Bon Bon – A Vegan Paradise
I will be the first to admit that Chicago seriously lacks good boba spots. There are restaurants here and there that will sell “bubble drinks” or beverages with tapioca in them, but there are few places that make them well. I personally take boba beverages more seriously than the average person[,] because I worked at a shop for nearly eight years when I was living in Las Vegas. So with all of that being said, when I found out there was a restaurant near me that served boba AND bánh mì sandwiches, I knew I had to check it out.
For those of you who don’t know what bánh mì is, you’re missing out. It means bread in Vietnamese and is traditionally made into a sandwich out of a French baguette. The baguette is thinner than the traditional French baguette and is generally made with rice flour as well as wheat flour. A traditional bánh mì is served on the baguette with pâté, jalapeño, mayonnaise, pickled carrots and cilantro. Nowadays restaurants are spicing things up and changing up the recipes while still keeping that original taste enjoyed by so many.
First impression of Bon Bon Sandwiches is that it is adorable. As soon as you walk inside you can tell it’s a small shop run perhaps by a family, because it has a cozy feeling to it. With its wooden chairs and tables and wall full of chips and treats, including delicious Hello Panda cookies and a selection of vegan cookies from Alternative Baking Co., you’re filled with a sense of nostalgia. To the left of the cash register is the full menu, which has more items than your belly can handle. Everything from shrimp Vietnamese spring rolls to shoyu ramen, there’s a little something for everyone. I do not recommend going into Bon Bon on an empty stomach. I wanted to try everything on the menu and everything sounded absolutely tasty to me. I knew I wanted a bubble tea, some version of bánh mì and maybe their veggie wings, but I was actually impressed with how much variety was on the menu of this little shop. Rice bowls, ramen, bánh mì, Korean chicken and veggie wings, the list goes on.
I finally decided on the shrimp Vietnamese spring rolls, vegan Korean wings, Thai coconut curry chicken bánh mì and a taro bubble tea with tapioca to wash it all down. I came in around 7 p.m. on a Saturday night and there were at least 5 parties waiting on their orders. I got a sense that they were backed up in the kitchen or maybe they were short-staffed, because the food took a while to come out. The first thing to come out was my blended taro smoothie with tapioca. If I’m being honest, it wasn’t the greatest. As I prefaced the article earlier, I’m a bit of a boba snob, so my standards are much higher than the average person. That being said, the taro smoothie tasted more powdery than, creamy, the tapicoca (boba) balls were clumped together, and some were hard with very little flavor to them. Usually boba’s sweetened with a brown sugar or honey to give it a little extra flavor to compliment the flavor of the beverage, but not this boba. As I sipped it while waiting for my food, I also noticed a huge ice chunk in the middle of my smoothie, not a little one, a huge chunk. Not impressed.
I took the food to go, because it was such a beautiful day out and I wanted to enjoy the outdoors on a picnic with my boyfriend and our pup. The first thing we ate was the shrimp Vietnamese spring rolls. First impression was that whoever rolled them was in a hurry. Part of one roll had noodles hanging out of it and the other side was smashed up. The package came with three huge rolls though and the other two were wrapped tightly, and they all tasted good. The fresh spring rolls are not deep-fried like the spring rolls you typically see in restaurants, but rather noodles, shrimp, lettuce and mint wrapped in fresh rice paper. The freshness of the rolls was amazing and the peanut dipping sauce was perfection. They also offer a tofu version for those who don’t eat meat.
Next up was the Thai coconut curry bánh mì. Again if I’m being honest here, the size of the sandwich was a little confusing. Whenever I’ve gotten bánh mìs in the past, they’ve been on huge baguettes – this bread, however, was maybe half the size I was expecting it to be. Then when we opened it the sauce of the coconut curry had soaked through the bread. This was a little disappointing considering the bread of a baguette is usually a little harder, so I don’t know how the sauce soaked all the way through. Despite this, the flavor of the actual sandwich was incredible. The creamy Thai coconut curry was creamy, flavorful and had just the right amount of spice with the jalapeños. Maybe if I had been able to re-toast the bread it would have been better, but it was still ok. The flavor was there, the bread was just not up to par.
Lastly, and most definitely not the least, the veggy wings. I had heard from a vegan pal of mine[,] that Bon Bon had incredible vegan chicken wings and I was curious and skeptical. I had never tried vegan wings before so I was curious as to what they consisted of. According to an employee, it’s a combination of soy flour and other vegan-based ingredients with a sugar cane inside to act as “the bone” holding the “meat” together. The outside is also a combination of spices and panko breading. My first bite had me confused because the texture is so similar to chicken that I thought it might be chicken, but there was a slight aftertaste that confirmed it wasn’t the real deal. Then I noticed the sugar cane and I thought that was such a smart idea to hold the wing together otherwise it [was] would become more of a boneless chicken nugget. The flavor was spicy and sweet and I enjoyed it very much. After the first couple bites I didn’t notice it wasn’t real chicken anymore and I found the wings very tasty. Probably my favorite selection of all the menu items I ordered.
Overall I thought that Bon Bon was very good. There are things I could have lived without, such as the soggy bread and the giant ice chunk in my smoothie, but I feel like that just attributes to the store being busy and not putting as much energy and attention into my meal as they should have. Not to excuse that, because I was a paying customer that deserves the best dining experience, but I’ll let it slide. I know that they aren’t usually this way as I’ve dined there a few other times and didn’t have the same experience. I would recommend this restaurant especially to any vegan/vegetarians out there who are looking for more creative food alternatives to fit into their veggie lifestyle. Try any of their many vegan options and you’re bound to find something you’ll like.
Bon Bon Sandwiches
2333 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647