Food & Drink

Chicago’s 21 Best International Sandwiches

Published On 01/06/2016 Published On 01/06/2016
COURTESY OF MIKE MUSER

There's no better culinary canvas to display Chicago's world-class range of cuisines than the sandwich. Naturally, we lean toward the meatiest and cheesiest of bread-toppers, but we’re not limited to just carbo-loading on Italian beef sandwiches alone. We’ve culled 21 of the most craveable sandwich styles from around the world, found right here in Chicago, and sorted them by country/region.

COURTESY OF BARRA Ñ

Argentina: Choripán

What is it? The traditional Argentine choripán -- a combination of two words: chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread)-- is most recognized as a street food or appetizer. Often prepared with pork and flavored with pimento, smoked red peppers, garlic, and red wine, the chorizo is then split down the middle hot off the grill, and served on a roll similar to a French baguette. It's also customary to add sauces like chimichurri, a vinaigrette-style sauce with parsley, garlic, olive oil, red-wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes.
Where to get it: Barra Ñ (address and info)

Avondale
The Argentinian-style cocktail lounge/restaurant from the Tango Sur team has mojitos and pisco sours, dancing to live Latin music and DJs, and edibles like the choripán, prepared with homemade sausage and red onions on a crusty, crisp bread to soak up the meat juices and chimichurri sauce. Just keep an eye out for the ñ (pronounced EN-yay) sign on the industrial stretch of North Elston.

COURTESY OF YOU ME US NOW

Australia: Vegemite sandwich

What is it? Embraced by many Aussies since birth, Vegemite sandwiches are as ubiquitous as American peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The dark brown food paste produced from leftover brewer's yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives is commonly spread thinly on buttered toast and sandwiches. A fingerful of B vitamin-packed Vegemite can be described as a meaty, salty punch in the face. Needless to say, it's an acquired taste.
Where to get it: Scofflaw (address and info)

Logan Square
You probably won't find the salty, malty, beefy paste spread on sandwiches too often in US restaurants, but Scofflaw recently prepared a version of a Vegemite sandwich. New chef Sue Litz, who'd just taken over for Mickey Neely, created a cheese toastie with Vegemite, tomato, avocado, and caramelized onion on sourdough. Since it's off the menu now, let Hugh Jackman be your guide on how to really eat the stuff.

COURTESY OF TASTE OF BRASIL

Brazil: Picanha sandwich

What is it? Eating Brazil’s most prized cut of beef, "picanha," gets even better when served with caramelized onions and an ungodly amount of melted mozzarella cheese on lightly toasted French bread.
Where to get it: Taste of Brasil (address and info)

Oak Park
Tucked away on Oak Park Ave, this humble restaurant dishes up authentic Brazilian food and it's BYOB. Here you'll find the mighty picanha sandwich, which is piled high with well-seasoned, relatively thin-sliced tender steak, and is then smothered in caramelized onions and loaded in melty mozzarella goodness on a warm French roll.

China: Smoked pork scallion pancake

What is it? A deep-fried, flat flour shelled pancake that looks more like a thin pizza, but becomes a giant flatbread sandwich when cut open and filled with roasted or smoked pork (or Peking duck) and scallions.
Where to get it: Pot Sticker House (address and info)

Bridgeport
This no-frills Chinese spot in Bridgeport serves dumplings and traditional fare, plus less-familiar dishes. The chefs open up the delicate, crispy scallion pancakes and stuff the pockets with thinly sliced pork, then add plum sauce and onions for incredible flatbread sandwiches.

COURTESY OF IRAZU COSTA RICAN RESTAURANT

Costa Rica: Pepito sandwich

What is it? A Costa Rican classic with ribeye steak or chicken, sautéed onions, beans, melted cheese, and Lizano sauce on French bread.
Where to get it: Irazú (address and info)

Bucktown
Billed a "Chicago favorite," this Costa Rican joint's pepito is bursting with flavor. The mouth-watering sandwich boasts ribeye steak (or chicken), sautéed onions, seasoned black beans, and gooey Muenster cheese between slabs of freshly baked French bread -- all topped with Lizano sauce, a traditional brown sauce made from vegetables and spices. Add hot peppers or avocado for an extra 50 cents each (and you should) and pair it with plantains and an oatmeal shake for an exceptional outdoor patio experience.

90 Miles Cuban Cafe

Cuba: Cubano

What is it? A classic Cuban sandwich combining roasted pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, yellow mustard, and bookended by griddled bread.
Where to get it: 90 Miles Cuban Cafe (address and info)

Logan Square (& other locations)
This restaurant's Cuban mainstay features pork shoulder that's been marinated and roasted in-house (you'll even find them roasting pigs outside the Logan Square store in the summer). Then they pile on the slow-roasted ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard between hearty slices of a buttered baguette, marrying the flavors together as it's smashed in a panini press.

COURTESY OF BISTRO CHAMPAGNE

France: Croque monsieur

What is it? Originating as a quick snack in French cafés and bars, the baked or fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich can be prepared a few ways. It's usually made with slightly sugared Brioche-like bread pieces, or normal butter bread with a soft crust, and topped with grated cheese and béchamel sauce. The entire sandwich is baked in the oven, pan-fried, or grilled in a specialized horizontal grill, so the top of the cheese melts over the bread's edges.
Where to get it: Bistro Campagne (address and info)

Lincoln Square
This neighborhood bistro prepares the iconic Parisian "snack," which is really more of a feast loaded with French ham and oozing, rich Gruyère cheese, for mimosa-filled brunches and romantic dinners. The quaint garden patio with hanging lights is the perfect setting to get your French fix.

KAILLEY LINDMAN/THRILLIST

Germany: Chicken schnitzel sandwich

What is it? Popular in Germany, as well as the Czech Republic and Austria, schnitzel is a thin meat cutlet of pork, veal, or chicken, breaded and fried. The best schnitzel sandwich, or schnitzelwich, starts with fresh schnitzel that's hot, golden brown, and crisp all over. Then it's prime for stacking between soft bread, where caramelized onions, tomato, cheese, mayo, red pepper spreads, etc., can be added.
Where to get it: Bohemian House (address and info)

River North
If there's such a thing as a refined schnitzel sandwich, this River North spot has it for a heavy-hitting lunch or boozy brunch. BoHo's colossal, open-faced version features pork schnitzel loaded on rye bread with horseradish cream, sauerkraut, Emmentaler cheese, and, of course, a fried egg… because, why not?

MIKE GEBERT/THRILLIST

Greece: Gyro

What is it? Juicy, seasoned meat cooked on a slow-turning, vertical rotisserie is shaved off and served in a fluffy pita or sandwich with fresh-cut tomato and onions, and drizzled with creamy tzatziki.
Where to get it: Central Gyros (address and info)

Belmont Cragin
Some of the best gyros in the city come from Greektown, but you'll find authentic spots to get your spindle-meat fix in other 'hoods. Choose from two options for a sandwich at this old-school gyro destination -- either a beef/lamb combo or chicken -- and you'll be rewarded with garlic meatiness.

COURTESY OF SHERI WHITKO

India: Chicken tikka paratha wrap

What is it? Soft, flaky paratha makes an ideal vessel for a variety of flavorful, slow-cooked Indian ingredients.
Where to get it: Bombay Wraps (address and info)

The Loop (& other locations)
This eatery (with two base locations and a roaming food truck) makes a range of classic Indian dishes portable via a traditional flatbread wrap. Take your grilled chicken breast marinated in Tandoori spices and finished with a fresh cilantro mint chutney and tikka masala sauce to go.

COURTESY OF ANJALI PINTO

Italy: Italian dip lampredotto

What is it? Historically a cheap, high-protein workingman's sandwich, the staple street food in Florence is a tripe-lover's dream. The sandwich requires abomasum tripe (the fourth and final portion of the cow's stomach, said to resemble the lamprey eels once abundant in the Arno River) to be slow-cooked with tomato, onion, parsley, and celery. Once it's texturized like tender roast beef, it's tucked into a crusty bun that's been dipped in the broth and topped with green parsley sauce and hot sauce.
Where to get it: Nonna’s Sandwiches and Sundries (address and info)

West Loop
While it's not on Nonna's menu permanently, you'll find the Florentine lampredotto occasionally as a special. Chef Tony Quartaro's lampredotto sandwich entails braised tripe, a bone marrow and mint salsa verde, red pepper condiment, hard-boiled egg slices, and beef jus on toasted, crusty ciabatta bread.

COURTESY OF MIKE MUSER

Mexico: Cemita

What is it? Traditional sandwiches hailing from Puebla, Mexico, cemitas come with a different bun and toppings than the typical Mexican torta. The sesame-topped egg bread sandwich usually has a milanesa, or breaded veal cutlet, with jalapeños, chipotle peppers, red chile sauce, sliced avocado, onion, and queso blanco.
Where to get it: Cemitas Puebla (address and info)

Logan Square, West Loop
There are numerous variations, but Tony Anteliz, the owner of this family-owned sandwich shop, has experimented with the cemita. He even frequently visits Oaxaca to buy Mexican-made cheese and other goods for the quality back home. His Cemita Atomica is piled high with three meats -- Krakus ham, guajillo-rubbed pork loin, and breaded pork milanesa -- along with avocado, smoky chipotles, and Oaxacan string cheese.

COURTESY OF SHADI RAMLI

Middle East: Falafel sandwich

What is it? There are different theories about the origin of falafel being tucked into warm pitas. Popular all over the Middle East (and now much of the rest of the world), the pocketed deep-fried chickpea balls are piled with cucumber, tomato, and lettuce, and dripping with tahini.
Where to get it: Sultan's Market (address and info)

Lincoln Park, Wicker Park
This fast-casual joint with mostly vegetarian eats transforms the humble chickpea for its signature dish -- the falafel sandwich is one of the best in the city. Served in a warm pita lined with hummus and stuffed with falafel, tomatoes, and Jerusalem salad topped with creamy tahini and made as spicy as you'd like, the huge portions make it a steal. This is guaranteed to be your go-to falafel spot.

NICOLE BRUCE/THRILLIST

Poland: Zapiekanka

What is it? Popular street food in the larger cities of Poland, the open-faced sandwich (pronounced zah-peeyeh-KAHN-kah), is basically Polish pizza. Variations are endless, but zapiekanki (plural) are sliced baguettes layered with sautéed mushrooms, melted cheese, corn... and ketchup and mayo. Some are Hawaiian-style with pineapple or Greek-style with olives and feta cheese.
Where to get it: Tasty Polish Food (address and info)

Belmont Central
This Polish street food snack shop just off Belmont on Central serves up a number of Polish treats we'd consider the makings of essential post-bar food. Classic and vegetarian versions of the zapiekanka on fresh bread are up for grabs.

TITUS RUSCITTI

Puerto Rico: Jibarito

What is it? Inspired by a Puerto Rican dish, Juan "Pete" Figueroa invented the jibarito (pronounced hee-bah-ree-to) in 1996 at his Humboldt Park restaurant, Borinquen. The Chicago-created sandwich swaps out bread for two planks of crisply fried, flattened green plantains, holding grilled steak (pork or chicken), lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and melted cheese in between.
Where to get it: La Bomba (address and info)

Logan Square
While a number of Latin American eateries have picked up the jibarito for their menus since its inception, this popular Logan Square spot features the textbook version with thin, crispy plantains strong enough to hold everything together.

COURTESY OF JOHN E. BURKOWSKI

Spain: Bocadillo

What is it? Ingredients can run the gamut from omelettes to cold cuts to sweets like chocolate, depending on the region of Spain, for this simple sandwich served on a crusty barra de pan (baguette).
Where to get it: Emilio’s Tapas (address and info)

Streeterville
The Emilio's Tapas eatery Downtown offers a selection of deliciosos bocadillos for lunch: bocadillo de pollo y chorizo (grilled chicken breast and Spanish sausage with avocado, red onion arugula, and cumin mayonnaise), bocadillo de cebón (grilled steak with cabrales cheese and cava vinaigrette), and bocadillo de pescado (grilled fish with fresh basil, red onion, and tomato).

Sweden: Toast Skagen

What is it? Named after a fishing port in the northernmost tip of Denmark, toast Skagen was created by a Swedish restaurateur. The exquisite combination of prawns in a mayonnaise base topped with sprigs of dill and sometimes whitefish roe on a small piece of sautéed bread is popular as a starter at Swedish dinner parties and restaurants.
Where to get it: Tre Kronor (address and info)

Albany Park
This neighborhood Swedish restaurant offers the real taste and experience of Scandinavia, including its open-faced toast Skagen with an Arctic shrimp salad of the day on brioche.

COURTESY OF ZIZI’S CAFE

Turkey: Döner kebab sandwich

What is it? The döner kebab (translation: "rotating roast") is vertically roasted meat (typically lamb, but also beef or chicken), sliced into thin, crisp shavings, and wrapped in lavash bread or pita with other fillings like tomato, onion with sumac, pickled cucumber, and chili.
Where to get it: Zizi’s Cafe (address and info)

Lakeview
Thanks to German-Turkish immigrants conceptualizing döner as a sandwich, it's now quite possibly the most popular post-bar street food all over Europe. But you don't have to go Eurotripping to get the melt-in-your-mouth meat. This Turkish restaurant dishes up arguably the best classic Turkish food in the city on house-baked bread.

COURTESY OF CAFECITO

Uruguay: Chivito

What is it? This Uruguayan specialty starts with filet mignon, which is usually topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, mayo, olives, bacon, ham, and eggs on a crusty bun. Occasionally, there are other add-ons like beets, fried red peppers, sliced cucumbers, or peas.
Where to get it: Cafecito (address and info)

The Loop, South Loop
While the cafe is most known for its variety of lunchtime staple Cuban sandwiches, you'll also find the Uruguayan chivito here. The steak is marinated in a signature mojo for at least 24 hours before it's loaded onto the sandwich... before the Virginia ham, bacon, fried egg, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, onion, and citrus mayo are piled onto the French bread.

COURTESY OF MICHAEL BYRNE PALUMBO

Venezuela: Arepa rellena

What is it? Prominent in both Venezuelan and Colombian culture, the various sized flatbreads made of ground maize dough are split to house a wide variety of ingredients, including shredded beef and cheese; chicken, avocado, and mayonnaise; and perico (often containing scrambled eggs, peppers, tomatoes, annatto, and onions).

Where to get it: La Cocinita (address and info)
Food truck
The food truck enterprise from New Orleans peddles Venezuelan cornmeal patties packed with juicy meats and cheese among its other Latin American street fare offerings. Build your own arepa rellena by picking a protein like braised pork and a zesty sauce like guasacaca (Venezuelan guacamole). Check its website calendar for its weekly location before you go.

NICOLE BRUCE/THRILLIST

Vietnam: Bánh mì

What is it? The French-Vietnamese fusion of crusty bread with fillings like pork belly or lemongrass tofu, crisp cucumber spears, pickled daikon, carrots, jalapeños, and cilantro found in Vietnamese bakeries is largely a byproduct of French colonialism. The single-serving baguette is usually more airy than its Western counterpart because of a thinner crust.
Where to get it: Nhu Lan Bakery (address and info)

Lincoln Square, Uptown
By now, bánh mì is pretty much a go-to workday meal in larger American cities, and Chicago is no exception. With some of the best bánh mì hands down, this authentic bakery remains a pioneer in our fair city's Vietnamese sandwich hype. Its fresh-baked bread, accompanied by your choice of meat or tofu, pickled vegetables, jalapeños, and lots of cilantro, will have you taking advantage of the buy five, get one free special. And don't forget the Vietnamese coffee.

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Nicole Bruce is a contributing writer for Thrillist. She travels the world one sandwich at a time. Find her on Twitter at @nicoleabruce.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Barra Ñ 2977 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Barra Ñ is a loungey restaurant and bar serving up classic Argentinian fare. We recommend getting something with meat, although vegetarians are welcome too.

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2. Scofflaw 3201 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

This classy bar in Logan Square will make a gin lover out of even the most gin-averse of clientele. It's one of Chicago's top cocktail bars because it proves that the versatility of gin extends far beyond the usual G&T and because it's outfitted with antique sofas that are palatial AND comfortable. Scofflaw also serves a menu of better-than-basic small bites, and the kitchen is open until 1am daily.

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3. Taste of Brasil 906 S Oak Park Ave, Oak Park, IL 60304

Tucked away on Oak Park Ave, this modest restaurant serves traditional Brazilian cuisine like feijoada (black bean stew with smoked pork and sausage), moqueca de peixe (fish stew), and bobó de camarão (shrimp in cassava puree). BYOB.

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4. Pot Sticker House - Traditional Mandarin Cuisine 3139 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608

Specializing in dumplings, Potsticker House is of the rare self-aware variety. They divide up their menu by American Chinese and Authentic Chinese so that the choice is up to you. The menus separate commonplace from unusual ingredients, and draw a clear line between manageable and mouths-a'blazing spiciness.

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5. Irazu 1865 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Bucktown)

Irazu has a blend of surprises and reliable standards that make it a solid place to stop for eats. Dishing out mouth-watering pepito sandwiches (ribeye steak or chicken), a unique oatmeal shake (surprise!), and a number of delicious empanadas and burritos, this Bucktown Costa Rican spot is perfect for any occasion.

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6. 90 Miles Cuban Cafe 3101 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Logan Square)

Open since 2009, the original Roscoe Village location of this local mini-chain serves some of the best Cuban food around in a funky quick-serve space (the other two outposts are full-service). 90 Miles serves an all-day menu of classic Cuban combo plates and sandwiches, including a stellar daily sandwich and fries deal. The restaurant is more of a roadside shack, and though there are only a few seats inside, there's an outdoor patio with plenty of umbrella-shaded tables. Oh, and it's BYOB.

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7. Bistro Campagne 4518 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Lincoln Square)

Get your French fix at Bistro Campagne. Check it out with a date for a romantic dinner, or go for the mimosa-fueled brunch menu. Pick from crepes filled with caramelized brandied oranges, duck confit over potato hash, and brioche French toast with peach compote. As you'd expect, they keep the champagne flowing but there's also a Bistro Bloody Mary with Bordelaise sauce to be had.

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8. Bohemian House 11 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

This River North spot is an ode to Bohemian culture in all its manifestations, with rustic-meets-glam décor and eclectic fare that’s rooted in Central Europe. The menu, created and executed by Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos, features small plates like salt and vinegar chips and knackwurst in a blanket, large plates like spatzel and skirt steak, and unforgettable sweets like caramelized plum kolacky and an inventive take on coffee and donuts with hazelnut brittle.

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9. Central Gyros 3127 N Central Ave, Chicago, IL 60641

Central Gyros in Cragin is the spot to go for delicious gyros that are big on flavor without being TOO big on size. Whether you're getting a platter or a sandwich, Central Gyros won't disappoint.

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10. Bombay Wraps 122 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60606

One of two locations, plus a food truck, Bombay Wraps serves up simple and delicious Indian food, in wrap form.

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11. Nonna's Sandwiches and Sundries 925 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Formento's grab-and-go adjacent counterpart serves casual Italian-American dishes like a hearty signature meatball sub. The made-to-order sandwich features gargantuan, house-made meatballs covered in marinara, mozzarella, and giardiniera nestled inside a crusty baguette.

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12. Cemitas Puebla 817 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

This family-owned, West Loop Mexican spot prides itself on specializing in Poblano foods, and being "the only restaurant in Chicago that serves the Cemita sandwich." Owner Tony Anteliz frequently visits Oxaca for authentic Mexican cheese and other goods. He crafts the sandwich with Krakus ham, guajillo-rubbed pork loin, and breaded pork milanesa, all topped with avocado, smoky chipotles, and Oaxacan string cheese. The joint's salsas and chipotles (made in-house) are not to be missed.

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13. Sultan's Market 2057 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Wicker Park)

Sultan's Market is the best on-the-go spot for falafel, babaganuj, curry basmati rice, and anything else Middle Eastern/Mediterranean. It's not too expensive, and you can BYOB. Score!

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14. Tasty Polish Food 3104 N Central Ave, Chicago, IL 60634

This is one Polish restaurant that doesn't pine for the nostalgia of traditional Polish food, and we all know that people in Poland are eating cheeseburgers and Turkish doner kebabs like everyone else in Europe. This is one place that welcomes the 21st century reality, and the doner plate is a real mindbender, grilled chicken and French fries under red cabbage, topped with something like tzatziki and something else like Thousand Island. Sure, it's a total mess, but so are other late night eats, and it’s got all the elements to be the next great one on our list.

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15. La Bomba 3221 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

This Puerto Rican food cart also has a brick-and-mortar on Armitage, which you should definitely stop by so you can try the signature steak jibarito ((pronounced hee-bah-ree-to), which has two thin planks of flattened and fried green plantains in lieu of bread, which are still strong enough to hold all the grilled steak, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and melted cheese you can handle.

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16. Emilio's Tapas - Sol y Nieve 215 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

Emilio's Tapas - Sol y Nieve is the more upscale location of Emilio's two Chicago restaurants. Get all your tapas cravings here with traditional items like patatas bravas, tortilla Española, empanadas and of course paella.

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17. Tre Kronor 3258 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Serving up authentic Scandinavian fare, Tre Kronor offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, so really, you never have to leave.

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18. Zizi's Cafe 2825 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

This Turkish restaurant with an eager-to-please owner is one of the hidden gems of Lakeview, not otherwise a dining standout of the city. It offers well executed versions of classic Middle Eastern dishes (hummus, falafel, chicken. and beef shawarma), but what lifts it all up a notch is the terrific house-baked bread.

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19. Cafecito 7 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60602 (Loop)

If you’re craving a taste of Cuba, look no further than Cafecito. This coffee and sandwich shop brings a bit of authentic Latin flair to The Loop, providing fresh, affordable eats like their award-winning Cubano and the fan favorite Chivito, a protein pick-me-up of steak, ham, bacon, fried egg, mozzarella, citrus mayo, and other fixings, served hot in a pressed hero. Whether you’re grabbing grub on your lunch break or swinging through for your daily café con leche, this casual spot has your commuting cravings covered.

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20. La Cocinita 5801 S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637 (Hyde Park)

Originally started in New Orleans, this food truck entreprise traffics in highly delicious, customizable Mexican street fare. Build your own meal out of tacos, arepas and burrito bowls, pick a protein and a zesty sauce, and you're set. The truck's location changes weekly, so be sure to check their website before you go.

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21. Nhu Lan Bakery 2612 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Lincoln Square)

This Vietnamese bakery churns out solid bánh mì options with all the fixings that make it a welcome departure from the standard lunchtime sub. The BBQ pork sandwich with crisp cucumber spears, sweet pickled daikon, shaved carrots, jalapeños, and fresh cilantro in a crusty baguette is a stand-out special. It's not always easy to find a table in either of their tiny, storefront locations if you're dining in, but it's well worth the wait.

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