Kim Dao and Dao Nguyen may be the new kids on the block as owners of the newest restaurant on Maxwell Street in University Village, but they are not new to the neighborhood. They both graduated from UIC last year. Since graduation, they have been developing and perfecting the recipes for their newly opened restaurant, While studying Biology and Nutrition for Kim and Civil Engineering for Dao, they enjoyed watching the Food Network together and taking road trips to seek out the dishes they saw on television. The idea for their restaurant was born during that time, as they saw a need on the Near West Side for fast, healthy, fresh, and delicious food at affordable prices.
Today they are at the helm of a destination all their own. Lotus Cafe is a wonderful addition to the University Village neighborhood. Next time you are thinking of grabbing a quick lunch or dinner at Subway or Quizno’s on Halsted, think twice and go to Lotus Cafe and get yourself a Banh Mi sandwich. What is a Banh Mi sandwich you ask? From what I have learned since recently falling in love with these delightful sandwiches, is that the term Banh Mi refers to the torpedo roll traditionally made of both wheat and rice flour in Vietnam. These rolls remind me of Mexican Bolillo rolls and they are perfectly chewy and crusty – quite right for sandwiches. Kim, who is the mastermind behind the menu at Lotus cafe fills her Banh Mi with deliciously savory fillings and fresh slaw and bright green cilantro leaves. On a recent visit, my husband and I tried the Honey Grilled Pork and the Sunny Side Beef sandwich. Both were transcendent. My husband brought some Siracha sauce over to the table before our food arrived and I commented that we didn’t even need it, our sandwiches were perfect as is! Its hard to believe how much flavor and complexity one can pack into a seemingly simple sandwich and for only just over $5.
Lotus Cafe is a modern space and Dao was quick to point out that he and Kim designed every detail in it. I can’t really think of a better place for students and neighborhood residents to come to enjoy some of the best sandwiches I have had in recent memory. Their attention to detail carries over from the authentic and flavorful food based on Kim and Dao’s family recipes to the personal touch that can only be found at a locally owned establishment like this.