Hyde Park is famous for being home to two things: the University of Chicago and President Obama’s house. It’s not known as a place with a happening restaurant scene - unless you count Subways and pizza delivery places. And since Barack and Michelle (probably) aren’t inviting you over for dinner, you should have other options on hand when you find yourself in the neighborhood. Here are the spots we like best.
This is a versatile spot that reminds us of Dusek’s in Pilsen (which isn’t too surprising, since it’s from the same folks). It serves great modern American food, but has other things going for it, too, like its huge outdoor patio and upstairs music venue. You’re here for house dishes like pierogi ravioli and prawns dejonghe, but you can also get a great cheeseburger. Plan ahead, though - since it’s a destination restaurant, you can count on it being crowded.
If you’ve ever spent time in a coffee shop on a college campus, Cafe 53 will feel familiar. You get the feeling that everyone inside it has imminent plans to ruin family get-togethers by incessantly quoting Nietzsche. The interior feels comfortable and lived in, and they have a menu full of sandwiches and salads, with a whole section devoted to vegan options. Come for a vegan buffalo sandwich, and stay to finally finish reading that used copy of On The Road.
This neighborhood classic has been around for more than 50 years. It’s a casual counter-service operation, known for its gigantic triple decker sandwiches (particularly the corned beef and pastrami), which are perfect pre-nap or post-hangover-inducing-night-out meals.
You need to understand a few things about this place, the most important one being that it’s not a sushi spot to travel across town for. But you can count on finding fresh and tasty Americanized sushi here. Get the “Chicago Fire” (their version of a rainbow roll) or anything with tempura, but definitely ignore the non-sushi items on the menu (like the pizza and the prosciutto rolls) - they’re not very good and we don’t know why they’re there. This is a good casual option for lunch or dinner, but keep in mind that they’re closed during the University’s winter break.
This cafe feels light and airy, and is located right on campus in a building with a university bookstore. Come here for French-inspired tartines, salads, and kind of healthy grain bowls. The food is fresh and good, and it’s a nice change from hanging out on beanbag chairs surrounded by last night’s pizza boxes.
If you didn’t already know about it, you may have heard of Valois because of President Obama - it’s famous for being one of his favorite spots in Hyde Park. There’s even a sign letting you know what he likes to order. But what really makes this place unique is the fact that it’s an old-school cafeteria, complete with old-school cafeteria food (like meatloaf), plastic trays, and people who will yell at you if you move too slowly through the line. Breakfast - think eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and pancakes - is our favorite thing to eat here. Just remember that it’s cash only.
This is from the same people who owned Pizzeria Da Nella, a fantastic pizza place formerly in Lincoln Park. Now they’re in Hyde Park, serving the same awesome Neapolitan pies as always. The decor feels modern and even a little cheesy, with cans of tomatoes and a bright yellow Vespa dangling over the bar. But it’s great for groups, or a low-key date night. Especially if you’re on a date with a Vespa enthusiast.
The second location of the rebranded “Rub’s Backcountry Smokehouse,” now called BBQ Supply Co. It’s not the best barbecue in Chicago, but it’s good enough if you’re in Hyde Park and want a casual meal of St. Louis-style ribs. Go heavy on the sides here - they’re fantastic, particularly the custard-filled cornbread and truffle mac and cheese. Of course, both those things are heavy, and will do absolutely nothing to break up the richness of the BBQ. We don’t really care, though, and neither should you.
This is a Hyde Park/UChicago staple that will please the college student in everyone. It serves all three meals, and has a menu reminiscent of The Cheesecake Factory’s in terms of length. There’s better food to be had elsewhere, but it’s perfect for large groups, with options ranging from pastries and egg scrambles to pizza, burgers, and quesadillas. In fact, this place serves pretty much everything, even alcohol after years of not - but you can still BYOB.