My favorite restaurants in Lincoln Park...
Living in Chicago, we have access to some of the best restaurants in the nation - and even the world! Even though we have our choice of 5-star restaurants, my favorite places tend to be smaller, local hang-outs, where you can linger at a table for hours catching up with friends. My only requirements: good food + good vibe.
Going out to eat inevitably happens a few times each week, whether it's breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, or even just apps and drinks. There are quite literally an unlimited amount of choices. So how do you choose where to go? I listen to word of mouth and keep my eyes open for new restaurants. I still use Yelp reviews to help make choices. I also keep a running list in my Note Pad app of restaurant recommendations from friends and places I drive by and say "I want to try that place some day" - then I look at the notes whenever we are wondering where to go next.
Then someone recently asked me what my favorite neighborhood restaurants were, so I decided to come up with my list! If you live in the city, maybe you'll jot some ideas down. And if you come to Chicago for a visit, you can keep this list handy when your stomach starts growling.
My (current) favorite restaurants in Lincoln Park:
1. CAFE BA BA REEBA!
This restaurant is number one on the list for many reasons. I first ate here when I was visiting a friend years ago (while we were still living in California) and I remembered the food, the atmosphere, and the ah-mazing sangria. It's a Spanish, tapas-style restaurant that is great for a group and the food will blow you away. Years later, we happen to live just a few blocks from Café Ba Ba Reeba and we are always thrilled when we can take friends and family there for their first time!
Try: Brussel Sprout salad, Burrata with catalan tomato bread, Rioja braised short-rib, Bacon-wrapped Dates, Meatballs, and the Paella (it is worth the hour wait!)
2. TORO SUSHI
This place is so low-profile, I had walked by it dozens of times before I actually went inside. Turns out, it is one of the best sushi spots in Chicago. We had been looking for sushi that rivaled what we grew accustom to in California and this places is the best we have tried so far! Apparently, it's no secret. The wait is always out-the-door. It's a BYOB joint, so bring a bottle of wine and get ready to try some fun rolls. Don't forget to fist-bump with the Chef and Owner, Mitch (no, really, it's what the locals do!)
Try: Holla Jalepeno roll, Kamikaze roll, Miami roll, O* roll, or whatever special the chef recommends that day
3. MON AMI GABI
You might already know Mon Ami Gabi. They have a few locations across the country, including Las Vegas. But lucky for us, this one is located just a few blocks from our house - and right by the Lincoln Park Zoo. it is just like it sounds, a classic French bistro. The patio is a great place to have lunch or brunch - plus, they have a wine cart. The entire restaurant is located in the Belden Stratford building, so admiring the gorgeous lobby before you sit down is a must!
Try: Omlette Lorraine, Crème Brulee French Toast, Croque Madame sandwich, and try a Gabi Bloody Mary!
4. SAPORI TRATTORIA
This is our favorite go-to for classic, Italian food. It's cute enough for date night, but low-key enough to head in for an early Sunday dinner. Many of their pastas are homemade, the wine list is great, and you must save room for dessert. If you are going for a special occasion, call and let the restaurant know: they will print a special, custom message at the top of your menu!
Try: grilled calamari, Bucatini Carbonara, Risotto ai Funghi, and the famous Zuppa Di Pesce
The vibe here is a bit college-y, but the pizza is delicious and the drinks are fun. In fact, in the summer, they serve specialty drinks out of rose gold pineapple cups and Moscow mules are a big hit here. Back to the pizza: if you are in Chicago and don't want deep dish *gasp*, give this place a try! My favorite pizza in the entire city is the Mercenary pizza from Homeslice. It's the perfect blend of spicy jalepenos, chicken (which is a welcome change from traditional pepperoni or sausage), cheese, and yummy sauce. You just have to try it for yourself. If that doesn't get your taste buds going, they have a bunch of other great pies to choose from. Did I mention their super cool outdoor patio? Just look at the photos. As the restaurant says, get yourself some, homie.
Try: breadsticks and goat cheese, Sheffield salad, the Knife and Forkner, and, of course, the Mercenary (our favorite pizza in the city!) (yep, I said it)
6. LEFT COAST
This is definitely the most fast casual place on this list. But the grain bowls, salads, and juices are so good - and healthy! - I couldn't leave it off! I love stopping in after the gym on the weekends for an acai bowl or a juice. The grain bowls are so yummy and you can order ahead to take home for a quick, healthy take-out meal. With a few locations popping up around Chicago, this place is quickly becoming a post-spin-class meeting spot!
Try: Laguna Avocado Toast, Jimmy Ching salad, Farrow and Away, and K-Town grain bowls
7. SUMMER HOUSE SANTA MONICA
Summer House has the California, boho vibe down, as the name suggests. I have come to this restaurant in the dead of winter and felt like it was actually summer inside. They literally call one of their seating areas the "Vitamin D Room". Come for the atmosphere, stay for the fresh, Cali-inspired food and wine. We tend to come here for lighter meals, like lunch or shareable snacks. Do not leave unless you've picked up something sweet from the bakery (the chocolate chip cookies are quite famous in the neighborhood and sometimes sell out).
Try: Emerald Kale salad, Roasted Cauliflower, Avocado Toast, and the cookies
8. MAISON MARCEL
This is a perfect spot for weekend breakfast or brunch. It is light and bright. A great mix of French and hipster. There are mismatched chairs and tables. The coffee bar can whip up a mean latte while you wait for your table and peruse the selection of pastries and macarons!
Try: the Croissant Marcel (this is the dish you'll see coming out of the kitchen constantly, so you know you have to order it), Salad Lyonnaise, and the fresh baked goodies
9. OYSTER BAH
I had to put a seafood restaurant on the list! And this one has a great atmosphere and even better oysters. They really commit to the New England theme, using fishing buckets as lamp shades. You can also get your name on the wall if you try your first oyster there! I have heard rumblings about their key lime pie, but haven't tried it myself.
Try: the Oysters, Sweet Corn & Jalepeno Hush Puppies, French Style Mussels, and the Mac & Cheese
Cheers! (And yes, I am ending on 9. Deal with it!)