Lincoln Park has a bit of a reputation. Its population is one part DePaul students, one part “I just graduated and Googled best and most affordable neighborhoods in Chicago,” and two parts old money yoga moms. Luckily, this mashup of different lifestyles translates to an interesting restaurant scene. Here are our favorite places in the area.
You’re not likely to come across Bebu on your own, unless you get lost on your way to Forever 21. It’s on a side street in the part of Lincoln Park that has more chain stores than actual “park.” But you should make a special trip here, because the Neapolitan pizzas are fantastic - some of the best in the city. There’s a mix of creative pies, like one with littleneck clams, and classics, like a soppressata pizza made more interesting with the addition of Calabrian chili honey. You can order your pies half and half, too, so there’s no pressure to pick just one.
Come to Sono when you want Italian food, but can’t decide between pizza and pasta. Sono does both very well, and also has a solid menu of antipasti and bruschetta to round out your meal. It’s a nice-but-still-casual space, with exposed brick and glowing edison lights, and it’s great for date night or a weeknight dinner.
Blue Door used to be a small grab-and-go operation, but has since moved to a larger sit-down space down the street. Lots of plants and little watering cans make the interior feel like a farmhouse, which fits with the Midwestern food. You’ll find stuff like fried chicken sliders (with an excellent pimento cheese), cheese curds, and seasonal vegetable dishes. If you’re in the mood for American comfort food, this is the spot.
North Pond, in the middle of Lincoln Park, is a special occasion restaurant that frequently gets overlooked - probably because Alinea absorbs the neighborhood attention. The benefit of this is that it’s fairly easy to snag a last-minute reservation if, say, you completely forgot about your parents’ wedding anniversary. The seasonal American food is always outstanding, and as a bonus, your mom won’t have to figure out how to eat a molecular-gastronomy balloon for dessert.
In the great citywide deep dish pizza debate, you’ve got Gordiano’s on the left, Lou Malnati’s on the right, and dark horse independent Pequod’s in the middle. The thick, chewy crust with a fortifying caramelized layer of cheese is what makes the difference here. This deep dish may force you to reconsider previous allegiances.
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! is a neighborhood staple with solid sangrias and shareable tapas. When it’s warm outside, you want to be on the patio. When it’s not, eat paella inside. Come for brunch tapas on the weekend, too, because you need more mini pancakes in your life.
This neighborhood Greek restaurant is one of our favorite spots in all of Chicago. You can’t beat it for the price (very low), atmosphere (super casual), and quality of food (excellent). The sauce on the chicken kalamata dinner is something special, and the gyros and skirt steak are just as good. If you haven’t already eaten at Athenian Room 100 times, you need to change that.
Its connected sister restaurant, Summer House Santa Monica, might be the more highly publicized spot. But between the two, Stella Barra is actually our top pick. The prosciutto and egg pizza alone makes a trip here worth it, and the entire Italian menu is great for splitting with a group.
Speaking of Summer House, it’s still a very solid restaurant. We do prefer Stella Barra, but that’s because pizza > everything else. The California-themed menu at Summer House has something for everyone, from kale lemonade to satisfying pastas and proteins for those who actually want to eat.
In between That Bar That Serves Beerzillas and That Bar You Played Nintendo 64 in, you’ll find Del Seoul making some great Korean fusion food. Their specialty is Korean tacos (make sure you get the shrimp ones), and they have excellent kimchi fries, too. There’s a serious takeout operation going on here, so consider Del Seoul when you need something to-go.
Mon Ami has the traditional French brasserie thing going on, which means it’s somewhat fancy but in a cool, laid-back kind of way. It’s the kind of place you could easily see Ernest Hemingway drinking whisky at the bar. Go on a date or even with your parents, and order one of the 11 different styles of steak frites.
CBA isn’t a bagels-and-lox kind of bagel place, but they do great “steamwiches,” a.k.a. steamed bagel sandwiches. It’s the ideal spot to get an inexpensive take-out sandwich when you aren’t trying to eat a whole bunch of fried stuff.
A great pizza place that knows what works and sticks to it. Homeslice isn’t reinventing the wheel here - the pizza is not Chicago’s best, but it’s perfectly good. You’re really coming to enjoy the excellent patio, with plenty of funky lights, signs, and couch-like booths ideal for groups. Come here with your friends for any easygoing but fun night, and order as many pizzas and beers as you can handle.
A nicer sushi restaurant that will cost you a bit, but isn’t overpriced for what it is. Nobody plates sushi more prettily than the sushi chefs at Juno. Load up on the simple sashimi and nigiri, but make sure you try at least one of their “smoked” specials. The spectacle alone is worth it.
Chicago is obviously the deep dish pizza capital of the world, but it’s also the pizza pot pie capital of the world. That’s because as far as we know, nobody is serving pizza pot pies other than Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder. And they’re doing it all in the downstairs of an old Lincoln Park house that was allegedly a former hideout for Al Capone. You can hide your whole head inside of a pizza pot pie, if you want.
Half Shell looks like Bad Santa meets Christmas Vacation, all year round. It’s a tiny little basement bar with a few plastic tables and Christmas lights that never seem to come down. So you might be surprised to know that this joint has some of the best crab legs in town. Sit at the bar, order beers, and get a plate full of king crab legs, which you need to dip in the clarified butter. Just note that it’s cash only.
Need a classy Italian restaurant to visit with your parents or significant other? Riccardo Trattoria is a great option. It’s nice without being too trendy, and perfect for a low-key special occasion dinner or even a nicer weeknight meal. Get any kind of pasta.
You go to Crisp for one thing: their Korean fried chicken. And it’s excellent. In fact, the “Seoul sassy” wings at Crisp are our favorite chicken wings in Chicago. Period. Exclamation point. Bold statement concluded. If fried chicken is (inexplicably) not your thing, they also do some solid bi bim bop. But trust us - get the wings.
Whether you need a cup of coffee and a croissant in the morning, a simple sandwich for lunch (like the B. A. D. - bacon, arugula, and date, which is incredible), or a few chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon because your sweet tooth is out of control, Floriole is the spot. Make a habit of stopping here every time you pass by.
Every now and then you owe it to yourself to blow a bunch of money on a great sushi meal. And when you’re ready to do that, Naoki Sushi is the spot. Despite the fact that it’s a tiny sushi restaurant through a secret door behind a kitchen, this place doesn’t feel overly fancy. Go on a repeat date, for dinner with family, or even with a small group of friends looking to do it big.
Rickshaw Republic is a casual, family-owned restaurant serving Indonesian street food. You can get things like chicken satay and lumpia here, but the best plan is to get the rijsttafel, or “rice table experience,” where you can choose between a “standard,” “plus,” or “premium” tasting menu for the table. Depending on what you choose, you’ll get 10-17 different types of street food for either $25, $35, or $44.
Sometimes we want a place where we can knock back too much house wine and go face first into a pile of pasta and meatballs. That place is Pasta Palazzo. The food is simple, fresh, and seriously cheap. Most pastas will ring in around $10, and adding a protein won’t add more than a few extra bucks.
Boka makes for a fancy yet still cool night on the town. It’s ideal for a big date once you’ve gotten to know each other, and a good option for dinner with the parents as well. The food is super creative, and even boring-sounding things like roasted carrots will have you impressed. You can order a la carte, or try the tasting menu for $130 if you really want to go all out.
Toro is a casual spot with quality, affordable sushi. The simple stuff is good, but the creative rolls are, too, and don’t forget that it’s BYOB. Post up at the sushi bar where the chefs are always friendly and happy to please.
Are we telling you to eat at Alinea right this second? Of course not. But it is in Lincoln Park, so this is a friendly reminder that you need to eat here once in your lifetime. Skip the next few months’ student loan payments and maybe you can get to it sooner rather than later.
You didn’t think we’d leave this off, did you? Weiner Circle is the place to be, whether you’re blackout drunk with visitors at 4am or stopping by in the middle of the afternoon. The hot dogs are actually good, so yes, sober trips are allowed.