The Vegetable Option: Fresh Vietnamese Flavors At Lotus Cafe
Mushroom Lemongrass Banh Mi (Photo by Carrie Laski)
Healthy and authentic Vietnamese food with a modern twist is the focus at Lotus Café and Banh Mi in University Village. Owners Kim Dao and Dao Nguyen, both graduates of UIC, dreamed up Lotus Café when they noticed there was nothing in the area to satisfy their desire for the unique flavors of Vietnam. Since they opened in 2012 in a bright and airy storefront on the cobblestone portion of Maxwell Street, you, too, can get your fix of toasty banh mi sandwiches, fresh spring rolls, and fruit smoothies.
Vietnamese cuisine gets most of its flavor from fresh vegetables like cucumber and daikon radish as well as seasonings like lemongrass, ginger, and chilies. Banh mi sandwiches, traditionally the comfort food of Vietnam, are made from toasted French baguettes scooped out and filled with meat or fried eggs and crunchy vegetables. Lotus Café‘s banh mi sandwiches keep with that tradition while also offering options for vegan and vegetarian diners.
The Veggiecado (Photo by Carrie Laski)
One of the vegetarian picks, the Veggiecado, is loaded with golden fried tofu, slices of avocado, vermicelli, crisp carrots, daikon, cucumber, jalapenos, and house mayo (order without mayo to make it vegan). Another option is the Mushroom Lemongrass which features a sautéed mushroom, grilled onions, and fragrant lemongrass. Meat eaters can satisfy their appetites with offerings like pork belly, ginger chicken, and beef.
Spring rolls (Photo by Carrie Laski)
Make sure you complement your banh mi with an order of spring rolls, which are packed with your choice of fried tofu or steamed shrimp, crispy shallots, lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and daikon. All this is wrapped in delicate rice paper and served with a superb pineapple peanut dipping sauce. These spring rolls achieve the perfect balance of flavor and texture, and are great choices to start with or to satisfy those looking for a light, health-conscious meal. Top it off with a hot, sweet Vietnamese coffee or a smoothie in flavors like lychee, mango or avocado.
Free Wi-Fi is available at Lotus Café, and service is quick and friendly, making it a common lunch spot for UIC students and those living in the area. There is ample seating both indoors and out on the patio, but if you don’t have time to eat in, you can order online or via text message for pick-up or delivery.
Lotus Café is located at 719 W. Maxwell St.
By Carrie Laski