Last month, we took a look at the affordable options in Humboldt Park, so it feels natural to move directly east to see what's available in West Town. That's a lot to cover, and know that this list could have been twice as long, but instead of simply adding in every good dish in the area, we decided to strip the list down to 12 genuinely great options.
Noble Square, North Side
If you head down south along the Gulf Coast, you might see people serving up alligator. Here in Chicago, you'd probably see a Ninja Turtle before you saw an alligator running free, because it's not a meat you can just wrangle out of Lake Michigan.
Twisted Spoke could easily be the friendliest little biker bar in Chicago. Sounds kind of like a Broadway musical, doesn't it? Please don't tell them I said that.
El Barco Mariscos is housed in what looks like an enormous boat, and inside enormous fish hang from the ceiling just waiting to bump the heads of the very tall. It is a place to celebrate, and gimmicks aside, it feels good to be there.
Swim Café has all the traits of a solid neighborhood coffee shop: good brew (made from Counter Culture beans); a bright, airy atmosphere with plenty of seating; and a broad menu of casual breakfast and lunch fare. But while it may resemble your typical neighborhood joint, Swim Café is—especially for the vegetarian eater—worth seeking out from afar.
Nini's Deli in Noble Square presents an immediate surprise upon walking in: one look at the shelves and you realize it's a gourmet and organic grocery store masquerading as a run-of-the-mill corner deli. Likewise, Jose's Homemade Falafel Pita ($5.50) looks pretty standard, but the freshly fried falafel have a slightly different, though no less pleasing, spice profile.
Swim Café is the kind of place where you aren't judged for ordering a cup of coffee and taking up residence at a tiny table while you catch up with old friends for three hours on a lazy Sunday morning. But if you require something a little more substantial than coffee to get through a three-hour chat fest, The Whole Pig ($9.85) will take you on a hearty three-layer journey through pork.
The website for Art's Drive-In in Noble Square proclaims "Chicago's Favorite Breakfast & Lunch for 40 years." Brazen hyperbole? Absolutely. But in an area sorely lacking in places to get a quick bite, you could do much worse.
In all my brunch adventures so far, I have tried to stay away from obvious American brunch staples in hopes of exploring Chicago's more unique offerings. Noble Square's Branch 27 made me venture back to the safety zone, however, with their version of everyone's favorite egg dish: the omelet.
There's a reason some Chicago institutions stick around. And I'm willing to bet that no matter what happens to the crazy intersection of Division, Ashland, and Milwaukee, Podhalanka will still be around.
I've already written about Butcher & Larder, but thought it would be worth devoting an edition of this column for those curious about how sausage is actually made. I think many people left the demonstration on Saturday with a wonderful notion: making sausage at home isn't really all that hard.
Oh the Three Little Piggy sandwich, whatever could I say? You've been paraded around as Chicago's over-the-top sandwich of choice. Perhaps mentioning you again is too obvious. But you're so much more than just a dare.
Lovely's airy, warm cafe may be the best spot for tearing into this slice straightaway. Warm wood and vintage floral prints make the interior look like a Pinterest dream, and some communal seating means there's a potential to meet like-minded dessert fiends. Just be advised that said communal seating could mean you'll have to share a bite of that blueberry almondine.
The front windows of Butcher and Larder are always steamed up, which is a welcoming sign as you walk by their storefront on Milwaukee Avenue. It means that serious cooking is going on inside. To put it simply, this is not the kind of shop trying to hide the reality of being a carnivore
Is it okay to admit to having a soft spot for the buffalo chicken wrap? I mean, it's not that I ever would cop to a craving for fried chicken that has been coated in a rich and spicy sauce, and then wrapped up with creamy dressing and crisp, cool lettuce. How could I! Still, if you're too embarrassed to be seen in public with one, Five Star has the answer.
I've eaten many a sandwich at The Butcher & Larder, yet the one that sticks out in my mind is the braised lamb sandwich. A heaping portion of the warm succulent pulled meat is dressed with a fennel-pickled onion-parsley slaw that's pulled together with a preserved lemon vinaigrette and a gentle touch of dry chili flakes and harissa.
Stand at the intersection of Ashland and Division, look south, and you're bound to see it: three restaurants, all named La Pasadita, all located on the exact same block. If you're like me, so many quesitons will pop into your head that it will be hard to process them all. Eventually you'll settle on two important ones: (1) How in the world did three identically named restaurants end up on the same block? (2) Which one is best?
The ground duck and turkey patty is seasoned with tarragon, shallots, and bits of dried cranberries, resulting in the kind of patty that would be delicious on its own. But the team in the kitchen at May Street Market doesn't stop with a delicious patty; they decorate the meat with toppings that elevate the burger a couple of levels past delicious.
[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger] La Pasadita 1141 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 773-278-0384 The Short Order: Oddly beefy grilled steak tacos. Want Fries with That? No sides are needed. Save room for tacos. Want Ketchup? Just bottles and...
Glazed Donuts Don't let the blue eyeshadow fool you. Kirsten Anderson, doughnut baker and owner of Chicago's underground doughnut bakery, Glazed Donuts, can probably kick your ass. She's a former bodyguard and mixed martial arts style fighter in addition to...