Western: The BYOB stop
The Western Blue Line is more than a fly-over stop between Damen and Logan Square.
At Damen, you might get puked on. At Logan, the best restaurants have a long wait. But those aren’t the only reasons to opt for the Western stop: On the border of Bucktown and Logan Square, this is a nexus of great BYOB restaurants. Directly underneath the El tracks lies Bill Kim’s Belly Shack (1912 N Western Ave, 773-252-1414). Is it as glitzy as bellyQ or as soulful as Urbanbelly, Kim’s two other restaurants? No. But it’s never as busy as those places, either, which means it’s the perfect place to warm up with a bowl of hot-and-sour soup or have a light dinner of shrimp-and-somen-noodle salad.
Follow the El tracks a block northwest to Chilapan (2459 W Armitage Ave, 773-697-4597), where fresh guacamole (made to order at whatever heat level you request) gets any meal off to a good start. Entrées, like the sizzling Volcano (chicken, steak or shrimp with Chihuahua cheese, onions and salsa) are basic and a little pricey but good for sharing. On the opposite side of the tracks lies Irazú (1865 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-252-5687). Throngs line the sidewalks outside this beachy Costa Rican spot in summer waiting for a table on the patio. Is it missing the point to eat at Irazú inside, in winter? Or is it actually genius, since everyone else forgets this place exists? We’re going with the latter, because you cannot beat (a) the extensive vegetarian options, (b) the prices (most sandwiches are $5 or less) and (c) the oatmeal shake—refreshing enough for summer, yet substantial enough for winter. Just across the street is Silom 12 (1846–48 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-489-1212). It’s not the most adventurous Thai restaurant in Chicago, but it puts out reliable renditions of dishes both familiar (panang noodles, laht nar) and surprising (tender fried pork shank).
A cluster of BYOB restaurants is nothing, however, without a great wine store nearby. The Western stop has not just any liquor store but Red & White Wines (1861 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-486-4769), one of the best wine shops in Chicago. The bottles aren’t cheap, but trust whatever the extremely knowledgeable staff (usually one of the owners) recommends and you’ll end up with something interesting, unique and well-suited to Costa Rican, Thai, Mexican or whatever food might be in store. If you can effectively cross a street, you’re set for the night.