blue corn tortilla.
Milly’s Pizza in the Pan
1005 W. Argyle Street
Ending a day of dining with deep-dish pizza is a bold move. A trip through Uptown, however, wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Milly’s, chef Robert Maleski’s pandemic mega-hit that opened a sleek storefront in 2022. The pies remain so popular that patrons need to pre-order (even when dining in). Ambitious groups that plan ahead will find some of the city’s most sought-after pizzas to be a formidable finale.
Don’t miss the Argyle Night Market
Every Thursday through the end of August, Uptown food crawlers will also find themselves in the middle of the Argyle Night Market. Now a decade-old institution, the miniature street festival features food from vendors and neighborhood restaurants, along with musical and cultural performances. Temperate summer evenings in Chicago are fleeting, as locals well know, so wise diners should seize the moment for a curbside snack amid throngs of neighborhood locals and visitors.