College Town Tours: The Best of Evanston, IL

As a Northwestern tour guide, I always say that we have the best of both worlds: the big city of Chicago just minutes away, and the awesome college town that is Evanston flanking campus on three sides (the fourth being Lake Michigan).  It may be a cheesy thing to say to wide-eyed high school juniors, but it’s also totally true.  Having Chicago so close means that we have access to a myriad of things to do, places to eat and sights to see, but Evanston itself is almost a bigger selling point.  An awesome and active downtown is punctuated with a ton of varied and delicious restaurants.  Its not called the Dining Capital of the North Shore for nothing!

Kendra Vaculin is a brand new contributor to Small Kitchen College.  She doesn’t usually eat out, but when she does, it’s at one of these places.  That was supposed to be a Dos Equis joke.  Ok great.

**SKC Picks**

Best BYOB Restaurant
Cozy Noodles & Rice
1018 Davis St // (847) 733 – 1010

It wasn’t until I went home for winter break this year and was met with my friends’ blank faces when I suggested we find a BYOB place to go to dinner that I realized…they aren’t that common!  In Evanston, however, Bring Your Own Booze restaurants are student favorites, often full of hungry undergrads toting cheap bottles of red from World Market.  Cozy is a great Thai food restaurant in its own right (their yellow curry is my everything), but its eclectic décor (BIG pez dispenser collection, SO many metal lunchboxes) and open door policy when it comes to beer elevates the place to awesome.
Must order: Yellow curry with chicken.

Best Burger (but NOT on Mondays)
1571 Sherman Ave // (847) 864 – 3396

Edzo’s is an Evanston institution, and for good reason.   The burgers, griddled or charred per request, are ruhl good, and if you don’t get a milkshake (Aztec chocolate, believe me on this one) or one of their ten varieties of fries, you’re not doing it right.  Get there early: the small shop that shares a doorway with a trattoria closes at 4, and takes Monday off entirely.
Must Order: Parmesan truffle fries.

Best Pizza
Union Pizzeria
1245 Chicago Ave. // (847) 475 – 2400

Funky wood-fired pizzas (Shrimp, pineapple, bacon and jalapeño on one pizza? What?) and daily specials in ADDITION to a small concert venue (SPACE: Society for the Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston) that bring artists like The Weepies and Mason Jennings to town = the best two in one deal ever.  An extensive beer list, and awesome small plates to boot!
Must order: Potato and goat cheese pizza with caramelized onions and rosemary.

Best Chicago-Style Pizza
Lou Malnati’s
1850 Sherman Ave. // (847) 328 – 5400

A Chicagoland chain (but, fear not, they ship nation-wide), this is my favorite of the deep-dish standards.  Their classic pie boasts delicious homemade sausage and a slightly tangy crust that is the result of an awesomely yeasty dough.  Trivia: Lou Malnati’s sons once beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay in a deep-dish face-off on the Food Network show Throwdown.  If there has EVER been an achievement in pizza-making, this is it.
Must order: The “Malnati Chicago Classic” pizza.

Greasiest (no regrets)
Celtic Knot Public House
626 Church St // (847) 864 – 1679

It’s a pub, and everything a pub should be.  Fully loaded burgers, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, the whole deal.  My favorite is the Cheese In Toast under the menu heading “Stuff on Bread”: a grilled cheese with tomatoes, pesto, and all of the calories I usually allocate for an entire day.  The back room (called the Snug) is a great place for a party, and secretly the brunch/scones are just as good as dinner.
Must order: Besides Cheese in Toast, definitely the turkey and baked brie salad.

Best Sandwiches SLASH Bar
BAT 17
1709 Benson Ave. // (847) 773 – 7117

This is the place you visit when you are STARVING.  Featuring sandwiches you can barely fit your mouth around and mountainous salads, the food at Bat is delicious, interesting, and sometimes strangely named.  Drop in in the morning for a kick-ass balawat (a sort of open-faced scramble sandwich) or their infamous cinnamon roll French toast.  The coffee is always free, even if you don’t stay to eat, so it’s a great place to hit up before getting on the train in the morning.
Must order: MASSIVE veggie burger with avocado and onion rings.

Best Breakfast All Day (and in the middle of the night)
720 Clarke St. // (847) 864 – 1610

A Northwesterner’s go-to diner, open until 2 AM, Clark’s is as much a post-party pancake location as it is a Saturday morning hangover cure. The huge back-room booths are a great way to keep all of your group together, but the best feature of the establishment is a giant, Wonka-esque orange juicer.
Must order: The Big and Healthy, a huge egg white and vegetable omelet with whole wheat toast and side of fruit.

Best Breakfast/Bakery
815 Noyes St. // (847) 475 – 5467

UGH I can’t even speak about this place.  Perfect.  Stuffed brioche French toast.  Eclectic quiches.  A crazy spectrum of fresh scones/cupcakes/whoopie pies/reasons to live.  A dangerous dangerous place, because it usually means I order breakfast, savor it at a window table, and then buy a bagful of baked goods to take home, only a few of which survive the walk.
Must order: The french toast. Or a pumpkin cupcake. Or a cinnamon scone. Or all of them.

Best Place to Make Your Parents Take You When They Come to Visit (Tie)
1625 Hinman Ave // (847) 570 – 8400

If you want to go the fine dining route, this place on the first floor of the family owned Homestead Hotel is for you.  My foodie mom and I loved the carrot ravioli appetizer (sitting on a carrot cake “crouton” and topped with a lambic foam…yes, it’s that type of place) and the house-made lavender vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Go for the roaring fireplace and stay for the fact that it’s the exact opposite of dorm food.  Also: not exorbitantly priced.  Always a plus.
Must order: The menu is always changing, but I had salmon with an apple cider sauce that was killer.

The Cellar
820 Clark // (847) 864 – 8678

If small plates and a cool atmosphere are more your jam, slide into one of the couch booths at The Cellar.  The menu is divided into continents and displays a big variety of fun and different options.  The plates delivered to your table as soon as they are ready in the kitchen making working through the sharable and prettily presented dishes an easy experience.  Don’t forget dessert – my mom and I battled for the last bite of the chocolate sampler.
Must order: Shrimp and grits small plate.

Best Place to Do Work and Also See Everyone You Know
Unicorn Café
1723 Sherman Ave. // (847) 332 – 2312

Fun fact, I am in Unicorn RIGHT NOW.  The tons of little round tables make for a great place to knock some homework off your to do list, and you cannot come in without seeing a friend.  An ever-changing exhibit of cool, for-sale art from local artists decorates the back wall, and a book of love letters which patrons contribute to pokes out of the pocket in the back of one of the church pews that act as seating.  Get an iced coffee, log on to the wifi network Unicornicopia, and stay for a while.
Must order: Loose leaf green tea.

Best Place to Drink a Milkshake Amongst Hipsters
1621 Chicago Ave // (847) 491 – 1621

It’s too cool for a website, and that should tell you something.  Funky, dimly lit, and home of weekly open-mikes, Kafein serves what are widely considered to be the best milkshakes in Evanston (entire pieces of apple pie blended with ice cream…I die) and a $2 bottomless cup of coffee.  Play the Trivial Pursuit card game at your table (or play checkers with the sugar packets) while your wait for your tatted and gauged waiter.
Must order: Cinnamon-caramel milkshake!

Best Vegetarian
The Blind Faith Café
525 Dempster St. // (847) 328 – 6875

So good you forget about meat.  Blind Faith is homey, welcoming, and chock full of vegan and gluten-free menu and bakery items that don’t lack in flavor and creativity what they do in animal products or wheat.  Brunch is also amazing; I spent the morning of my 21st birthday gobbling a peach, strawberry, sweet corn and brie crepe and drinking an organic bellini.  Oh, absolutely.
Must order: The quinoa-stuffed avocados.

Best Place to Have a Birthday Dinner
Tapas Barcelona
1615 Chicago Ave. // (847) 866 – 9900

I accidentally went here on Cinco de Mayo last year and was really confused when our waiter brought over a basket of bread instead of chips and salsa.  Barcelona, Kendra. SPAIN.  Not Mexico.  And not my proudest moment.  Regardless, the hot and cold small plates plus open faced sandwiches (bocadillos) more than made up for the blunder.  A great place to go with a group, which justifies the purchasing a pitcher of their house-made sangria.
Must order: The bacon-wrapped dates.

Originally posted on Friday, February 24th, 2012

2 Responses to “College Town Tours: The Best of Evanston, IL”

  1. jamie

    February 29th, 2012

    i’ve been going to blind faith for years now…always managing to find a way back! I think their best asset is their breakfast/brunch menu.

  2. Katy V

    April 6th, 2018

    I agree with you Jamie, I love Blind Faith Cafe ever since. I also keep coming back there.

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