There are a lot of reasons you might find yourself in Evanston. It’s home to Northwestern University, but there’s also a very good chance that your friend who just had a baby is house-shopping there - probably while you read this. Or maybe you fell asleep on the Purple Line and woke up at the Davis stop, and now you’re hungry. No matter why you’re here, you need to eat something. And while this suburb has about 8,437 restaurants that are perfectly fine, these 11 are the best.
Taco Diablo is the Evanston equivalent of Big Star, but with no patio and better food. The menu is short, and mainly consists of 12 types of tacos - including lamb barbacoa, a chorizo made from duck and pork, and classics like carne asada. They’re all delicious, and they come come three to an order (you can mix and match) with family-style beans and rice for the table. The dark cantina-like space has a large bar and plenty of booths for big groups. Come here with friends and find a way to try every single taco on the menu.
At first glance, the menu at Hearth in the Homestead hotel might not seem very interesting. You’ll see fairly basic options like like roasted beets, halibut, and filet mignon. But there are always a few curveballs worth trying, like tikka masala dumplings or elotes-style polenta, and everything is both tasty and nicely presented. Plus, eating outside here feels like sitting on a front porch surrounded by a very well-manicured lawn. It’s on the expensive side, but if you need to go out for a nice quiet dinner, this is a good option.
If you want food similar to Hearth’s but a livelier atmosphere, go to Boltwood. The chef used to work at The Publican, and this spot focuses on seasonal dishes, like roasted corn with shrimp, pate, and marmalade. The menu changes regularly, but thankfully they always have the housemade sourdough, which is good enough to warrant a trip here on its own. Boltwood is also family-friendly (they have a separate kids’ menu) and great for a casual lunch or dinner.
Tomate Fresh Kitchen is a small carry-out spot that got its start selling Latin American food at the Evanston farmers’ market. They have tasty burritos, gorditos, and tacos, including interesting vegetarian options like sweet potato with caramelized onion, and yucca chimichurri. Whatever you order, you can count on it being fantastic. In fact, the only problem with this place is that it isn’t open later - they close at 6pm.
Food at college bars frequently tastes like it came from the freezer section at Costco. So we get excited when we find a spot that has great, fresh-tasting stuff, and that’s why we really like Bat 17. The menu has the usual suspects, like burgers, sandwiches, and fries, but they’re made with high-quality ingredients (like, in some cases, housemade bread). The space is full of TVs, pool tables, and foosball, and while it definitely feels like a college hangout, you’re welcome even if you’ve paid off all your loans (or have been deferring for a few years now).
Eating at Found is like hanging out in a funky but nice furniture store. Meaning it’s full of mismatched chairs and tables, table lamps, and desks decorated with vases. The menu is also eclectic, with food ranging from stinging nettle flatbreads to caviar, but the food is solid, and this place is a great option for a low-key dinner (or just drinks and some appetizers). Definitely check it out if you want nothing more than to eat and drink in a living room without worrying about using coasters.
Edzo’s is an old-school burger joint, serving fantastic griddled diner-style patties, hot dogs, and fries. The orange, yellow, and brown color scheme reminds us of a puffy jacket from the 1980s, but it just adds to the retro charm of the place. Make sure to get an order of their specialty fries (like buffalo with bleu cheese, or the chili fries) and an Oreo shake.
This is a bakery that makes some truly wonderful bread (with loaves like a pumpkin seed with rosemary, and caramelized onion rye), plus pastries like croissants and kouign-amann. But they also have a small selection of excellent sandwiches and flatbreads. It’s a great place to pick up some stuff for a picnic, even if your “picnic” involves you eating a baguette alone in your car.
There’s a location of Union Squared in the Loop at Revival Food Hall, but the full-service restaurant version is in Evanston. The specialty here is Detroit-style pizza, which is basically a hybrid of the pan-style you get at Pequod’s and the deep dish from Lou Malnati’s (so it has a caramelized crust and sauce on top - the best of both worlds). There’s not a ton of space, but tables turn over quickly, and in the summer you can sit on the back patio.
If you’re looking for a bar with good food that isn’t exclusively full of undergrads, go to Bangers and Lace - it doesn’t have the let’s-do-a-beer-bong atmosphere you might be familiar with from other spots on college campuses. There’s a location in Chicago, and the one in Evanston has the same menu of bar food and sausages (with options like duck sausage and a crawfish andouille). It’s decorated like a British pub/upscale hunting lodge, and it’s a good place to get drinks and/or talk about your thesis over some bratwurst.
The emphasis at Hoosier Mama is on pie, and you shouldn’t come here without getting at least one piece, although you’ll probably be tempted to leave with five. They’re all exceptionally good, from chocolate cream to whatever fruit options they have that day. There are also delicious savory options, like quiche, sandwiches, and salads. Come here to get some work done in the natural-light-filled space, or just to catch up with friends. And pie. You definitely need to catch up with pie.
Peckish Pig only narrowly made this guide (it’s about as far south as you can possibly go before you’re technically in Chicago). But we’re glad it qualifies, because it’s a great brew pub that’s worth a visit if you’re nearby. Come for bar snacks like bacon-fat popcorn, or plates like fish and chips and burgers. They have eight or so beers on tap, and they’re mainly IPAs that go well with the gastropub food. The space is crowded and lively, so it’s ideal for a group dinner or double date - and if you cross the street, you’re in Chicago. Run back and forth until you get bored.