Savory sandwiches for under $5

I love a good juicy beef, sweet and hot, from Johnnie's in Elmwood Park But I also appreciate a cubano, a sub and a bahn mi.

Chicago is home to so many good ethnic sandwich options. Most of which will fill you up for less than five bucks.

The key to any good sandwich is, of course, the bread. Obviously, what you put between the slices is important, but clearly, the bread serves as both the base and the topping.

Consider the Italian sub. At places like Bari in West Town, the Italian loaves are sturdy enough to sop up the homemade giardinere, but also a mound of meats and cheeses.

Then there's the cubano. This Havana gem is popping up all over town lately. And at joints like El Cubanito in West Logan Square, they start with flatter loaves that can withstand external heat. Inside, it's layers of mustard, pickles, boiled ham and Swiss cheese along with slices of roasted pork. But then the sandwich is subjected to a flat panini press, which melts the cheese and also crisps up the outer shell, making a killer grilled sandwich.

On the city's far North Side, one of the best sandwiches can be found at the legendary Ba Le Bakery, in the heart of Uptown. They're called bahn mi, and they combine Vietnamese-influenced ingredients with traditional French bread.

"We have about 10 different kind of bahn mi, our most popular ones are the ba le pate, original sandwich," said Tim Nguyen, Ba Le Bakery.

The Ba Le original begins with that crusty French loaf, split in two; mayo goes on side, pate is slathered on the other; head cheese, ham and steamed pork are generously piled on, then some crunchy pickled shards of daikon radish, as well as raw onions, sliced jalapenos and fresh cilantro. A squirt of soy sauce gives it a salty jolt.

Other popular versions included a shredded chicken or even a barbequed pork. But in each case, sandwich symmetry comes in the form of pickled daikon, spicy jalapeno and herbal cilantro. Soy, or even fish sauce adds that final note of saltiness. With all those ingredients wrapped up in a warm, dense, crusty package it's easy to see why they sell so many.

I would also add the Mexican tortas at Bombon Cafe near the United Center and the killer meatball sandwiches at the original Fontano's, near Little Italy.

Bari Foods
1120 W. Grand Ave.

El Cubanito
2555 N. Pulaski Rd.

Ba Le Bakery
5018 N. Broadway

Also mentioned:

Bombon Cafe
38 S. Ashland Ave.

1058 W. Polk St.

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