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The dining room of The Barn Steakhouse
Photograph: Courtesy of The Barn Steakhouse

The best restaurants in Evanston

Journey north to discover barbecue, Vietnamese and farm-to-table eats among Evanston’s thriving dining scene.

Amy Cavanaugh
Written by
Nicole Schnitzler
Contributor
Amy Cavanaugh
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Situated just 12 miles north of Chicago, Evanston is home to Northwestern University, plentiful lakefront paths and parks, and an impressive dining scene—and that lineup is only getting stronger. Thoughtful fast-casual concepts are thriving on Northwestern’s campus, while dinner spots are showcasing enough elegance and flair to rival any downtown destination. Best of all, you don’t even need a car to access many of Evanston’s best restaurants and bars, thanks to the CTA’s Purple Line. From an acclaimed bakery to a big-name steakhouse, here are the best places to eat in Evanston right now.

RECOMMENDED: The best restaurants in Chicago

The best restaurants in Evanston

  • Restaurants
  • Evanston

Those on the go but seeking a good-for-you fix will find it at this recently opened carry-out spot, which specializes in expertly crafted salads and grain bowls. Expect a locally driven menu packed with flavor, found in options like the Ode to the Roast Veggie (with cauliflower, carrots, sweet potato and almond quinoa crunch) or the New School Chicken Salad, a Waldorf salad riff turned house favorite. If you’re jonesin’ for something sweet, you’re in luck—Kiki Bakes Pie whips up finales like lemon tart and chocolate chip cookies.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Evanston
  • price 1 of 4

D’Andre Carter acquired an appreciation for barbecue at an early age, when he helped his grandma prepare Sunday dinners for family and friends. After working at some of Chicago’s premier restaurants, Carter partnered with Heather Bublick to open Soul & Smoke, a fast-casual joint featuring slow-cooked meats, with impressive attention to detail. Spring for musts like smoked brisket, mac and cheese, and cornbread muffins, and go big on the sauce—it’s Chef’s signature creation.

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  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Evanston

While the team behind this restaurant now operates multiple locations across Chicagoland, they opened their first brick and mortar in downtown Evanston in 2017. Since then, they have been dialing up the local lunch game with fresh, healthy takes on Vietnamese favorites like banh mi (with housemade pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber and cilantro) and a variety of rice bowls (with green papaya salad, Saigon veggie slaw and crispy shallots). Third-generation restaurateur Alan Moy has a love for the dining model done right, and that commitment to quality shows—right down to the drinks. Their Vietnamese iced coffee is a vegan melding of Dark Matter coffee, house-made coconut milk reduction and organic agave.

Hewn
  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Evanston
  • price 1 of 4

Hewn owner Ellen King had been making bread in her home kitchen for an "Underground Bread Club" when word and demand quickly grew. Soon enough, she partnered with longtime customer Julie Matthei to open the bakery, where the team employs an entirely in-house and from-scratch approach for their daily goods. Opt for loaves like the country or whole wheat seeded, and when it comes to pastries, don’t miss the monkey bread or morning buns.

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Union Pizzeria
Photograph: Courtesy of Union Pizzeria

5. Union Pizzeria

Evanston's top spot for pizza is also a must for music—it’s attached to SPACE, an intimate concert venue hosting acts like The Lumineers, The Lone Bellow and Lucinda Williams. Score tickets to an upcoming set and fuel up beforehand with the restaurant’s raved-about pies—crusty-chewy dough is topped with the likes of lamb, eggplant or bacon (and for takes on Detroit-style ‘za, check out their neighboring sister spot Union Squared). The small plates and specials here rotate with the seasons—opt for musts like Calabrian sausage-filled dates or PEI mussels, with Pernod, saffron and housemade focaccia. 

  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • Evanston

Inspired to open a modern steakhouse in honor of her father Arnie Morton (of Morton’s Steakhouses), Amy Morton opened this smart, welcoming restaurant in the heart of downtown Evanston. Situated in a 19th -century barn that once served as a horse stable for Borden Milk, the space boasts soaring ceilings, a well-dressed bar and rich, mahogany hues throughout. Settle in for sophisticated eats from James Beard-winning chef Debbie Gold, including a caviar sandwich, roasted half chicken and solid surf and turf selection.

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  • Restaurants
  • American creative
  • Evanston

Housed within The Graduate Evanston hotel, this restaurant features updated takes on traditional American dishes featuring elevated, seasonal ingredients. Executive chef Edgar Coronado helms the kitchen, spinning out flavorful plates like king salmon rillette with chips, herbs and endive, braised lamb shank with lentils and root vegetables, and Cacio e Pepe Gnocchi with pecorino Romano and black pepper. Bartender Bad Birdy oversees the drinks list, drawing inspiration from local movie mogul John Hughes his 1980s hits (think the shiso and St. Germaine-laced Don’t You Forget About Me or the Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, a modern play on the Paper Plane).

  • Restaurants
  • Hawaiian
  • Evanston

After working at popular restaurants in Boston and Chicago, Jack DeMar opened this poke restaurant, an ode to his Hawaii upbringing. Enter a lush urban escape (adorned with more than 100 plants), saddle up at a table and get to work ordering. More than a dozen different options are on offer, with specialties like the spicy tuna or citrus salmon (with edamame, onion and miso citrus sauce). Wear a Hawaiian shirt for fun, and for perks—those who do receive a 10 percent discount on orders.

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  • Restaurants
  • Brasseries
  • Evanston

The team behind The Barn just opened this American brasserie within a striking, mid-century “rotunda” building in downtown Evanston. The menu showcases dishes rooted in French technique and Moroccan influences, as evidenced by orders like lamb couscous (with merguez sausage and chickpeas) and grilled oyster mushroom kebabs (with French lentils and sumac). Brunch kicks off in December, and patio season can’t come soon enough—they boast one of the largest alfresco spaces in town.

Campagnola
Photograph: Martha Williams

10. Campagnola

The focus here is on good food made with good ingredients; organic to be precise. For an edible slice of heaven, try the diver scallops with creamed leeks and herb gremolata, octopus with braised gigante beans and honey or mustard-crusted rack of lamb. Peruse selections from their predominantly Italian wine list, which offers some exciting pairing possibilities.

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Joy Yee Noodles
Photo: Erica Gannett

11. Joy Yee Noodles

The Joy Yee mini empire took root in Evanston back in 1993 and continues to pack in the crowds. Stop in for mussels with black-bean sauce, garlicky chicken, or a gargantuan bowl of udon-noodle soup. Enjoy it all alongside any of their teas, which range to include flavors like rose, mango guava or winter melon. 

Lucky Platter

12. Lucky Platter

Visit this mainstay for quirky décor and comfort fare, such as buttermilk fried chicken, pot pie and a medley of hearty sandwiches (from Philly Cheesesteak to BLTs). The menu also features a solid burger lineup (including a half dozen renditions) and global influences found in dishes like tandoori grilled salmon, Moroccan vegetable tagine and chicken piccata.

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