Food & Drink listings | 2012 Student Guide
Andy’s Frozen Custard Start any question at this frozen-custard shop with “How is the…?” and the super-perky counterperson will choose from the word bank of “soooo good” and “amaaaazing.” What’s a frozen-custard newbie to do? The James Brownie Funkie Jackhammer: It’s frozen custard blended with peanut butter, cradling a black hole of hot fudge, and it makes a DQ Blizzard look like Pinkberry. Need something more classic? Go for the Ozark Turtle, where the custard is topped with buttery roasted pecans and submerged in a pool of that hot fudge and caramel. 719 Church St, Evanston (847-864-8009, eatandys.com). Sun–Thu 11am–11:30pm. Fri, Sat 11am–midnight. Average cup: $4.
Cross Rhodes To say that you get more than you pay for at this dinerish Greek joint is an obscene understatement. It’s not just that the portions are huge (the $9 gyros platter is piled with 14 ounces of meat)—it’s that the food is well-spiced and fresh. In other words, it’s a refreshing change from most Greek spots. And refreshing for vegetarians, too, with its meat-free versions of rich moussaka and pastitsio. 913 Chicago Ave, Evanston (847-475-4475, crossrhodes.biz). Lunch (Mon–Sat), dinner. Average main course: $9.
Edzo’s Burger Shop Uncommonly thick Nutella shakes, fries with truffle salt—where does the low-brow end and high-end begin at Eddie Lakin’s burger shop? The answer is that it’s intertwined, because the most crucial, highfalutin things Lakin does—grinding his own meat and hand-cutting the potatoes for his fries—pervade almost every dish. The burgers actually taste beefy, and the fries are textbook examples in frying. So while we’re happy Lakin took those surly, greasy Vienna shops as his inspiration, we’re equally stoked he chose not to follow their practices. 1571 Sherman Ave, Evanston (847-864-3396, edzos.com). Lunch (closed Mon). Average main course: $7.
Fraîche The Noyes Purple Line stop mostly services Northwestern students, and those local frat boys have been holding out on us with this tiny, blue-toned brunch café. With a seasonal menu featuring dishes like frittatas and gazpacho, the biscuity scones, fist-sized rhubarb cupcakes and electric-yellow lemon bars could alone keep the place in business. Thankfully, the owners dreamed bigger. Not just with the jaw-breaking whoopie pies—vanilla buttercream oozing between chewy, crumbly chocolate cookies—but with a comforting menu built from local ingredients. It’s the little touches—a smear of salty olive tapenade on the caprese sandwich; apple butter sweetening up the carved ham and cheese—that have us considering getting that post-grad degree. 815 Noyes St, Evanston (847-475-5467, fraicheevanston.com). Breakfast, lunch. Average sandwich: $9.
Joy Yee’s Noodles The Joy Yee mini empire took root in Evanston back in 1993 and continues to pack in everyone from students to local office stiffs who loosen up with platter-size portions of pan-Asian food. The menu’s a bit less adventurous here than at the Chinatown outpost, but we still stop in for mussels with black-bean sauce, garlicky chicken with string beans and gargantuan bowls of udon-noodle soup. And it wouldn’t seem right to leave without a pastel-colored bubble tea from the spot that claims to have introduced it to Chicagoland. 521 Davis St, Evanston (847-733-1900, joyyee.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Lulu’s Northwestern kids know a thing or two, right? So we figured that since they pack this highly designed dim sum/noodle house nightly, we should get over our pan-Asian suspicions and try it out. The dim sum’s not really dim sum (dishes are too big and too expensive), but some items, like the moist bao (buns) (essentially char siu pork doughnuts) and the one-dimensional but tasty sesame noodles, make good appetizers. The toothsome Mongolian pork stir fry is sweet but not cloying, spicy but not hot. But forget about the blah salads and desserts—we’d have preferred a fortune cookie instead. 804 Davis St, Evanston (847-869-4343, lulusdimsum.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.50.
Red Mango The Korean fro-yo chain (which opened its first store in 2002 and claims to have been the inspiration for its rival Pinkberry) picked Evanston as its Chicagoland testing ground, then opened in Naperville right after, and is finally in the city proper. What’s all the fuss? It’s wonderful stuff, with a true yogurt tang and clean, refreshing sweetness. And best of all: the texture, smooth as silk, but not scary-slick like DQ soft-serve. 809 Davis St, Evanston (847-866-0998, redmangousa.com). Sun–Thu 11am–10pm; Fri, Sat 11am–11pm. Average frozen yogurt: $5.
Wiener and Still Champion Even though this Evanston stalwart has been going strong for more than 35 years on the strength of its “Dippin’ Dog,” an ownership change in 2005 showed that the Champ still has some tricks up his sleeve. If bacon isn’t enough to whet your appetite for salt and fat, get it served up in country-fried bites—or try the pickle chips and gyros, also lovingly deep-fried. And while the hand-cut fries are fantastic naked, the ever-changing lineup of dipping sauces (choices like miso mayo, spicy olive and tomato basil feta will give you some idea of what’s in store) will leave no doubt in your mind that this humble hot-dog joint still reigns large. 802 Dempster St, Evanston (847-869-0100, wienerandstillchampion.com). Lunch, dinner (Mon–Sat). Average main course: $7.
FAR NORTH SIDE
Chimney Cake Island The name of this Rogers Park bakery is far from a smoke signal. In fact, it refers to thin, slightly chewy coils of joy; Chimney cakes are a Transylvanian treat baked on a stick (hence the cylindrical shape). The cakes come plain, dusted in cinnamon and rolled in coconut or sunflower seeds, but the version slathered with Nutella and coated with walnuts is about as decadent, and delicious, as it gets. Get your cake to go, or hang out in the mod café and enjoy it with a Lavazza coffee. 1445 W Devon Ave (773-856-0919, chimneycakeisland.com). Tue–Fri 10am–7pm; Sat, Sun 10am–5pm. Average baked good: $5.
La Unica Wind through the aisles of this “food mart” to the rear corner and you’ll find a dozen tables, a friendly counterman and a wall lined with brightly colored signs touting house specialties. (Grab an English menu from the counter if your Spanish is weak.) The Cuban sandwich is the best in town; pork-filled tamales, crunchy bacalao (salt cod), the roasted pork dinner with yellow rice, and garlicky greens and caramelized sweet plantains are all must-haves, too. Top off the meal with a round of the perfectly rich and slightly sweet café con leche. 1515 W Devon Ave (773-274-7788). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.
Mysore Woodlands Come hungry to this South Indian vegetarian spot, where portion sizes are enormous. Start with rasam, a spicy cilantro-and-tamarind soup that’s hotter than a Bikram-yoga session (a few bites of rasa vada—lentil doughnuts with an array of chutneys—temper the heat). Delicious breads—including poori (think fluffy and fried) and a fantastically crispy dosai rice cake—complement the coconut chutney and various curries of the Royal Thali sampler. 2548 W Devon Ave (773-338-8160). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Uru-Swati Not sure what to order at this Devon stalwart? Try the potatoes with mustard seed and cumin, perfect for the crispy, two-foot long paper dosa; order it “masala” and get a smear of tangy chutney. Then try the Swati samosa chaat, a smashed potato pocket drenched in silky yogurt, tamarind chutney and subtly spicy “salsa.” Not sold on those dishes? Order anything and you’re bound to get fresh, flavorful, meat-free eats for a good price. 2629 W Devon Ave (773-262-5280, uru-swati.net). Lunch, dinner (closed Tue). Average main course: $6.
Ba Le When the French controlled Vietnam, baguettes crossed cultures, and one of the finest results of this is the banh mi sandwich. They’re plentiful in this area, but this bakery creates most of the bread restaurants use, so go try the source, a cute and colorful counter-service spot with stimulation galore. Jump in line for the barbecue pork or the Ba Le special, which piles housemade pâté, headcheese and pork onto a baguette with tangy carrot and daikon slivers, cilantro and jalapeño. Grab a coconut custard (served in an actual coconut!) for an interesting ending. 5014 N Broadway (773-561-4424, balesandwich.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average sandwich: $3.
bopNgrill Korean-American mash-ups are certainly nothing new, but this sparse Rogers Park spot manages to execute its concoctions with enough pizzazz to have to you reconsidering fusion as a whole. Sure, straight-shooters can do well with “bop plates” like traditional Korean-style barbecue chicken, but we prefer the loosely packed burgers topped with an oozing fried egg, funky kimchi and a squirt of gochujang (fermented chili paste). Surprisingly, the cream of the crop is a side: piping hot french fries drowned in a creamy mess of cheddar, bacon and kimchi. Yeah, we know, others do it, too—but bopNgrill does it best. 6604 N Sheridan Rd (773-654-3224, bngrill.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
Chava This coffeehouse could probably survive on drinks alone—the coffee is smooth and rich (and that’s not even the stuff from the Clover brewer), and teas are served with ceremony. Beyond that, seasonal menu items like a beet salad can hang with the best in the city, and house-roasted meats are turned into inspired sandwiches like lamb-and-polenta with mint chimichurri and portobello mushroom with thyme-infused cheese. Plenty of coffeehouses call themselves cafés—this place actually backs up that claim. 4656 N Clark St (773-942-6763, chavacafe.com). Mon–Fri 6:30am–9:30pm; Sat, Sun 7:30am–9:30pm. Average coffee drink: $3.50.
Sun Wah Bar-B-Q Restaurant This no-frills joint tempts passersby with lacquer-skinned roast ducks hanging by their necks in the steamed-up window. The menu is expansive but inexpensive: The Pei Par BBQ duck and the Hong Kong–style barbecued pig are sublime in their simplicity, savory and slick with fat. Chinese broccoli arrives jade-green and crisp, and the beef chow fun comes out charred and tasting of the properly smoking wok. Even the egg rolls are notable, dotted with bits of barbecued pork. Our advice? Order lots and eat the leftovers at home. 5039 N Broadway (773-769-1254, sunwahbbq.com). Lunch, dinner (closed Thu). Average main course: $10.
Aroy Thai Take one step inside this Thai gem hiding under the Brown Line tracks and you’re hit with a massive full-color poster provided by the chowhounds of LTHForum endorsing the authentic eats lurking on the “Classics” menu. Once available solely in Thai, these dishes are now offered in English as well. You’ll find the sour Isaan-style sausage, sweet beef jerky and pickled crab papaya salad other real-deal Thai joints traffic in, but take advantage of the less common items as well: ground pork simmered in curried coconut milk then plopped over crispy omelette, meatballs floating in sour broth that smacks of star anise, and a beautiful mess of bamboo slivers slicked with green chili paste. 4654 N Damen Ave (773-275-8360). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Julius Meinl Café A café as lovely and sunny as this inspires lingering. But lingering requires cup upon cup of caffeine, and that could become hazardous. This European export has a solution for that, though: a full menu of food, most of it the unlikeliest coffeehouse food you’ve come across. Frittaten soup is offered daily, and the roasted lamb is served with golden, toothsome spaetzle. At the end of the meal, a slice of impeccable opera cake is a necessity. And with it, yet another cup of coffee. 4363 N Lincoln Ave (773-868-1876, northamerica.meinl.com). Mon–Thu 6am–10pm; Fri 6am–midnight; Sat 7am–midnight; Sun 7am–10pm. Average main course: $10.
Urban Vegan Vegans and vegetarians who love Thai food can breathe a sigh of relief. This may look like every other neighborhood curry shack, but there is no fish sauce hiding in the satay nor egg wash coating the spring rolls: Everything on the menu is 100-percent vegan. Omnivores won’t taste the sacrifice in dishes like a fragrant green curry rife with Japanese eggplant or curried tofu skewers with chunky peanut sauce; the chewy, heavy faux-steak seitan, however, is best left to the leaf-eaters. 1605 W Montrose Ave (773-404-1109, urbanveganchicago.com). Lunch (Tue–Sun), dinner. Average main course: $9.
LAKEVIEW/ROSCOE VILLAGE/WRIGLEYVILLE/NORTH CENTER
Banh Mi & Co. Tired of trekking to Argyle for your banh mi fix? Get to Lakeview instead, where this fast-casual Vietnamese joint modernizes its menu almost to the point of confusion—but delivers solid staples nonetheless. Line drawings of animals (a chicken, cow, pig) are meant to convey the proteins on offer, followed by a roll call of flavor profiles (lemongrass, curry, etc.) and finally the application (banh mi sandwich, rice noodle salad or spring roll). Save yourself the deliberation and go for the bright lemongrass tofu spring roll, the tender curry beef on noodles and the classic banh mi on lightly toasted bread, complete with pâté and head cheese. If any of your cohorts start in with Ba Le or Nhu Lan comparisons, hand them one of the amazing, ultra-thick Vietnamese iced coffees and tell them to let it go. 3141 N Broadway (773-754-5545). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
Crisp The Korean-style chicken at this cheery storefront is fresh, of good quality and comes slathered in three sauces: a sticky barbecue, a hot sauce–laced Buffalo and a sesame-soy glaze dubbed “Seoul Sassy.” There’s also a decent bibimbap (best ordered with “marinated” vegetables, beef, an egg and brown rice) and Korean-style burritos whose fresh vegetables benefit from a liberal slather of sweetish hot sauce, but the chicken is the thing. 2940 N Broadway (877-693-8653, crisponline.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Falafill Maher Chebaro is a man who loves condiments. So while practically the only thing on the menu at his Lakeview storefront is falafel—fried to order and greaseless—it’s the salad bar visit that comes with each falafel pita or bowl that makes this place well worth a visit. There, toum (emulsified roasted garlic), sweet bulgur salad and spicy pickled ginger easily turn very good falafel into a very satisfying meal. 3202 N Broadway (773-525-0052, eatfalafill.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $6.
Paciugo The Lakeview location of the Texas-based franchise is basically Baskin-Robbins: Italian Edition, but aside from the color palette—faded pastels and the incumbent sterility—that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, the gelato lacks the thick consistency of the authentic stuff, but it’s creamy, melty and comes in some deeply delicious flavors (pistachio and sea-salt caramel are both worth trying). The frequently rotating selection means more adventurous flavors like black-pepper olive oil make an appearance just often enough to keep things from going full-on 31 Flavors. 3241 N Broadway (773-248-8433, paciugo.com). Sun noon–10pm; Mon–Thu 1–10pm; Fri 1–11pm; Sat noon–11pm (from Memorial Day to end of Sept, closes 1hr later). Average cup: $4.
TAC Quick Thai The basic menu appeases the masses that flood the simple, minimalist room of this top-notch Thai joint. But the true standouts can be found on the translated Thai-language menu, with never-fail flavor explosions such as tart and smoky pork-and-rice sausage; ground chicken with crispy basil and preserved eggs; and warm sweet-and-sour beef jerky. But don’t disregard the specials board; promising rotations have included basil duck stir-fried with garlic and mushrooms, and lettuce wrap–ready deep-fried mackerel with apples, cucumbers, fish sauce and chilies. 3930 N Sheridan Rd (773-327-5253, tacquick.net). Lunch, dinner (closed Tue). Average main course: $9.
Feed There’s a fine line between kitsch and authenticity, and this homely chicken shack sits right in the middle. Because despite the crowds of hipsters, homeboys and yuppies devouring whole birds, this place still looks and feels the way we imagine a rural Kentucky chicken shack does. And that’s a good thing, since it means juicy rotisserie chickens flanked by tortillas and salsa, sides like corn or banana pudding, plus a rotating roster of freshly made fruit pies. 2803 W Chicago Ave (773-489-4600, feedrestaurantchicago.com). Breakfast, brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
Maiz This is one of our favorites for feeding our need for every type of corn creation under the sun. The banana leaf–steamed tamale is delicious, incredibly smooth masa hiding tender shredded chicken kicked up with green chilies, and the empanadas are among the flakiest in town. The sopes can be topped with everything from pastor (roasted pork) to huitlacoche (’shroomlike corn fungus). 1041 N California Ave (773-276-3149). Dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $7.
Belly Shack Bill Kim’s follow-up to Urbanbelly tries hard to evoke the streets, both in its interior design and its food. The Korean barbecue could use more punch, the tostones more chimichurri and the Asian meatball sandwich fewer noodles. But the hot and sour soup and the somen with shrimp and corn chips are brilliant, and the soft serve (topped with Mindy Segal’s brownies) will transport you to your DQ days—which, admittedly, is not the same as transporting you to the streets of the Bronx. But it’s a start. 1912 N Western Ave (773-252-1414, bellyshack.com). Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $9.
Honey 1 BBQ The father and son behind this rib house know a thing or two about barbecue—they hail from a part of Arkansas where smokers are more common than microwaves. Bring a hungry crew, stake out a table in the simple but spick-and-span dining area and order up a couple of slabs of meaty, tender spareribs, a whole mess of rib tips and a plate of hot links. If you’re still hungry after the main event, juicy smoked chicken and crispy catfish should round things out. 2241 N Western Ave (773-227-5130, honey1bbq.net). Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $9.
Lillie’s Q We have to admit we were skeptical that a stylish spot in Wicker Park could deliver memorable barbecue, but we ate our words with bite after bite of impressively smoky, truly tender, low-and-slow meats. Ease into the night with apps like fried pickles, boiled peanuts and pimento cheese. Stellar Southern classics continue with shrimp over insanely creamy grits, but it’s the pink-tinged pulled pork and thick slices of smoked tri-tip that prove chef-owner Charlie McKenna is every bit deserving of that Memphis in May trophy behind the bar. 1856 W North Ave (773-772-5500, lilliesq.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Athenian Room The theory goes like this: The first time you eat at this unassuming Greek spot, you may try the gyro salad—well-spiced slices of meat sitting atop simple greens—and you’ll think: “Not bad.” Next time, you’ll try the creamy taramasalata on warm rounds of pita, and say: “Pretty good.” But according to the cultish customer base that swears by this place, it’s on your third visit—when you order the juicy chicken kebabs, the vinegary Greek fries or the flaky spanakopita—that the spell is cast. 807 W Webster Ave (773-348-5155). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Bourgeois Pig We (and DePaul students) come here for the Hobbit, a triple-decker BLT on sourdough with sun-dried–tomato pesto, mayo, bacon, avocado and alfalfa sprouts, but end up staying for the homemade apple dumplings and fine selection of teas. There’s plenty of people-watching at this quirky Lincoln Park standby, too, though if you’re feeling antisocial, order that Old Man and the Sea tuna sandwich delivered—but please, no hot coffee deliveries, unless you’re lucky or rich enough to live next door. 736-8 W Fullerton Ave (773-883-5282, bpigcafe.com). Mon–Sat 7am–10pm; Sun 8am–10pm. Average main course: $8.
Bricks Should thick-crust theorists and thin-crust connoisseurs ever stop their quarreling, this is where they’ll come together. Because here, the bubbly crust fits somewhere in between those two camps. Whether piled with feta and spinach (like the garlicky Popeye) or housemade meatballs and mozz (the Sole Mio), the simultaneously crispy and fluffy crust never buckles. Nor does it get in the way, so both sides should be satiated. 1909 N Lincoln Ave (312-255-0851, brickschicago.com). Lunch (Sat, Sun), dinner. Average pizza: $15.
Butcher & the Burger Allen Sternweiler’s adorable burger joint doubles as a butcher shop. It’s a DIY affair: Customers pick their meat, their bun, their spice rub and their toppings before the burger is made to order. It’s possible to make mistakes (we found the pork patty a little lackluster) but if you stick to beef, go with “Grandma’s onion soup” rub and flank your burger with an order of the accomplished fries; you’ll be happy. Tack on a scoop of the housemade custard, and you’ll be even happier. 1021 W Armitage Ave (773-697-3757, butcherandtheburger.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
Cookie Bar The 18 cookies on display at Cookie Bar start off chewy, with thinnish, caramelized and just barely crispy edges, and get progressively softer as you work your way to the center. This, of course, is exactly how most people want their cookies to be. People also usually prefer good quality chocolate (Cookie Bar uses Callebaut), the occasionally quirky flavor (a chai chocolate chip with warm, spicy undertones) and cookies that don’t cost $4 (here the cookies are about five inches across, and cost $1.25). So guess what, people? Cookie Bar was made for you. (And also for gelato fans, who can swoon over create-your-own ice-cream-and-cookie sandwiches.) 2475 N Lincoln Ave (773-348-0300, cookiebaronline.com). Tue–Thu 11am–9pm; Fri 11am–10pm; Sat 10am–10pm (closed Sun, Mon). Average baked good: $1.25.
Del Seoul This taco shop’s similarities to Kogi—the L.A. food truck that spawned the Korean taco craze—may not work in Del Seoul’s favor when the two are inevitably compared. But judged on their own merit, these Mexico-by-way-of-Korea tacos are pretty tasty: soft corn tortillas piled with soy-marinated beef short rib, grilled pork carrying the earthy flavors of gochujang or plump shrimp rolled in panko and fried. Solid bibimbap ($8.50) is a vibrant value, and the kimchi fries (cheese fries topped with pork belly and kimchi “salsa”) are one thing on the menu truly charting new territory. 2568 N Clark St (773-248-4227, delseoul.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $6.
Devil Dawgs Let’s start with the Devil Dawg. It’s juicy and smothered in a generous amount of relish and sport peppers. It clues you in: The heart of this standing-room-only hot-dog joint is in the right place. But while you may want the hot dog, what you need is the steakburger: a petite, almost slider-like patty—easily justifiable as a “side” to that hot dog—on a buttery, eggy bun. In fact, the only thing you don’t want or need here is cheese: The super-salty nacho-ish stuff wreaks havoc on the fresh-cut, crisp fries. Then again, if it’s 2am, we’ll let it slide. 2147 N Sheffield Ave (773-281-4300). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $2.
Franks ‘N’ Dawgs Alexander Brunacci opened this highfalutin hot-dog joint with chef Joe Doren, a fine-dining refugee. Together, they’re changing the gourmet hot-dog game. The regular dogs are Boar’s Head, but the housemade sausages are where it’s at: The Tur-Dawgen is the juiciest turkey sausage imaginable; the lamb keema, a subcontinental combination of ground meat, curry and peas, is packed with aromatic flavor. And yet the best part of all is the lobster-roll-style buns, baked locally by Nicole Bergere (of Nicole’s Divine Crackers): The things are so buttery and golden, you may not notice the sausages they cradle. 1863 N Clybourn Ave (312-281-5187, franksndawgs.com). Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average hot dog: $7.
Jam ‘n Honey The shtick at this spot on the border of DePaul’s campus: jars of jam and Nutella on every table, meant to spread on whatever you order. Thoughts of what kinds of unsanitary hands have dipped into these jars kept us away, but we dug into a very respectable breakfast burrito (eggs, pesto, goat cheese, zucchini, caramalized onion, spinach and mushrooms) with no problem. The pancakes here are a step or two above standard issue; the coffee is pretty good, too. We’d mention the toast, but what were we going to do, eat it dry? 958 W Webster Ave (773-327-5266). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Kingsbury Street Cafe Seasoned catering and baking company Work of Art has moved its operations—and opened a daytime café—to this new location, which, no joke, is perhaps the loveliest breakfast spot in Chicago. As sunlight pours through the windows, you’ll dig into tender whole wheat–carrot pancakes, hearty omelettes and tall glasses of cool melon-ginger juice. All that may fill you up, but if there’s one rule at Kingsbury, it’s to never leave empty-handed: Pick up seasonal baked goods from the pastry case on the way out, especially the pumpkin whoopie pies, which kick cupcakes to the curb. 1523 N Kingsbury St (312-280-1718, kingsburystreetcafe.com). Breakfast (Mon–Fri), brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner (Wed–Sat). Average main course: $9.
Molly’s Cupcakes Owner John Nicolaides named this cute cupcake shop after his favorite grade-school teacher, who baked cupcakes for students’ birthdays. In two of our favorites, bits of bright carrot mesh with cream-cheese buttercream, and tangy dollops of lemon curd cut a rich vanilla cake. Reenact your own grade-school days by having a cupcake at the swing-style chairs flanking the counter. 2536 N Clark St (773-883-7220, mollyscupcakes.com). Mon noon–10pm; Tue–Thu 8am–10pm; Fri, Sat 8am–midnight; Sun 9am–10pm. Average cupcake: $2.
Pequod’s Pizza Exposed brick and plasma-screen TVs have taken the place of worn pool tables and dart boards after a fire forced a redesign of this neighborhood dive. But while the digs may be snazzier, the signature pan pizza—in all its glory with a ring of caramelized cheese around the crust—remains the same. Skip flavorless fried-vegetable appetizers, salads and sandwiches and save your appetite for a couple of ginormous slices of a sausage pie, dotted with perfectly spiced, Ping-Pong ball–size pieces of seasoned ground pork. 2207 N Clybourn Ave (773-327-1512, pequodspizza.com). Lunch, dinner. Average pizza: $14.
R.J. Grunts The man behind Tru and Everest started his Lettuce Entertain You empire with this shabby joint? Opened in 1971—with, we’re assuming, much of the same look it has today—this tightly packed hamburger shack is where to get the thick, juicy “Gruntburger,” topped with addictive fried onions and blue-cheese dressing; sloppy buffalo wings; and spoonable milkshakes with thick whipped cream. You can also check out the world’s first salad bar, since this is where it all began. 2150 N Lincoln Park West (773-929-5363, rjgruntschicago.com). Brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
The Wieners Circle The sassy hot-dog girls behind the counter at this classic roadside shack have had enough of drunk yuppies’ crap. Enough so that they’ve developed their own brand of smack-talking that’s now synonymous with a late-night dog run here. Get your Chicago red hot with the traditional fixings—mustard, onion, neon green relish, pickle spear, tomato, celery salt and sport peppers—an order of thick-cut fries and a big, fat lemonade. 2622 N Clark St (773-477-7444). Sun–Thu 10:30am–4am; Fri, Sat 10:30am–5am. Average hot dog: $2.50.
UKRAINIAN VILLAGE/WEST TOWN
Bite Cafe Bite—the café adjacent to the Empty Bottle—recently got an overhaul by owner Bruce Finkelman (who also owns the insanely popular Longman & Eagle). From the breakfast “mashbrown” (a genius combination of mashed potatoes and hash browns) to the crisp-skinned and juicy half-chicken with dozens of cloves of roasted garlic for dinner, the new food is nothing if not simple and satisfying. So if that’s what you’re into, you’ll want to eat here again and again. 1039 N Western Ave (773-395-2483, bitecafechicago.com). Breakfast, brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner. Average main course: $11.
Swim Café Karen Gerod elevates lunch at her West Town café, and you may never want to make your own sandwich again. Using Red Hen and Bennison’s breads and the freshest and most seasonal ingredients, she comes up with different creations every day (expect creations such as turkey piled with cucumber, red onion, avocado, Swiss and a yogurt dressing). The former caterer and wedding-cake maker also bakes scones and cookies daily. 1357 W Chicago Ave (312-492-8600, swimcafe.com). Mon–Fri 6am–9pm; Sat, Sun 6am–6pm. Average sandwich: $7.50.
NEAR NORTH SIDE
Big & Little’s This quick-service fish shack shows some gourmet leanings: It’s run by former Hell’s Kitchen contestant Tony D’Alessandro, the standout fish in the fish-and-chips is breaded and fried to order, burgers are made from Angus beef, and the french fries are larded with hunks of foie gras. Though recently relocated, this place is still a dive—which is how it made it onto Guy Fieri’s show, too. 860 N Orleans St (312-943-0000). Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $7.
Protein Bar Expanding on the original, this location of Matt Matros’s haven of quick-serve, high-protein eats offers raw juices, such as the Green Ade, made with cucumber, celery, lemon, ginger and apples. The rest of the menu is made of the health-conscious fare that turned young and attractive Loop suits into devoted fans: enormous salads with ingredients like black beans and avocado, filling “bar-ritos” made with quinoa instead of rice, and blended drinks with whey, soy or egg protein powder to provide an early-morning or after-lunch boost. 352 N Clark St (312-527-0450, theproteinbarchicago.com). Mon–Fri 7am–8pm, Sat 9am–4pm (closed Sun). Average main course: $6.
M Burger The M in M Burger may as well stand for McDonald’s, or at least McDonald’sish, because the place has the same greasy aroma, detectable from down the street, and the same magic bullet that shoots directly into our pleasure receptors whenever we take a bite of its food. Maybe it’s all that sugary ketchup, or the sugary buns, or the soft mouthfeel of the beef that makes for effortless inhaling. Whatever it is, eating these burgers is pure happiness. Note, though, that this is true of the regular cheeseburger only; the “special sauce” and robust bacon on the eponymous M Burger detract from its finer fast-food points. So go simple or go home. Or get the chicken sandwich, which is smeared with avocado and pairs well with the shop’s thick, addictive shakes. 161 E Huron St (312-254-8500, mburgerchicago.com). Lunch, dinner (closes at 7pm weekdays, 8pm weekends). Average main course: $4.
Beard Papa’s The brilliantly airy cocoons of choux pastry at this Japanese cream-puff chain (nestled in the Block 37 pedway) hide a copious amount of vanilla custard cream, enough that once the shell is broken, walking and eating is out of the question. A bag of travel-friendly mini puffs could suffice, but you’ll lose the proper pastry-to-cream ratio. So take a seat and get the original size. And if the special green-tea filling is on offer, get it—if you don’t, a horde of fanatics will soon snatch it from under you. 108 N State St (312-960-9000, beardpapa.com). Mon–Thu 7:30am–7:30pm; Fri 7am–7:30pm; Sat 10am–7pm; Sun 11am–6pm. Average cream puff: $2.
Cafecito You don’t have to claim a bunk at the adjacent Hostel International to get your hands on one of this café’s ridiculously good Cuban sandwiches. Sure, sides of roasted eggplant, black bean and heart-of-palm salads are flavorful, but there’s no confusion over the star of the show: The Cubano’s crusty bread is toasted just right, its roast pork juicy, its pickles thick, and its mustard and gooey cheese plentiful. And once it’s devoured, only a potent cortadito will keep you from calling the café’s comfy couch home for the day. 26 E Congress Pkwy (312-922-2233, cafecitochicago.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner (closes 6pm Sat, Sun). Average sandwich: $6.
Do-Rite Donuts Chances are good that when you walk into this tiny, morning-only doughnut shop—the latest concept from Lettuce Entertain You—you’ll find people milling about, waiting for the bacon doughnuts to be ready. You can join them if you want. But you’ll be just as happy if you go for the yeasty, puffy cinnamon crunch doughnut, or the massive, crunchy old-fashioned, or the cakey, classic chocolate-frosted. Those doughnuts are just as good as any other here (all the doughnuts are made by fine-dining chefs Francis Brennan and Jeff Mahin), plus, they’ll get in your hands—and thus your mouth—a whole lot faster. 50 W Randolph St (312-488-2483, doritedonuts.com). Opens Mon–Fri at 6:30am, Sat at 8:30am (closed Sun). Average doughnut: $2.
Eggy’s The challenge for Eggy’s—a contemporary restaurant doing old-school diner food—is to execute the canon of familiar dishes, but do them better. In this, the restaurant often succeeds. Chef Zach Millican’s sandwiches (crispy fried whitefish with housemade tartare) are uncanny, and desserts (a cute ice-cream sundae; a masterfully rich sea-salt brownie) are charmingly simple. Sometimes a dish doesn’t inspire—we’re looking at you, Cobb salad—but when you’re eating at a diner that (thankfully) doesn’t feel it has to reinvent everything, you’re going to get some stuff you’ve had before. 333 E Benton Pl, suite 103 (773-234-3449, eggysdiner.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
SOUTH LOOP/PRINTERS ROW
Bodega N. 5 It’s a captivating concept: a breakfast/lunch spot where the majority of items—salads, sandwiches, flatbreads—costs just $5. In the Loop (and this place, the sister restaurant to Mercat a la Planxa, sits on the line between the Loop and the South Loop), such a cheap lunch is hard to find. But, happily, price is the least of the reasons to eat here. The more pressing reasons include the turkey sandwich with thick bacon and soft focaccia; the hearty empanadas filled with bacon, egg and cheese; and the rectangular flatbreads (one of the menu’s lighter choices). Plan your visit before sunset: After 5pm, Bodega N. 5 disappears, and this is just the lounge for Mercat a la Planxa. 634 S Michigan Ave (312-542-3605). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $5.
Bongo Room How is this brunch-lunch spot different from the restaurant of the same name in Wicker Park? Menu-wise, it’s almost exactly the same—a diverse clientele of South Loop locals mingles over the same candy-sweet lemon-blueberry pancakes and creamy rock shrimp–and–avocado breakfast burritos. Only at this location, they get to eat it at a table in a cheery, sunlight-filled room. And unlike the Wicker Park locale, they won’t have to wait an hour to sit at it. 1152 S Wabash Ave (312-291-0100, thebongoroom.com). Breakfast (Mon–Fri), brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Mon–Fri). Average main course: $10.
The Burger Point The burgers at this South Loop spot, named for its location at the “point” of Archer and State, take ten minutes to prepare, and if you read the menu, you’ll know the restaurant owners are not sorry for it. On that piece of paper, you’ll not only learn that they do not apologize for slow food but that the beef is all grass-fed, never frozen and ground fresh daily. But what no one tells you is that the burgers are de facto cooked to medium-well, and that the signature item—the Burger Point Burger with roasted chili peppers—is hot enough to burn your face off. You’ve been warned. 1900 S State St (312-842-1900, theburgerpoint.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.
Eleven City Diner Owner Brad Rubin scoured the country to research this Jewish deli/diner. His pastrami is tender, fatty and full of flavor; the milkshakes are thick and oversized; matzo balls are enormous; and the brisket is good enough that any grandmother would want to claim it, Jewish or not. Does it hold a candle to other Jewish spots in the country? It’s hard to say. But Rubin definitely holds his own as the host, giving this place enough character to become a fixture in its own right. 1112 S Wabash Ave (312-212-1112, elevencitydiner.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Epic Burger By now you may have heard all about how this burger joint sports Slow Food principles (beef and chicken are all natural, hand-cut fries are cooked in trans fat-free vegetable oil). But how’s it all taste? Pretty good. Burgers are hand-formed and cooked to a nice pinky medium. Opt for aged cheddar, bacon and egg toppings, and be sure to add the rustic, skin-on fries. Shakes are decent, but our favorite sipper is the Lemon Squeeze, a blend of fro-yo, strawberries and lemonade. 517 S State St (312-913-1373, epicburger.com). Lunch, dinner. Average burger: $6.
Eppel’s No matter who you are everywhere else in the world, at Eppel’s you’re always somebody’s baby. “Sit anywhere you like, baby,” the hostess will say to you. “You like your soup, baby?” the server will ask. Whether you actually do like your soup is somewhat beside the point (not that the garden vegetable isn’t perfectly nice). Because when it comes to a place with this much character, it doesn’t matter if you’re eating the chicken melt (a plump breast resting on a croissant and submerged in Swiss) or the golden miniature waffles—as long as you’re taking in the experience, you’ll leave completely satisfied. 554 W Roosevelt Rd (312-922-2206, eppelsrestaurant.com). Breakfast, lunch. Average main course: $8.
Flaco’s Tacos The crew behind Hackney’s (the burger spot, which has a location nearby) opened this Mexican sibling to cater to the Columbia students and sprinkling of office workers in Printers Row. The former should be happy with the low prices and accessible gringo fare like quesadillas and burritos, while the latter can unwind over a non-chain lunch. A handful of fillings can be had in tacos, tortas or burritos, and while the chicken and steak were consistently dry, the al pastor fared better, nice and juicy with a bit of kick. Specials, like chicken posole, help set the place apart from Mexichains. 725 S Dearborn St (312-922-8226, flacostacosonline.com). Lunch, dinner. Average taco: $2.25.
Opart Thai House Sick of sandwiches and salad bars for lunch? If you can head south of the Loop for your midday meal, you can get a pretty tasty dose of Anglo-friendly Thai instead. All of the standards—from curries to noodles—are dependable, but we recommend starting with the delicate charred-squid salad and the miang sa-wan—a sweet, limey mess of dried pork, ginger and peanuts meant to be wrapped in lettuce leaves. To feed a fish craving, try the crispy catfish tossed with Thai eggplant and green beans in red-curry paste. And if your idea of curry involves tons of creamy coconut milk? The yellow gari with sweet potatoes and chicken is your fix. 1906 S State St (312-567-9898, opartthai.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
Panozzo’s We’d like to romanticize that a good Italian deli is one that’s been up and running for years, where the mozz and salumi are made in-house, and the accents are as thick as the torpedo rolls. But in the newly built-up southern South Loop, exceptions are made for the only Italian deli around. The imported salami, capocollo, mortadella and prosciutto are good quality and are generously layered onto fresh LaBriola bread. Fist-size meatballs are flavorful and a good add-on to a pasta, while the calzonelike pane ripiene stuffed with fennel-packed sausage and peppers is a meal in itself. 1303 S Michigan Ave (312-356-9966, www.panozzositalianmarket.com). Lunch (Tue–Sun), dinner (Tue–Sat) (closed Mon). Average sandwich: $6.
Waffles This mod eatery—so contemporary it has a conference room—specializes in two versions of its eponymous breakfast food: a crisp and airy Brussels waffle, and a dense and sugary Liége waffle. Both types are prepared expertly, and shine on their own. But when topped (Waffles offers toppings from cream cheese to meatballs), things get riskier. On the Mexican chocolate Brussels waffle, the combination of orange and chocolate works, but a savory pork shoulder only fights with the sweet Liège waffle it tops. Best to get these things served plain. 1400 S Michigan Ave (312-854-8572, waffleschicago.com). Breakfast, lunch. Average main course: $10.
HEART OF ITALY/LITTLE ITALY/PILSEN
Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan There are a few birrierias (spots that specialize in Mexican goat stew) sprinkled throughout the city, but all it takes is one visit to this one before you stop caring about the rest. The scope of the menu may not win you over at first—this joint serves only about half a dozen items—but after trying the delectable tongue tacos, the cabeza tacos full of luscious beef cheeks, the simple yet rich goat consommé or the goat tacos bursting with sumptuous meat, you’ll find you won’t want for anything else. 1322 W 18th St (312-733-2613). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
Carnitas Uruapan At this tiny Pilsen storefront, regulars get special treatment (a.k.a. refried beans, not always on offer), newcomers just get blank stares, and everybody gets the carnitas. Ordered by the pound (our server recommended a half-pound per person, but we think that’s a little stingy), the juicy pork (choose between “just meat” or “everything,” which includes skin, ribs, etc.) is served to you on a platter with nothing but a side of corn tortillas and a spicy salsa verde so that you can concoct your own tacos. Not leaving any part of the pig to waste, the limited menu also includes fresh, warm, delicious pork rinds. 1725 W 18th St (312-226-2654). Lunch (closed Thu). Average main course: $6.
Dough Boys The dough boys behind Dough Boys—best friends and prominent chefs Jimmy Bannos Sr. and Scott Harris—wanted the pizza joint next to their restaurant Salatino’s to be a simple, unfussy slice shop. And that’s exactly what it is, a place where the meatball sandwich is soft (both the meatballs and the roll), the New York–style slices are big and foldable, and a thick Sicilian slice is substantial enough to be a meal in itself. It may be a disappointment to those who come expecting the Boys to work some of their chef magic. But to those unaware of their pedigrees, it’s as satisfying as any other cheap pizza around. 626 S Racine Ave (312-243-9799). Lunch, dinner. Average slice of pizza: $4.
Sweet Maple Café Most weekends you’ll find a crowd of people spilling onto this breakfast spot’s sidewalk, watching servers carry plates toppling from the weight of sweet-milk biscuits and bone-in ham. Those who stick it out will be rewarded with staples like housemade muffins; vegetable hash with copious amounts of sautéed onions and peppers; soft scrambled eggs; thick, crunchy bacon; and pancakes with sweet pockets of banana. Don’t miss the Southern-inspired dishes like the fried catfish, grits and compact, crispy salmon cakes, all of which are served on the weekends only. 1339 W Taylor St (312-243-8908, sweetmaplecafe.com). Breakfast (daily), brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Mon–Fri). Average main course: $6.
Take Me Out More than 20 years ago, Chinese immigrant Nai Tiao opened Great Sea on the Korean stretch of Lawrence Avenue and unveiled a now legendary lollipop-style soy-and-chili-glazed chicken wing. His daughter, Karen Lim, has taken these “Little Hotties” to Pilsen. The decor screams franchise, but the food is the real deal. Freshly fried egg rolls are stuffed with peppery vinegar-laced cabbage and pork; soy-splashed fried rice is topped with fluffy butterflied caramelized shrimp; and the sweet-and-spicy namesake wings are as good as old man Tiao’s. 1502 W 18th St (312-929-2509, takemeouthotties.com). Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $8.
Bridgeport Coffee House The coffee-roasting operation on the corner of Morgan and 31st Street is a point of pride for Bridgeport and a source of jealousy for almost every other neighborhood. Housed in a prototypically warm-toned, wood-heavy coffeehouse (only without the fleabag couches and drum-circle vibe), Bridgeport Coffee sets itself apart by roasting its own beans and brewing them with levels of respect usually reserved for presidents. The pour-over here is a revelation—bright and clean and smooth. The fact that the expert staff and comfortable digs make you want to spend the day in the place is just a bonus. 3101 S Morgan St (773-247-9950, bridgeportcoffeecompany.com). Mon–Fri 6am–9pm; Sat 7am–9pm; Sun 7am–8pm. Average cup of coffee: $2.
Carbon Creamy and just a little spicy, the roasted-red-pepper salsa works wonders on the tacos at this superfriendly taqueria, which is tucked beneath a tangle of expressways somewhere just south of Chinatown, at the north point of Bridgeport. Doctored with sauce, the big chunks of grilled steak and tender chicken breast are good, but the battered-and-fried tilapia is our runaway favorite. Make it a meal with a side of elote (an off-the-cob take on the street-food staple) and a Caesar salad (“originally created in Acapulco”—who knew?). 300 W 26th St (312-225-3200, carbonmex.com). Lunch, dinner. Average taco: $3.
Han 202 Han 202 might just be the best value in town. Twenty bucks brings five courses, with fun and flavorful options like lemongrass beef on matchsticks of Granny Smith apples, delicate salt-and-pepper baby octopus, moist grouper peeking out from a blanket of scallions and fresh ginger, and an ending of simple vanilla ice cream with a peel-it-yourself lychee. Figure in a tasteful dining room and this place has “date night” written all over it. 605 W 31st St (312-949-1314, han202.com). Dinner (closed Mon). Average tasting menu: $25.
Lao Hunan Tony Hu’s latest contribution to Chinatown focuses on Hunanese food, and while it’s appropriate to pause and consider the restaurant’s eccentric Chairman Mao theme, you shouldn’t let it distract you from the menu. This is intense food, spicy and oily and built around pork and chicken. “Home fed chicken” (roughly equating to free-range) is hung for two days to dry age before it’s lightly smoked over a wok filled with dry rice and spices. Chef Fada Zhang, a native of Hunan, uses the same technique for his “famous Hunan preserved pork,” smoking it over a fragrant haze of toasted dry rice, whole star anise and cinnamon bark. For contrast, order the cool, thin rectangles of “jade tofu,” which sit in a slick of chili oil with cilantro and scallions. 2230 S Wentworth Ave (312-842-7888, tonygourmetgroup.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
Lao Sze Chuan Tony Hu has spots in Chinatown for Shanghainese food (Lao Shanghai) and the cuisine of Beijing (Lao Beijing), but neither draws the nightly lines of heat-seekers that this spot does. Hu uses plenty of Szechuan pepper, dried chilies, garlic and ginger to create flavors that are incredibly addictive. Our favorites are Chengdu dumplings, crispy Chinese eggplant with ground pork, twice-cooked pork, mapo tofu, Szechuan prawns and “chef’s special” dry chili chicken. Trust us or choose at random—you won’t be disappointed. 2172 S Archer Ave (312-326-5040, tonygourmetgroup.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.
Pleasant House Bakery Individual pies filled with earthy kale and mushrooms. Fried fish alongside crisp nubs of fries, Meyer-lemon tartar sauce to spare. These dishes, re-creations of homey British food from Art Jackson (formerly the chef of Bijan’s Bistro) and his wife, Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson, are the bread-and-butter of this small Bridgeport shop. But the tastes you may remember most may be a stray piece of arugula. Because like so much of the produce here, it was grown by Jackson and Kalberloh at their small urban plots called Pleasant Farms. 964 W 31st St (773-523-7437, pleasanthousebakery.com). Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $9.
Daley’s Restaurant Depending on how you look at it, Daley’s restaurant has been around since 1892 or 1937 (the first date reflects the original opening date of the restaurant; the second the current incarnation). Either way, it’s one of the oldest restaurants in the city. But there’s no time for this homey diner to dwell on the past—the space bustles with a mix of Woodlawn locals and U. of C. students, especially in the mornings, when they gather for the ethereal Belgian waffles (offered with a side of juicy chicken wings), hearty Denver omelettes and warm, buttery biscuits. 809 E 63rd St (773-643-6670, daleysrestaurant.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.
Istria Café Connected to the Hyde Park Art Center, this Cornell Avenue spot has the Center’s museum-like vibe: clean lines, bright white walls and a quiet, serious atmosphere. The most remarkable thing about the design, though, is the counter that runs along the shop’s big windows. Outlets have been placed at every other chair or so, creating the optimal environment for laptop users—one that offers a good view in times of writer’s block. Istria’s pour-over coffees (using Intelligentsia beans and Chemex pots) are subtle and lovely, as are the baristas who pour them. 5030 S Cornell Ave (773-324-9660, istriacafe.com). Mon–Fri 7am–7pm; Sat, Sun 7:30am–7pm. Average coffee: $5.
Medici Bring a Sharpie and an appetite for burgers and pan pizza when you hit this University of Chicago hangout. Patrons have left poetry and political rants on the Med’s booths since it opened in 1963. Among the surprisingly good takes on typical student fare are specialty burgers and shakes, as well as great late-night salads. Go for the simple but classic Ensalata Kimba—blue cheese, apples, red peppers and pecans over crisp romaine. The restaurant also serves freshly baked pastries from its sister bakery next door. 1327 E 57th St (773-667-7394, medici57.com). Breakfast, brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Nile Restaurant So maybe this Middle Eastern stalwart isn’t much to look at. But does that stop students, professors, townies and anybody else from packing the place? No. And here’s why: The falafel is fried crisp, the hummus is pureed smooth, and the shawarma is sliced thin. It’s all dropped off at your table with almost alarming speed, which makes it maybe not the best place for a romantic, lingering dinner. But this is U. of C. territory—who has time for romance when there’s Heidegger to read? 1611 E 55th St (773-324-9499, nilerestaurantofhydepark.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $12.
Pearl’s Place Whoever you are, Pearl, thank you. You must be pretty special to have inspired this Creole-influenced soul-food restaurant in your name. We’ve learned the hard way to be patient with the long waits. But don’t worry: The fried chicken is so damn juicy and sealed in a crunchy, pepper-flecked exterior; the collard greens so tender and flavorful with pork bits; and the sweet-potato pie so fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg (fluffy near the middle and caramelized where the filling meets the flaky crust) that we’d wait forever. 3901 S Michigan Ave (773-285-1700). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $12.
Robust Coffee Lounge At the south end of the University of Chicago campus lies this industrial-chic coffee shop, perched on a corner flanked by empty lots. Owners Jake Sapstein and Derek Cortelyou source the beans from Milwaukee’s Alterra and curate a charming selection of candies and coffee-wonk supplies. Best of all, the fluffy Belgian waffles with a variety of toppings (we liked the cinnamon-dusted, sautéed apple–filled one) provide nearly enough sustenance to power U. of C.ers through Finnegans Wake. 6300 S Woodlawn Ave (773-891-4240, robustcoffeelounge.com). Mon–Fri 6am–8pm; Sat, Sun 7am–7pm. Average cup of coffee: $1.50.
Salonica It makes perfect sense that this Greek diner should be on U. of C. territory—the interior has that dark, woodsy look of a professor’s office, and servers exhibit all the sensitivity and friendliness of disgruntled college cafeteria workers. For some, that’s half of what makes this place so charming. The other half comes in the form of housemade soups, like the sprightly egg-lemon, the juicy burgers and—especially—the sandwich dubbed Nick’s Delight, which crams not just gyro meat into a pita, but thin layers of roast beef as well. 1440 E 57th St (773-752-3899). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.
The Sit Down Restaurant This Hyde Park joint casts the net wide with a catchall menu of wallet-wise, student-friendly dishes: sushi, pizza, sandwiches, soup, salads. Most of it comes out of the bright, open kitchen decently prepared—the chicken pesto sandwich features thinly sliced bird and plenty of pesto; the firm, if unremarkable, fish in the Chicago Fire roll is spiced up with cilantro and jalapeño. But when you’re offering something for everyone, there’s bound to be some bombs, and the caprese salad is a miss: wan, watery tomatoes and scoops of dried basil drowning in balsamic vinegar. That’ll teach us to order caprese in winter. 1312 E 53rd St (773-324-3700, thesitdown53.com). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.
Valois Quick thinking is the key to success at this classic cafeteria: Once the line reaches the counter, you have only a few seconds to place your order, pick a side, order a drink and pay. For breakfast, we like the generous stack of French toast with a side of poached eggs. For lunch, it’s the baked chicken, so sumptuous that the meat falls off the bone. There’s always the question of whether to eat the sweet, cakey biscuits with your meal or save them for dessert; either way, make your choice the first time around. Otherwise, it’s back to the line. 1518 E 53rd St (773-667-0647, valoisrestaurant.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $7.
Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe A couple Hyde Park veterans (the former owners of Istria Café) and a sandwich maker from the suburbs joined forces for this casual but high-quality deli/grocery store. Crowds gather at the counter for Spanish jamon sandwiches with quince paste and panini that press farmstead cheese and ham on a baguette. Save room because the oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies are a hot item, too; still, with only nine tables, the most coveted thing in the place is a seat (easier to find come summer when the patio opens). 1126 E 47th St (773-538-7372, zhmarketcafe.com). Mon–Fri 7am–5pm; Sat, Sun 8am–5pm. Average sandwich: $9.