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Where To Eat When You’re Visiting A College Student In Chicago

PHOTO: Sandy Noto

You’re here for the first (or second, or 15th) visit since your mostly-grown-up child started college, and it’s time to make sure all that hard work in high school and/or debt being accrued isn’t going to waste. Or maybe you’re the college student, and you don’t know what to tell your parents about where to eat in a neighborhood you’ve barely had time to explore between orientation, classes, and figuring out what to do with that tiny fridge.

Here’s our guide to restaurants near major Chicago college campuses, ranging from casual lunch and dinner places to upscale spots where you can sit down and discuss things like time management and how to make your own doctor appointments. We’re starting with four schools - DePaul, The University of Chicago, Northwestern, and Loyola - but will be adding more.

Depaul University

Cheese curds are the gateway drug to the Midwest, and the ones at Blue Door Farm Stand are excellent. Plus, lots of plants and little watering cans make the interior here feel like a farmhouse, which fits with the Midwestern food being served. You’ll find stuff like fried chicken sliders (with an excellent pimento cheese), pork loin, and seasonal vegetable dishes. In other words, after lunch or dinner here, your kid is probably never moving back to the East or West Coast.

Pasta Palazzo

Lincoln Park
1966 N Halsted St
7.5
MAP

Chicago has a lot of expensive and kind-of-fancy Italian restaurants. But if you just want to eat some solidly good pasta in a casual atmosphere, Pasta Palazzo is the place for that. The food is affordable (pastas range from $8-11), but it’s still nice enough in here that you can have a glass of wine while your 18-year-old pretends he’s never heard of alcohol in his life. Definitely get the penne bolognese, or one of the handmade pastas like the gnocchi or ravioli.

Photo: Christina Slaton

Pizzeria Bebu

Lincoln Park
1521 N Fremont St
8.2
MAP

Lincoln Park has a number of pizza places, but as far as we’re concerned, Bebu is the best for thin-crust. The pies here are excellent (the one with meatballs and giardiniera is a standout), and there are a few small plates and salads, too. And since it’s on a side street surrounded by chain stores, you’re not likely to come across this place on your own, unless you decided on a quick shopping trip to Forever 21.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Pequod's Pizzeria

Lincoln Park
2207 N. Clybourn Ave.
8.6
MAP

You can pretend you’re in Chicago to see how college is going, but we all know that’s a lie. You’re here because you want the thick, perfectly caramelized crust that you can only get from the deep dish at Pequod’s. Just accept it - no one’s going to think less of you.

Photo: Christina Slaton

Athenian Room

Lincoln Park
807 W Webster Ave
8.4
MAP

This neighborhood Greek restaurant is one of our favorite spots in all of Chicago. The thing to order is the chicken kalamata dinner, but other dishes (like the gyros and the spanakopita) are just as good. Plus, Athenian Room is very reasonable (with prices ranging from around $3-12), so if your student hasn’t discovered this place already, they’ll most likely add it to their rotation pretty much immediately.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Chicago Diner

3411 N Halsted St
MAP

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to eat three hot dogs a week to keep up your residence in the city of Chicago (student or otherwise). There are plenty of good vegetarian and vegan restaurants here, including Chicago Diner, which serves (as the name suggests) diner food. Everything on the menu is great, no matter how skeptical you might be about a vegan reuben. Trust us, it’s good.

Photo: Christina Slaton

Juno Sushi

Lincoln Park
2638 N Lincoln Ave
7.7
MAP

Juno is a laid-back spot serving quality sushi that doesn’t feel overpriced. Focus on the sashimi and nigiri, but make sure you try at least one of their smoked fish specials, which are presented tableside under a glass dome.

7.6
MAP

If you looked up the Farmers’ Almanac prediction for this coming winter and you’re suddenly asking yourself why DePaul ever seemed preferable to USC, go to Summer House Santa Monica. It’s a nice, bright restaurant with a huge skylight and a California-inspired menu. Order some fish tacos or a kale salad, and pretend the winter coats you packed in the car are just beach kaftans that dared to dream.

The University Of Chicago

Plein Air is a light, airy cafe in a building next to the university bookstore, and the menu has French-inspired tartines, salads, and kind-of-healthy grain bowls. It’s good for a quick stop in between meeting everyone in the dorms and discussing the pros and cons of doing a year abroad in Europe.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Valois

Hyde Park
1518 E 53rd St

Valois is 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. It’s also famous for being one of President Obama’s favorite spots in Hyde Park. Remember to bring cash - they don’t take cards here.

Photo: Sandy Noto

The Promontory

Hyde Park
5311 S Lake Park West

This is a fun spot that serves really good food, but has other things going for it, too - like a huge outdoor patio and an upstairs music venue. You can order dishes like pierogi ravioli and prawns dejonghe, but you can also get a great cheeseburger. And because it’s a destination restaurant (as in people who don’t live/work/go to school in Hyde Park come here), you can count on it being crowded - so you might want to plan ahead and make reservations.

Photo: Christina Slaton

BBQ Supply Co. doesn’t make the best barbecue in Chicago, but they do have very good brisket. So order that, and make sure to go heavy on the sides as well - they’re fantastic, particularly the custard-filled cornbread and truffle mac and cheese.

Photo: Sandy Noto

This is where you go for excellent Neapolitan pizza in the neighborhood. It’s owned by someone who used to make pies at Spacca Napoli, one of our favorite pizza places in the city, and while there are some cheesy design elements (like cans of tomatoes and a bright yellow Vespa dangling over the bar), the most important thing here is the wood-fired oven, because that’s what makes the pizza so damn good.

Morry's Deli

Hyde Park
5500 S Cornell Ave

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). So maybe only come here if you have time for a nap afterwards.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Medici on 57th

Hyde Park
1327 E. 57th St.

Medici is a Hyde Park/UChicago staple, and it has a menu almost as long as The Cheesecake Factory’s. Come here when you’ve been getting on each other’s nerves, and can’t decide what kind of food you want. There are options ranging from pastries and egg scrambles to pizza, burgers, and quesadillas.

Northwestern University

Union Squared

Evanston
1307 Chicago Ave

College is all about trying new things (or at least that’s what people keep telling you). So this is a good time to branch out with at least one new style of pizza. Go to Union Squared, which specializes in Detroit-style pies (basically a hybrid of the pan-style ones you get at Pequod’s, and the deep dish from Lou Malnati’s). There’s not a ton of space here, but hopefully it’s still nice enough outside that you can sit on the back patio.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Bat 17

Evanston
1709 Benson Ave

You’ve been out of school for too long to put up with bad college bar food. Luckily, that won’t be a concern at Bat 17, where the usual suspects (like burgers, sandwiches, and fries) are made with high-quality ingredients and taste really good. The space is full of TVs, pool tables, and foosball - basically enough activities that you can leave your kid there, and they won’t even notice that you’ve gone. Just like when you dropped them off at kindergarten.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Boltwood

Evanston
804 Davis St

The chef at Boltwood used to work at The Publican, and the seasonal food here (like a pork chop with figs, or a stone fruit salad) is very similar. The menu changes regularly, but thankfully they always have the housemade sourdough, which is good enough to warrant a trip here on its own. This spot is a good alternative if you wanted to have dinner in the city, but didn’t have the time to get down there.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Tomate Fresh Kitchen is the only place on our guide where you can’t sit down, but it’s so good that we’re including it anyway. It’s a carry-out spot with great Latin American food, from burritos and gorditos to tacos - including interesting vegetarian options like sweet potato with caramelized onion, and yucca chimichurri. Whatever you order, you can count on it being fantastic. Maybe just plan to eat it in the car for extra bonding time.

Hearth

Evanston
1625 Hinman Ave

Hearth is a nice, quiet restaurant that’s on the expensive side, so it checks a lot of the “dinner with the parents” boxes. Menu-wise, you’ll see fairly basic options like roasted beets and filet mignon, along with some curveballs like tikka masala dumplings. Everything is tasty and nicely presented - plus, eating outside feels like sitting on a front porch surrounded by a very well-manicured lawn (that you didn’t have to nag anyone to mow).

Photo: Sandy Noto

Taco Diablo

Evanston
1026 Davis St

Taco Diablo is a Mexican restaurant with a short menu consisting mainly of, yes, tacos. There are 12 kinds, including lamb barbacoa, a chorizo made from duck and pork, and classics like carne asada. They’re all delicious, and they come three to an order (you can mix and match) with family-style beans and rice for the table. The dark cantina-like space also has a large bar with excellent margaritas - so after a quick goodbye hug at the dorm, consider coming back here to finish your night.

If all of this college stuff is making you nostalgic, try Edzo’s. It’s an old-school burger joint that serves fantastic griddled diner-style patties, hot dogs, and fries. The orange, yellow, and brown color scheme reminds us of a puffy winter coat from the 1980s, adding 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. Then launch into some stories about using microfiche to research term papers before the internet.

Photo: Sandy Noto

The emphasis at Hoosier Mama is on pie, and all the options - from chocolate cream to whatever fruit flavors they have that day - are exceptionally good. There are also delicious savory things on the menu, like quiche, sandwiches, and salads. The space is cozy and filled with natural light, and it’s a great spot to have a real conversation.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Loyola University

SP Kebab

Rogers Park
6808 N Sheridan Rd
8.1
MAP

SP Kebab is fantastic. In fact, even if your child is actually at Stanford, consider planning a trip here just for yourself. Their specialty is doner-style kebabs, with meat that comes either wrapped in bread or in a cup, plus salad and your choice of sauce. Our favorite is the marinated pork shoulder in lachmacun (an airy flatbread) with spicy garlic tzatziki. Just know that it’ll make your breath unbearable for days. It’s worth it.

Indie Cafe

Edgewater
5951 N Broadway St

There’s a good chance Indie Cafe has already become your college student’s reliable neighborhood sushi spot. It has you covered for big, complicated sushi rolls (like deep fried ones with shrimp tempura and cream cheese, covered in BBQ sauce), and there’s a Thai food menu as well, with a satisfying massaman curry and solid noodle dishes like pad see ew and pad thai. There’s also a great patio area for when it’s warm out. Plus, it’s BYOB.

Photo: Sandy Noto

bopNgrill

6604 N Sheridan Rd
MAP

There are two locations of Bop N Grill in Chicago, and this is the original (the other is in Lakeview). It’s a counter-service spot that does two things - burgers and bibimbap - and does them both very well. But we come here primarily for their burgers, which are just the right kind of hard to eat (i.e. sloppy but still manageable). Also make sure to get their fries topped with caramelized kimchi and cheese, which somehow manage to stay crispy the whole time you’re eating them.

Photo: Christina Slaton

Mango Pickle

Edgewater
5842 N Broadway
8.2
MAP

Mango Pickle is a small neighborhood spot serving great Indian food. They have some of the best chana masala we’ve ever had, plus seasonal dishes like seared scallops with cardamom beets. It’s cozy and quiet here, and an easy place to talk - so use it when you need to tell your daughter you’re turning her bedroom into a pottery studio.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Alice & Friends'

Edgewater
5812 N Broadway St

Turns out your kid blew past being vegetarian and is now a full-blown vegan. Thankfully there’s Alice & Friends’, a vegan restaurant with great Asian-inspired food. The menu is long, with things like dumplings, seitan satay skewers, and spring rolls. The food here is enjoyable enough for for non-vegans, too, but be aware that you will be surrounded by motivational quotes like “share the world with all beings.” If that kind of thing irritates you, plan ahead and be sure to BYOB.

Dak

Edgewater
1104 W Granville Ave

This counter-service Korean spot is one of our favorite places for chicken wings in Chicago. Other dishes here, like the bibimbap and bulgogi, are perfectly good, but the jumbo wings are what you want. They’re huge, perfectly crispy, and served with a ginger glaze that tastes delicious and never makes the wings soggy.

Photo: sandy noto

The Growling Rabbit

Edgewater
5938 North Broadway

This all-day cafe already has a liberal arts college thing happening - as in we generally expect to find people from Greenpeace canvassing outside. The menu is full of typical cafe stuff, with lots of sandwiches, quinoa salads, and pastries. Just know that this place might inspire a lecture on the environment, politics, or animal rights (maybe all three).

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