When you need to find cheap eats in Evanston, you'll have your pick of great spots. Head to Tomate for ropa vieja empanadas, to Claire's Korner for Jamaican food, or Evanston Chicken Shack for fried chicken. Plus, there's barbecue, hot dogs, sushi and more. Here's where to go when you only have one Alexander Hamilton to spend.
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Evanston cheap eats
The quaint neon marquee above the door and the cake decorating window might trigger childhood nostalgia, but it's the air vents along the sidewalk that do the best advertising for Bennison's. The wafting odors of fresh doughnuts and breads is hard to resist. And those doughnuts are tradtional and perfect, eschewing the big-as-your-face, loaded-with-candy trend. It's simply a moist cake donut with the right amount of frosting. Seasonally, the bakery serves up pączki and king cake. There are also macaroons, soft pretzels, scones, tortes, etc. It's a continual walk-in holiday.
Claire will probably be manning the front of the tiny restaurant when you arrive, and she'll help steer you toward the right dish. For us, it was curry chicken, which was fall-apart tender and served with a huge portion of rice and peas, plaintains she fried up right in front of us, and tender shreds of cabbage. The jerk chicken is also solid, and there's a fun selection of Jamaican sodas and thick wedges of caramel cake to round out the meal.
To say that you get more than you pay for at this dinerish Greek joint is an obscene understatement. It’s not just that the portions are huge (the $9 gyros platter is piled about ten inches high)—it’s that the food is well-spiced and fresh. In other words, it’s a refreshing change from most Greek spots. And refreshing for vegetarians, too, with its veggie versions of rich moussaka and pastitsio.
This under-the-radar spot across from the post office attacks your waistline on two fronts—breakfast and lunch. For your mornings, Belgian waffles (of the legit Liège variety) are offered topped with whipped cream, bananas, berries, chocolate—the works. Later, head in for the sandwiches, which wrap deli meats in chewy, warm, steamed bagels and breads.
Though one could eat Hoosier pies for every meal without complaint (the pot pies are chunky with tops and bottoms, while the persimmon pie is better than pumpkin), there are other options in the warehouse-y outpost, which has more of a San Francisco industrial vibe than retro kitsch look. The breakfast biscuits filled with bacon and butterkäse are heavy (in a good way); at lunch, lighter sandwiches with turkey, apples, beef and greens are served. While you sip on a Mexican mocha from the Dollop counter, nosh on a hand pie. Yeah, it’s still pie, but it’s small.
Eddie Lakin's burger shop has only been open since 2009, but it's fast become an Evanston institution, thanks to its thin, griddled burgers with crisp edges. Add in outrageously good fries (we're partial to the truffle salt version) and thick, creamy milkshakes (the Nutella is a cult favorite), and you have not just one of Evanston's best burger joints, but one of Evanston's best restaurants.
Regulars at this roadside dive know to call in their orders ahead of time so they don’t have to drool for 20-plus minutes waiting for their fresh-from-the-fryer, juicy birds. You’ll find a few tables next to the pop machines, but this is mostly a takeout joint that caters to a steady stream of NU students and fried-chicken fanatics who go bonkers for the slightly peppery, battered chicken dinners, complete with fries, coleslaw and bread for sopping the grease.
There have been many artisanal barbecue joints opening around the city, and though the popularity of smoked meats might rise and fall amongst chefs, no-nonsense places like Hecky's will outlive us all. For three decades, this corner walk-up has been slathering ribs, tips, chicken, wings and drumsticks in its sauce. As they proudly boast, it really does come down to the sauce. To those who feel Styrofoam containers and wet naps are a more suitable accompaniment to barbecue than craft cocktails, this is your place.
As befits the name, Hewn looks like a rustic wood shop inside, but the delectable browned breads coming out of the ovens are the furthest thing from sawdust. The crispy-soft round loaves come studded with olives, pumpkin seeds, Gruyere, walnut, heirloom potatoes, Parmesan, etc. The epi bread, a baguette shaped like a wheat stalk, is as adorable as it is shareable. Head baker, co-owner and backyard chicken aficionado Ellen King specializes in the country baking found in Brittany, France. The means wonderfully caramelized kouign-amann (that’s “butter cake” in Breton) in cupcake form, not to mention many variations of brioche. The bakery puts out sandwiches on weekdays, but head up on a Friday for the flatbread. Toppings like tart goat cheese, golden peppers and candy-sweet onions sit atop a perfect crust. One day a week, this is the best pizza joint in Evanston.
The Joy Yee mini empire took root in Evanston back in 1993 and continues to pack in everyone from students to local office stiffs who loosen up with platter-size portions of pan-Asian food. The menu’s a bit less adventurous here than at the Chinatown outpost, but we still stop in for mussels with black-bean sauce, garlicky chicken with string beans and gargantuan bowls of udon-noodle soup. And it wouldn’t seem right to leave without a pastel-colored bubble tea from the spot that claims to have introduced it to Chicagoland.