Just a few years ago Evanston was a culinary stick in the mud, thanks to the regressive liquor laws in the birthplace of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the fact that college kids are, well, not the most discriminating diners. Yet today the suburb has a booming scene including farm-to-table restaurants, new Asian food spots, and even a few honest-to-goodness craft beer and cocktail spots. Here are our favorites from all over Evanston’s scene. If you’re tempted to complain that some old place you loved as a student isn’t on the list... trust us, nothing you ate at 1am after a frat party was as good as you remember.
The Ultimate Evanston Eating Guide
I thought it was a law that every college town had to have a great, old-time pizza joint, but Evanston is largely chains-ville for pizza. What they do have, though, is a first-rate, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza place in Union, a funky-hip spot attached to the Space performing... space. It has also spawned a spinoff, Union Squared, devoted to another regional pizza style -- Detroit’s.
The city’s beloved (but very tiny) pie shop, Hoosier Mama, went to the burbs to find more space, opening this cafe with Dollop Coffee. The star attraction is the peerlessly flaky-crusted dessert pies, but there are also savory pies, biscuit sandwiches, scones, and more.
Evanston finally got a contemporary, farm-to-table, small plate-ery in the form of this place from Amy Morton (of Morton’s) and Chef Nicole Pederson. More than that, it got a homey clubhouse that feels like it wants to give you a hug the moment you walk in.
And speaking of farm-to-table spots, a bunch have arrived in Evanston in Found’s wake, including an Evanston branch of River North’s excellent, rustic, restaurant-tavern, where 'local' means both the food on the plate and the beers in the three glasses next to your plate.
Evanston was a wilderness shrouded in myth and legend until Eddie Lakin put it on the map with his old-school burger joint. He did it by going back to the basics -- fresh-ground burger patties, fresh-cut fries, real shakes made on a Mixmaster -- while sprinkling in some more avant-garde items like lobster fries and Speculoos shakes.
Evanston’s first craft cocktail bar sits on the Chicago border, as if it might have to make a dash at any moment. That just adds to the speakeasy atmosphere here, which ranges from well-made classic cocktails like an excellent Manhattan or the whiskey flip, to Tiki exotica like the scorpion bowl. There’s a food menu, but it’s more snacks (bacon-wrapped dates, charcuterie) than a meal.
Just a couple of doors from Ward Eight, and like it, a place that gives Evanstonians something their city neighbors have had for a long time. That is, a temple of porky delights, from charcuterie platters and bacon-fat popcorn to start, to global comfort food like lamb tacos and roasted pork belly with mashed potatoes. Nice patio for the summer months, too.
Looking for a place that Mom and Dad will find comfortable on a game day, but at the same time, meets the demands of your refined palate? Down the street from Ryan Field, this is your choice -- the food includes barbecue and Neapolitan pizza, while the Midwestern craft beer list is well-curated and includes some Evanston brews. The only hitch? A thousand other people had the same idea that day.
Chicken Shack’s take on fried chicken is elementally simple -- salt and pepper, fry it, and serve with tangy barbecue sauce -- and the result is terrific, some of the top fried chicken in the Chicagoland area. Summer bonus: they’ll even deliver it to you at Evanston beach.
The space that once held the notorious Keg bar is now a gleaming white coffeeshop and bakery. The in-house baked goods like croissants and pastries are very good; the breakfast and lunch items are not as impressive, but it’s brand new, give it a chance.
Jamaican food is like a cross between the spiciest Indian food you can think of and the comfiness of Thanksgiving dinner. This Jamaican joint (and its friendly owner) dish up a full range of things from its tiny buffet line kitchen, including jerk chicken, savory oxtail stew, and blazingly hot curry goat.
Lots of brightly modern Asian cafes seem to be springing up in Evanston, but this one is a rarity not only for Evanston but the city as a whole -- serving Taiwanese dishes (get the beef noodle soup) as well as the more common Korean and Chinese comfort dishes.
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1. Union Pizzeria1245 Chicago Ave, Evanston
2. Hoosier Mama Pie Company749 Chicago Ave, Evanston
3. Found Kitchen & Social House1621 Chicago Ave, Evanston
4. Farmhouse Evanston703 Church St, Evanston
5. Edzo's Burger Shop1571 Sherman Ave, Evanston
6. Ward Eight629 Howard St, Evanston
7. Peckish Pig623 Howard St, Evanston
8. Ten Mile House1700 Central St, Evanston
9. Evanston Chicken Shack1925 Ridge Ave, Evanston
10. Cupitol Coffee & Eatery812 Grove Street, Evanston
11. Claire's Korner1827 Emerson St, Evanston
12. 527 Cafe527 Davis St, Evanston
This swanky Evanston pizza joint serves tasty wood-fired 'za, sammies, and small plates in a softly lit setting.
The simple value of Hoosier Mama cannot be understated. They serve up scratch-made pies (available whole, by the slice, and in flights) in styles like classic apple, banana cream, peanut butter, and maple pecan. The space is open and sunny, and, in addition to the sweets, breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, with salads, sandwiches and savory pie options available in the later hours.
Helmed by Chef Nicole Pederson (Lula Cafe), Found serves a seasonal American menu in a space inspired by 1920s Paris. The kitchen serves a so-called "flexitarian" menu, so expect a mix of meat and vegetable dishes, like fried cauliflower with Indian spices and twice-fried chicken wings with honey, lemon, and smoked chilies.
Farmhouse is a locally-inspired gastropub that's doling out seriously innovative eats and delicious 'tails.
Edzo isn't the name of a creepy clown but of an awesome burger joint with a serious '70s vibe. The patties are made from house-ground chuck that's pressed, griddled, then topped with extras like fried egg or giardiniera relish. The menu includes elevated French fry options -- order them "Crazy" to get a topping of chili, cheese, and chopped onion or "Angry" with four kinds of spices. Edzo's is also known for its milkshakes, which are made the old-fashioned way -- on a slow-mixing spindle machine -- to yield an extra-smooth and creamy texture.
The epitome of a craft cocktail bar, Ward Eight serves inventive twists on beloved classics (like a mezcal Old Fashioned) and elevated bar bites in an intimate saloon-like setting. Regular live music, like smooth jazz and acoustic guitar, creates a relaxed ambience that works well for any night of the week.
A elevated brewpub in Evanston, the Peckish Pig is a solid neighborhood joint for low-key weeknight dinners and lazy weekend brunching. The porcine heavy menu features savory and hearty comfort food dishes (hog wings, duck confit mac & cheese) that'll go great with brewed in-house drafts. If beer's not your thing, Peckish Pig's extensive selection of whiskey, bourbon, and rye is sure to impress.
Evanston welcomes Ten Mile House: a comfort food specialist inspired by the city’s oldest social gathering point. The inviting atmosphere reflects the equally inviting menu, which is loaded with deliciousness like wood-fired pizzas, a slow-cooked pork shoulder sandwich, poutine, and dry-rubbed baby back ribs.
This might just be the best hole-in-the-wall fried chicken joint Evanston. It's quick and cheap, but be forewarned: it's cash only.
It's hard to believe that the modern, gleaming white café that is now Cupitol was formerly the Keg, a notorious dive bar frequented by Northwestern students. The coffee shop-restaurant hybrid draws inspiration from European cafes with a menu of freshly baked pastries and savory lunch bites like tuna niçoise and gravlax tartine. Dinner is worth checking out, but breakfast proves the most popular thanks to well-crafted coffee beverages and buttery croissants.
This small divey resto serves up authentic Jamaican fare including some of the most delicious Jamaican jerk chicken you'll ever taste.
This bright, casual eatery has quickly become an Evanston staple thanks to its flavorsome Chinese cuisine and authentic Taiwanese comfort food. The pork fried rice and popcorn chicken prove equally accessible and delicious, while more traditional, substantial fare like the beef noodle soup are wholly satisfying standouts. 527 is counter service, but feel free to post up at a table and sip on a jasmine milk tea until an amiable server arrives with your order.