June 1st, 2011
to Chicago Neighborhoods
Illustration: Luke Armitstead
Some of us on the F staff have been here in Chicago for the past two years, some for the past four, and still others grew up in the area. Collectively, we’re pretty much experts in the city. But we all remember what it was like to start SAIC and realize we didn’t know where to get the best Thai, or which movie theaters had a full bar, or the best place to get tacos at 3 a.m. Oh, the anxiety that these mysteries caused!
As a graduation gift from us to you, we leave you with a compilation of some of our very favorite Chicago haunts — the places that have kept us going over our grueling years of study. From the South Side to Rogers Park, in these pages you’ll find a passionately curated “best of” guide to some of our favorite neighborhoods. Whether you’re new to the city, or have spent the past five months in your studio and are ready to re-discover the outside world, we hope this guide will help you find some new favorite spots of your own.
— Ania and Amanda
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The Loop may be home to some of the city’s most gorgeous examples of architecture and storied cultural institutions, but it feels pretty soulless – crowded with tourists, yuppie businesspeople, and chain restaurants. Like it or not, SAIC students have to spend a lot of time down here, so we just have to make the best of it. Some of these spots help to make life a little more bearable.
By Ania Szremski
Best Health Food
230 S. Wabash Ave. 312-922-0077
The only place in the loop where you can get fresh, healthy, vegetarian-vegan convenience food! Kramer’s has a stock of vitamins, supplements, and other mysterious substances. But best of all are the shelves of ready-to-go sandwiches, salads and lunches downstairs, and the organic café upstairs, which has excellent lunch specials. Just be warned: they yell at you for paying with a credit card, and the guys who work in the café are notorious for hitting on the customers.
Best Student Pub
Exchequer | exchequerpub.com
226 S. Wabash Ave. 312-939-5655
A sports bar famous for its deep-dish pizza and ribs, Exhequer is the official SAIC student pub. At least, it is for MA Art History students. I’ve noticed that some MFAs prefer the nearby Miller’s Pub – yet another sign of the seemingly irreconcilable divide between us. The wait staff at Exchequer’s leaves something to be desired (they’re notorious for questioning the legitimacy of your ID, and once a waiter made fun of my hair). But it will always have a fond spot in my heart as the place where me and my fellow classmates would camp out after an exhausting three hour seminar where we all discussed Deleuze and Guatarri without understanding a single word we were saying, and would decompress with a couple of pitchers and the infamous Onion Ring Tower. Don’t forget to show your SAIC student ID for ten percent off food.
53 E. Randolph Street 312-920-9332
Like so many other things in the Loop, Intelligentsia is overpriced, snooty, and uncomfortable. But I dare you to find a better cup of coffee anywhere in the city. I dare you! This is the only place I’m willing to go to have the barista be rude to me, completely mangle the pronunciation of my name no matter how many times I’ve been there, and pay a ridiculous amount of money for a tiny cup of coffee that you have to wait over five minutes for, since each cup is hand-brewed — it’s just that good. Here’s a tip: seating in the café is weird and it fills up quickly, so if you have a meeting, get coffee to go and take it next door into the Cultural Center.
Brando’s | brandoschicago.com
343 S. Dearborn Street 773-216-3213
Whether you want to sing your heart out, or watch those that do, Brando’s is the spot for those looking to not be seen. Reminiscent of a speakeasy with an art nouveau touch, this karaoke bar harbors a motley crew of folks looking to unwind after a long day. Come for the song and stay for the specials —Brando’s is proof that the Loop does not die at five. It’s still alive after dark, and armed with a set of pipes! The entrance is just steps from the Jackson Blue Line stop.
Special contribution by Stephanie Plenner.
This short review first appeared online in the “Travel Buddies” section of fnewsmagazine.com.
Before I moved back to Chicago and installed myself north of Devon Avenue, I was a South Sider. I don’t often revisit the old stomping grounds (I’m loathe to ride the entire length of the Red Line to get to to Hyde Park), but here are some gems that I would be willing to undertake just about any hardship to visit.
Best Labyrinthine Bookstore
Seminary Co-op Bookstore | semcoop.com
5757 S. University Ave. 773-752-4381
Oh, the Seminary Co-op! It’s like Chicago’s version of the Strand. Secreted away in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary, this is one of the best academic bookstores in the world, and I am not exaggerating. I have been in other countries and watched intellectual types order stuff for their theses, not from Amazon, but from the Seminary Co-op – that’s how famous it is. I could stay down there in the twisting, never-ending stacks forever, even if I fear the silent (or sometimes not-so-silent) judgment of the notoriously arrogant U of C student workers. This “member-owned and independent” bookstore turns 50 in October, 2011. But alas, it will soon be moving a block east so that the University of Chicago can turn the seminary building into some kind of gruesome monument to Milton Friedman (what hasn’t that man ruined?). Co-op members claim the new store will be better than ever, with windows and a/c and the like, but to be frank, the lack of some of those amenities was what lent the co-op its mystery.
Best South Side Thai
The Snail | snailthai.com
1649 E. 55th Street 773-667-5423
“The restaurant, like the golden snail in the fable, is small and known for the greatness enclosed.” This is what the Snail says about itself on its own website, and I heartily endorse it as true – and adorable! Before I became a North Sider and fell in love with Thai Spice (see my review in the Rogers Park section of this issue), the Snail was my favorite Thai restaurant of all time. And it still is my favorite Thai restaurant south of Devon. It’s the perfect place to grab an early supper after a busy day of book shopping and art looking. Be warned that it is very popular with the U of C crowd, so you might want to call ahead. And, try the Fred’s Gluten. Much more delicious than it sounds.
Best Dollar Milkshakes
5706 S. University Ave.
If you happen to be in Hyde Park on a Wednesday, pretend to be a U o f C student and crash the Reynolds Club (you don’t need an ID to get in). On the first floor, the C-Shop café serves Wednesday $1 milkshakes with all the toppings your heart desires. Then hole up somewhere in this somewhat creepy, Harry Potter-esque Gothic building and observe the poor children trapped in the place where fun comes to die.
Best Places to See Art
Hyde Park Art Center | hydeparkart.org
5020 S. Cornell Ave. 773-324-5520
Renaissance Society | renaissancesociety.org
5811 S. Ellis Ave. 773-702-8670
Smart Museum | smartmuseum.uchicago.edu
5550 S. Greenwood Ave. 773-702-0200
OK, so I cheated. But how could I choose just one! Thanks in part to the presence of U of C, Hyde Park is a culturally rich destination. Go to the Hyde Park Art Center to see emerging Chicago artists and thoughtfully curated group shows; go to the Ren to see superstar international artists; and the Smart for some historical dimension and depth. And then go get a milkshake and some Thai Food.
Best Place to See Art
South Side Community Art Center | southsidecommunityartcenter.com
3831 S. Michigan Ave. 773-373-1026
The SSCAC was the first black art museum in the U.S., founded in 1940 with WPA money. It has gone through many ups and downs since then, but today curator/executive director Faheem Majeed is invigorating the place with new energy and exciting ideas. SAIC is often partnering with the center on one project or another, so it behooves any current student to take the train ride down to check it out.
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Tangled up in Blue: live music and late night tacos off the blue line
I’m a Blue Line man, myself. It runs 24 hours. You can indulge your sweet tooth and dance yourself into oblivion and still catch a train home.
If I were you, these are the places I would take myself.
By Brandon Kosters
Best Ice Cream
1960 N. Western Ave. (Western Train Stop)
They bring you a spoon, but what they ought to bring you is a snorkel and a pair of swim trunks. You could doggy paddle in this trough of ice cream you just purchased for chump change.
Margie’s was the very first ice cream parlor to open in Chicago. Al Capone was a frequent guest, as were the fab four (there are actually a number of autographed Beatles photographs on display). Get yourself and 1 – 3 friends a banana split.
Best Place To Dance That Isn’t Danny’s
3534 W.Belmont Ave. (Belmost Train Stop)
Vintage goth/new wave/garage. Men in lipstick. In other words: perfect. Founded by local DJ Dave Roberts who used to spin at NEO in Lincoln Park, the Late Bar will project racing films behind you while you dance with the friendliest bunch of freaks you could ever meet.
Saturday night, or “Planet Earth” as they call it, is the night to go, when Roberts spins from 10 p.m. – 5 a.m.
Best Place To Dance That Is Danny’s
1951 W. Dickens Ave. (Western Train Stop)
It’s candle-lit, for one. And they host fantastic live DJ sets throughout the week. I’d say go Thursday, unless you want to assimilate yourself into the giant human meat grinder that is the dance floor on a Saturday. Never wear open-toed shoes here.
Best Video Rental Shop
1822 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Be it Sexploitation, Blaxploitation, Christploitation, Hixploitation (my personal favorite), good old fashioned exploitation, or Amelie, Odd Obsession is there to pander to your every whim, however bizarre. And for those with taste, they offer an extensive collection of Melies and other early 20th Century French filmmakers. Maybe you’re jonesing for a little Powell and Pressburger? They have that too, friend. You’re spending a buck or two more there than you would at Blockbuster, but they’ve got a lot of stuff you’ll have a difficult time finding anywhere else.
Best Concert Venue
1035 N. Western Ave.
Great mix of local and touring acts, plus good drink specials. Good place to go if you’re into garage or psychedelic rock.
Best Place to Attend A Film Marathon
The Portage Theater
4050 North Milwaukee Ave. (Montrose Train Stop)
The Portage shares its “best of” title along with the Music Box, another magnificent Chicago theater that was constructed in the 1920s. Good place to go for screenings of silent films with live accompaniment, and vintage sci-fi/horror marathons.
Best 24 Hour Mexican Food
Arturo’s | nightingaletheatre.org
2001 N. Western Ave. (Western Train Stop)
One of the best lengua tortas your money can buy, and one of the most generously sized margaritas in Bucktown. Great when you’re in that part of town late at night. I once heard a story about an epic brawl that broke out there. Burritos flew as the mariachi band played on. Good horchata, too.
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This spring, Anne Calcagno’s travel writing class took a group field trip to Chicago’s storied Boystown neighborhood. The following are their thoughts and impressions…which they have kindly (and eloquently) shared with F Newsmagazine. Thanks, guys!
Best Sex Shop
Tulip Toy Gallery
3459 N. Halsted 1-877-70-TULIP
Looking for conscientious sexcessories? Slip into Tulip, whose three Chicago locations offer guests a No Shame Zone in which they can explore their pleasures.
Tulip prides itself on being a queer establishment that really has something for everyone. “That’s the idea of sex, right? You get what you want,” noted the friendly and informative employee who was working one Sunday afternoon when we stopped by to check out the store. There, whips and condoms mingle with dildos and a wide book selection, for those who relish their research. Lacy clothing, feathers, vibrators: Tulip takes its selection seriously, and has a variety of toys as diverse as the needs of its clientele.
But beyond the basics, Tulip also desires to educate and create an open dialogue with its customers. They hold free workshops for the community, and are also dedicated to stocking only the items that they themselves would feel comfortable using. Whether you’re a regular adult toy shopper or just browsing for the first time, Tulip is a place where you can feel comfortable and informed, while looking for that perfect something to satisfy your cravings.
— Alexis Buryk
Best Place to Buy Used Stuff
The Brown Elephant | howardbrown.org
3651 N. Halsted Street 773-549-5943
Chicago is home to scores of amazing thrift stores, but not all benefit a good cause, like the Brown Elephant. This resale shop, occupying a large warehouse space in Boystown, is filled with an endless cache of secondhand treasures. And all of the Brown Elephant’s proceeds are funneled into the Howard Brown Center, an LGBTQ healthcare organization which helps fund treatments for the under-insured. One of many located in the Chicagoland area, the Brown Elephant is iconic for its one-of-a-kind finds and devoted staff. Shopping for wellness? Count us in.
— Amanda Aldinger
Best Wine Shop
3325 N. Halsted Street 773-975-9463
Kafka, a wine store run by co-owners Michael and Joe, is highly recommended for wine lovers who are looking to try different varieties at affordable prices. The store itself is bright and cozy, lacking pretension. Kafka simply focuses on good wines under $15, arranged by flavors from “buttery Chardonnay” to “bone-dry Riesling.” Each bottle is hand-picked by the owners, who only sell wines they truly love. Bottles call out to store visitors with signs like, “Take me home!” “Oyster! Shrimp! Mussels!” “Let’s stay in and order Pizza!” Whether you’re a seasoned vinophile, or just someone looking pair a new wine with dinner, tell the staff what you’re looking for, and they’ll be sure to provide you with the perfect wine.
— Jing Xu
Best Place to Take In a Drag Show
Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club
3700 N. Halsted Street 773-525-1111
Named for the seedy nightclub in the musical “Cabaret,” the Kit Kat Lounge has an extensive martini list and an entertaining rotation of theme nights (Lady Gagarama, Britney Brunch) and drag queen divas (Madam X, Sunny Dee-Lite). On my Sunday afternoon visit, I found the glammed-out black and white space sadly diva-less, but Kit Kat’s half-priced martini special and the classic Hollywood cinema playing on giant LCD screens around the bar more than compensated.
— Mia Dimeo
Best Place to Please a Vegan
Chicago Diner | veggiediner.com
3411 N. Halsted Street
There’s some doubt as to weather the Chicago Diner belongs to Boystown or Lakeview (where, exactly, does Boystown begin and end, anyway?). Let’s just say it’s in Boystown. At any rate, the Chicago Diner is one of Chicago’s oldest vegetarian-vegan restaurant cafes and is renowned as such across the Midwest. Vegans come here all the way from Minnesota! Back when I, too, was vegan, this was the spot to get birthday cakes and other sumptuous desserts, which more often than not please the animal-product consumers amongst us, as well. They also do fantastic vegetarian-vegan Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. And smoothies.
— Ania Szremski
Best Place to Furnish Your Dollhouse
Think Small by Rosebud
3209 N. Clark Street 773-477-1920
A plain, simple pink shop, Think Small by Rosebud is a haven for both dollhouse enthusiasts and those simply fascinated with miniatures. On the entrance floor, glass cases contain handcrafted fireplaces, dining room sets, magazines, Dior perfume, toilet paper, running boards, couches, cabinets — and, if you can’t find what you want, they can help you create it. In their basement is a workshop where castles, fairy tale cottages, dream homes, and replicas of childhood stories sit among jars of glue, laminate, wood cutting tools, and many editions of Architect Digest. Until the day it closes, Think Small’s basement will hold hobbyists of various ages, from a girl of 11 working on her first house, to a man who’s been designing his for 12 years.
— Aimee Norris
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A proud inhabitant, I love the Ravenswood/Lincoln Square area for its quaint homey-ness, and eclectic offering of eateries, boutiques and bars. I’ve found that since arriving, I’ve been hard-pressed to socialize elsewhere, I so thoroughly enjoy being a tourist in my own hood. But that’s not a problem, because my expertise has allowed me to curate a diverse “best of” list — from good wine, to Grecian belly dancing, to porn — that thoroughly proves just how awesome this North Side neighborhood is.
Best Movie Theatre With An Awesome Marquee
The Davis Theater | davistheater.com
4614 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-769-3999
I love the Davis for its vintage feel and cheap prices (matinees are $5.50 before 6 p.m!). A great neighborhood theater showing a rotating selection of first-run movies, this classic establishment is an ideal spot for a date night, or for catching an afternoon film on your own (my personal fave).
Best German Bar Your Grandparents Would Love
Chicago Brauhaus | chicagobrauhaus.com
4732 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-784-4444
With Lincoln Square being a notoriously German neighborhood, the Chicago Brauhaus is a noted staple. Serving up authentic German cuisine all day long (you must try their Bavarian pretzels) they also have a massive bar with a huge selection of German beer and wine. All of this is amazing, but my very favorite part is the German polka band on hand for live music and dancing every night. They even have their own theme song, “Welcome to the Brauhaus in Chicago.” What more could you possibly ask for?
Best BYOB Italian
Caro Mio | caromiochicago.com
1827 W. Wilson Ave. 773-275-5000
Caro Mio hasn’t been voted Best Italian BYOB numerous times (and one of Chicago’s most romantic Italian restaurants) for nothing. Boasting an incredible menu with a diverse array of sumptuous pastas, my recent introduction to Caro Mio was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Chicago. With its BYOB/no corkage fee status, you can splurge on the good stuff, guilt free. My recommendation? The caprese salad and linguini frutta di mare: seafood so good, it was like being back in Monaco.
Best Spicy Scallop Roll
Roong Petch | roongpetch.com
1828 W. Montrose Ave. 773-989-0818
I love sushi — like, Jeremy Piven-style, where it might put me at risk for mercury poison — so I’m constantly on the lookout for new sushi joints. When I had my first spicy scallop roll at Roong Petch, I knew I had struck gold and would be hard-pressed to get my sushi fix anywhere else. I’ve since man-handled everyone I know into going with me, and without question, the general consensus is that it’s life-changing. Don’t skip the seaweed salad or the Dragon Roll either. You’ll thank me later.
Hazel | store.hazelchicago.com
1902 W. Montrose Ave. 773-769-2227
Not only is Hazel my pick for best Ravenswood boutique, but it’s one of my personal happy places: a mecca of amazing jewelry finds, fresh flowers, and kitschy gifts. I can’t say enough about their well-merchandised collection of trinkets and accessories from artists and designers all over the world. It’s right next door to my local Starbucks, so I’ve had many a latte trip that turned into a $65 affair after just “stopping in at Hazel” to see what’s new on my way home (why won’t I learn?!). Just go there; it’s probably the best place in Chicago, ever. And it’s right next to Roong Petch … enough said.
Best Vintage Treasures
Ravenswood Antique Mart | ravenswoodantiquemart.com
4727 N. Damen 773-271-3700
With what has been called “the most comprehensive selection of modern design available in Chicago,” the Ravenswood Antique Mart is a veritable goldmine for vintage and antique treasures. Having everything from jewelry to handbags, art to metal sculptures, and pottery to glassware, this is one of the best antique collections in the city. A must for any second-hand fiend.
Best Opportunity to Get Down and Dirty with the Greeks
Barba Yianni Grecian Taverna | barba-yianni.com
4761 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-878-6400
I love Greek food so much, and my first experience at Barba Yianni was fabulous. The interior of this huge restaurant is inspired by traditional Greek decor, and the menu is just as large as the space. I’m a big fan of the spanakotiropita (spinach pie), as well as their kota gemisti (stuffed chicken breast with spinach and cheese) and they have a really excellent selection of Greek wines, as well. But the very best part? On Saturday evenings, they open their dance floor up for a traditional Greek band and belly dancing. If this doesn’t sound like heaven to you, I’m pretty sure you’re lying.
Best Neighborhood Video Rental Store
Housing a Massive Selection of Porn in the Back
1830 W. Wilson Ave. # 2 773-275-2333
The first time I ever walked into Tom Video and found out the majority of their rentals were only $1, I asked the man behind the counter, “How do you guys stay in business?” In response, he pointed to the curtained-off doorway and its “18 and older” sign and said, “That.” So, Tom Video stays in business because they have a massive selection of porn. But this does not take away from the fact that their movies are insanely cheap to rent, and that they laminate a membership card for you when you become an official renter, old school style. Or, that often times you’ll walk in on an employee smoking pot when you enter the store. I love Tom Video.
Best Street Festival With the Best German Everything
German-American Festival | germanday.com
German Fest is, hands down, my favorite street festival in Chicago. Held in the middle of Lincoln Square, it has a great selection of beer and German wine (love street fests where the wine is cheaper than the beer), all underscored by kick-ass German polka bands. Those awesome things aside, who doesn’t love eating sauerkraut and pretzels while bartering for cheap jewelry amongst a slew of carnival games? Plus, its ideal location makes for great German bar-hopping opportunities post-fest (see: Chicago Brauhaus). It’s in September and right off the Western Brown Line stop — don’t miss it.
Best Beer and Wine Flights (And Garlic French Fries)
Fork | forkchicago.net
4600 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-751-1500
So, by now I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme. I like food, and I really like wine. And while I love a good deal, I also like to up the ante once in a while, which is why I love Fork. This gastropub has a fabulous menu, featuring everything from a duck club, to a large selection of cheese and charcuterie, to their famous garlic cilantro french fries. Pair your meal with a cocktail from their impressive, and very international, wine and beer menu (I’m a big fan of their Malbecs). Just feel like drinking? Saddle up to the bar and check out some of their excellent flight options. Happy summer, indeed.
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Rogers Park is a great respite from school and work life. On the very northern boundaries of the city, it’s quieter, greener, and has a large rabbit population. It’s also one of the most culturally diverse spots in the city, and I feel comforted knowing that on any given night, I won’t have any problem finding my favorite Polish vodka, satisfying my craving for fried yucca, or shopping for saris, should the need arise. And when I’m done with all that, I can go relax on the beach, which is literally a five minute walk from my house. Here are just a few of my favorite spots.
Stella’s Espresso has almost single-handedly kept me alive during the past three years at SAIC. This cozy, homey-feeling café has couches, study desks, tables and bars that house studious Loyola students, telecommuters, writers and those lucky people whose profession is mysterious, but apparently have little else to do but sit around and read newspapers. Stella’s serves delicious Intelligentsia coffee and scrumptious cookies and cupcakes delivered fresh daily from a local baker. My favorite: the chocolate chip pretzel cookie! It’s also the only coffee shop in the neighborhood open till 10 p.m.
Best Ethiopian Food
Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant | ethiopiandiamondcuisine.com
6120 N. Broadway Street 773-338-6100
If you’re vegetarian, you should make it your mission to seek out great Ethiopian restaurants; Ethiopian cooking is some of the best in the world, and their meatless dishes are wonderful. Ethiopian Diamond on Broadway is great (they also have another location on Clark, but I can’t vouch for it). The dining room is weirdly dark and box-like, but the cocktails are strong, the coffee thick (which is a good thing, in my book), and the dishes (mainly featuring chick peas, lentils, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and other veggies) delicious. I may never get used to that spongy bread, but that’s just me.
Loyola/North Shore Beach
Fie on those who mock Chicago beaches! Up on the North side, the North Shore Beach (and it’s continuation further north as the Loyola Beach) is a true, proper stretch of sand on which you can play volleyball, sunbathe, and build sand castles to your heart’s content. Is the water cold? Sure, but it’s refreshing in the muggy summer time heat. Behind the beach is a park that’s perfect for barbecuing, and just north up the coast is Berger Park, which has a summer time open air café/bar with live music in the evenings.
Best Place to Drink Pisco Sours
and Sing Along to Cumbia Music
Taste of Peru | tasteofperu.com
6545 N. Clark Street 773-381-4540
Here’s the thing about Taste of Peru: I’m not actually crazy about their food. This is probably because I’m vegetarian. The veggie dishes (like vegetarian fried rice or vegetarian omelette) taste a little bit like freezer burn. The appetizers, however, are awesome. You have to try the potatoes in huancaina sauce and the fried yucca root. My boyfriend also loves their seafood dishes, especially the choros a la chalaca. But it’s less about the food than the ambiance. Crowd into the tiny, cramped dining room with a bottle of pisco (you can grab one from the liquor store on the corner). Have the server whip you up a frothy, refreshing pitcher of pisco sours, pour a glass for the owner, and get ready to drunkenly sing along to the live cumbia music, and be challenged to various tests of manual dexterity by said owner with the promise of winning a free dinner (I’ve never actually seen anyone win, but it’s still fun).
Best Cinema for Getting Drunk
The New 400 Theaters | thenew400.com
6746 N. Sheridan Road 773-856-5980
The saga of this movie theater has been quite a tumultuous roller coaster for the neighborhood. It was a big selling point when the super showed me my apartment, which is nearby: it has the cheapest movie tickets in Chicago, he promised. Great, I responded. And the month after I moved in, the theater closed. But hark, it has since reopened, and still offers cheap (if not the cheapest) tickets, cheap popcorn, and, yes, a full bar. Why ever leave the neighborhood again??
Best Place to Take Bleeding Heart Liberals to Dinner
Heartland Café | heartlandcafe.com
7000 N. Glenwood Ave. 773-465-2803
The Heartland Café is a piece of Chicago history, so you really can’t live here without dropping by at least once, no matter how far south on the Red Line you are. It’s where Obama held a landmark rally for his presidential campaign back in 2006 — when everyone still loved him and his hair still had color. The Heartland is one of those places where almost everything can be made vegan. I hate to admit that I’m not super crazy about their tex-mex food (just a little too healthy, I guess. I like my veggie burgers greasy, so sue me), but I do like the chili and cornbread. Also has a great selection of beer and other types of booze, which you’ll probably need since there’s often some earnest young person in a black leotard reciting poetry on the restaurant’s stage. But there could also be some great music playing, so you might as well try your luck. The restaurant attaches to a small store that sells organic coffee and fair trade knick-knacks that tend to appeal to yuppies with a conscience.
Best Place to Buy Dodgy Wine
from Behind the Iron Curtain
1440 W Devon Ave 773-338-2572
As of the 2000 Census, Rogers Park was America’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood, with representatives of more than 100 nationalities living within its borders. At least a little bit of this diversity is reflected in Devon Market, which offers a puzzling, but pleasing mix of Eastern European and Latin American goods. It’s the perfect place to pick up Polish cookies, frozen guava paste, and Romanian wine in one fell swoop. There’s also an on-site bakery that will bake things to order for you at no extra charge, if you just ask them! And finally, the produce is pretty decent, and is often on sale at ridiculously cheap prices — like a pound of bananas for 29 cents! I bought two pounds, and I don’t even like bananas. And once, in the dead of winter, for about three days they had the most deliciously sweet and ripe black cherries for only 99 cents a pound. I don’t know how they do it, and I don’t think I want to.
Best Place to Debate Marxism
Mess Hall | messhall.org
6932 N. Glenwood Ave.
Mess Hall is one of the more storied of Chicago’s experimental art spaces. Well, it’s less of an art space, really, than an occasional meeting ground for artists and intellectuals. Run by a rotating cast of eight artists who act as “key holders,” Mess Hall doesn’t have regular hours, but is home to a rather erratic schedule of programs, ranging from temporary exhibitions, to sewing circles, to “skill sharing” workshops, to potluck dinners where attendees discuss Das Kapital. Check out their calendar of events to learn when something curious is happening.
Best Place to Torture Yourself With Eyebrow Threading
Deeba’s Beauty Salon
2752 W. Devon Ave. 773-465-9685
Moving back to Chicago, I was excited to discover that stretching west on Devon, threading salons abound. This section of the avenue is famed for its Indian and Pakistani community (with some Arab and Russian establishments thrown in for good measure). Every once in a while, I find myself over there to deposit checks at my bank, and suddenly realize I may have been (ahem) neglecting my personal upkeep. So I’ll take five of my hard-earned dollars across the street to Deeba’s, the best salon of the lot. The operation is quick and painful: the owner of the place thrusts me into a chair, drops her instruments on to my belly for convenience, grabs my face and starts threading (yes, it hurts. A lot). But a only few minutes later, I fork over five dollars and go down to the corner to snack on delicious samosas. If only every bothersome operation ended so pleasantly!
Best BYOB Thai
1320 W. Devon Ave. 773-973-0504
Devon Avenue is a smorgasbord of cheap and tasty Indian cuisine – but it’s home to just one outstanding Thai restaurant. In fact, I would argue that it’s not only the best Thai place in Roger’s Park/Edgewater, but the whole city! Thai Spice is owned and operated by the Austrian Anthony and his Thai wife, who lend this BYOB its welcoming character. Don’t be put off by the Spartan ambiance; come for the moderately priced, heaping portions of sweet and savory delicacies, including the ultimate homemade rice noodles. My favorite: the Pad Kee Mao. Frequent customers are rewarded with the occasional free drink or desert.