Dining out in Budlong Woods
Dubbed Sin Strip after a deluge of seedy dive motels sprang up, the area where Ravenswood and Budlong Woods meet was once just a place for Highway 41 travelers to grab some shut-eye on the way to anywhere but here. These days, you’ll find quaint coffee shops, condo conversions and, most important, a bastion of global eats.
Start your walking expedition at 1 Kiko’s Market and Restaurant (5077 N Lincoln Ave, 773-271-7006), a carnivore’s dream. The butcher shop is the source for the restaurant’s divine sausages, which are tucked into housemade bread along with chubby ground-beef patties oozing with fresh, mild cheese. Grab extra for home before hitting the very discreet bar dubbed 2 The Café (5115 N Lincoln Ave, no phone). Behind the uninviting pitch-black window hides a fairly friendly café (by day) and bar (by night) staffed by shapely Bulgarian cuties who expertly turn out cappuccinos alongside classic martinis. Come weekends, the place turns into a hookah hideout with a live band banging out Eastern European folk music.
Just north lies a strip mall that sports a sign reading simply KOREAN RESTAURANT. The actual name is 3 Da Rae Jung (5220 N Lincoln Ave, 773-907-9155), and it’s a no-frills type of place, but the friendly fellow who hosts and waits tables provides excellent suggestions. Housemade kimchi is among the multitude of banchan dishes that arrive with most meals, and if you really dig it, you can grab some to go from the take-out cooler.
Truck farther north for the wildly popular, and very dank, 4 Hidden Cove (5336 N Lincoln Ave, 773-275-6711). This late-night karaoke joint is home to heavy-handed drinks and warbled crooning. To stave off some of that alcohol effect, fill up first at 5 Adobo Express (5343 N Lincoln Ave, 773-293-2362), a spot that pulls in younger Filipinos with free Wi-Fi and the sweet shaved ice concoction halo-halo (mix-mix). Signature dishes include whole catfish in coconut milk with braised mustard greens.
6 Cafe Utjeha (5350 N Lincoln Ave, 773-907-8853), a sparkly café showcasing ’80s glam decorations makes for a perfect pit stop for an espresso-loaded drink. Living up to its name (utjeha is Croatian for comfort), this Euro café offers an outdoor patio and overstuffed couches, usually occupied by quiet patrons working on their computers or watching the game on the suspended flat-screen TV.
If that scene isn’t lively enough for you, stop into 7 Pueblito Viejo (5429 N Lincoln Ave, 773-784-9135), a sprawling Colombian restaurant covered top to bottom in Christmas lights, fake flowers and dusty cowboy paraphernalia. The menu is rife with seafood (try the whole red snapper) and grilled meats, and once the sun dips and the night owls pop in, the place turns into a mojito-fueled dance party.
For those looking for a cheap lunch and a mostly male crowd, head to 8 Bel Ami (5530 N Lincoln Ave, 773-878-2808), an Eastern European hangout for David Beckham look-alikes. The Bosnian food is top-notch, particularly the meal-in-a-bowl bean soup. For about $5, you can fill up on a hugely satisfying soup and housemade bread combo with a nice fat latte to top it off.
Switch gears from Eastern Euro to Middle East at 9 Cedar Grill (5657 N Lincoln Ave, 773-506-2050), which may look like an abandoned storefront, but turns out incredibly fresh grub. Plump chicken kebabs accompany fluffy piles of rice, while traditional baba ghanoush and hummus get giant swirls of olive oil. Best of all, the prices are as cheap as they come.
The final duo to explore on this just-under-a-mile stretch is a spot known as Rumor’s Café and its neighbor 10 Tampopo Japanese Restaurant (5665-67 N Lincoln Ave, 773-561-2277). Stop into Tampopo for bargain sashimi and sushi before heading next door to Rumor’s, an off-the-grid bar perfect for a final nightcap. You’ll really get the royal treatment if you have the guts to grab the mike for a karaoke marathon with regulars who can belt out a Sinatra tune like nobody’s business.