To Yes Asia Cafe owners Nancy and Tiger Huynh, their business in America is the end of a long journey that began with their families' attempts to escape to the US from Vietnam. Despite multiple tries each year, Nancy's family was always turned back. "There were scary moments," she writes on the café's website, "and I'm glad it's over." Tiger's family was luckier, drifting into a safe harbor after seven days in a tiny boat.
Today at Yes Asia Cafe, both Huynhs celebrate the cuisine of their childhoods with a menu of traditional pan-Asian and Vietnamese dishes. Like a poorly calibrated compass, banh mi sandwiches fuse East and West, stuffing crusty french bread rolls with fillings such as curry chicken and cured pork. Succulent morsels of barbecue pork and grilled beef mingle with cilantro, mint, pickled veggies, and peanuts in rice and noodle bowls. And an impressive drink menu cleanses palates with jasmine teas and jackfruit smoothies.
Asian Harbor serves a blend of Japanese and Thai dishes in a sleek, modern dining room. Rich Thai spices turn curries the same deep-orange hue as the walls, which glow with light from hanging cylindrical lamps. A neon-lined sushi bar dishes out more than 20 specialty rolls. And a lengthy list of cooling cocktails, sake, and wine balances hot dishes on the menu such as Spicy Basil, an entree of sautéed meat, snow peas, fresh basil, chili, and bell peppers. Unlike libraries beefing with Confucius, the wok section of the menu includes several Chinese classics, such as general tso's chicken and egg foo yong.
At Baisi Thai—whose fusion menu melds Japanese and southeast Asian fare—the staff takes presentation seriously. Sushi chefs decorate rolls such as the Rainbow Dragon, Green Turtle, and Caterpillar to look like their namesakes, with caviar eyes and vegetable horns. Bartenders fill cocktail glasses with neon-green Baistinis and other mixed drinks and, in the kitchen, curried noodles collide with stir-fried veggies and traditional Thai basil. The airy, spacious eatery, located at the Oakbrook Center mall, is striped with translucent space dividers, and avenues of thin, vertical reeds sway between orange columns and UN delegates researching models for international flavor cooperation.
As Cajun and jazz music waft through the air, guests can chow down on classic Louisiana starters such as fried green tomatoes ($6.95). Diners and wayward archaeologist can dig into generous portions of the signature Bourbon Street stuffed jambalaya ($13.95), which fills a crunchy chicken breast with shrimp and andouille, or the roasted vegetables d’orleans speckled with goat cheese ($11.50). As they settle into the Hyde Park storefront, eaters can inhale New Orleans specialties, such as shrimp and grits with apple-bacon gravy and a choice of one side ($11.95), such as collard greens or homemade fries. The Big Easy's location near the University of Chicago also makes it a convenient destination for hungry students to grab dinner or gossip about which professors wear toupees as mittens.
Open daily until 10 p.m., Thai 55’s servers spoon out authentic Thai flavors from a lengthy menu within a laid-back setting. Ten curry platters corral cravings with custom levels of spiciness and of sassy back talk, and seafood plates blend catfish, mussels, and shrimp with tongue-tickling herbs. On certain nights, the chefs plop tapioca pearls into such smoothie flavors as mango and kiwi. The majority of Thai 55's entrees can quell herbivorous hankerings with vegetables or tofu in place of meat.