Most of Evanston's best restaurants are located right off CTA stops, so you won't have to go out of your way to eat well. We're crazy about the Neapolitan pizza at Union, the brunch biscuits at Farmhouse and the tandoori chicken at Lucky Platter. Throw in sze chuan cuisine, Ethiopian food and perfectly griddled burgers, and you'll never want for good food in Evanston.
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The best restaurants in Evanston
The NU crowd supporting this stalwart knows the scoop: Use spongy injera bread to sop up everything on the stellar combo plates. Best selections include yeater kit wat (yellow split peas with garlic, cloves and cinnamon), yesiga wat (a spicy beef stew) and azifa (cold lentils with tomatoes and jalapeño). Food is served on a mesob—a single, large platter symbolizing intimacy and loyalty.
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.
Former Publican chef Brian Huston went back to his roots, opening this approachable Evanston spot in his hometown with John Kim of Brothers K Coffee House. The menu changes daily, but you'll always find bar snacks, like grilled bruun-uusto cheese and ham or oysters; meat and fish dishes; and lots of vegetables, like crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. The bar turns out very nice cocktails, like a tart and smoky mezcal-grapefruit-Campari drink.
This Evanston spot is run by chef Vince Di Battista and focuses on sophisticated Italian food made with organic ingredients, including a simple pappardelle bolognese that gets a boost from its delicate veal, pork and pancetta ragù. Though limited, the mostly Italian wine list offers some exciting choices. Looking for something a bit more casual? Try the team’s Union Pizzeria down the street. Even more casual? Look for its Hummingbird Kitchen food truck.
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.
The Evanston location of the River North beer-focused restaurant has a similar menu but a much larger space. The main room is airy and bright, and since it’s almost entirely comprised of wood, you feel like you’re eating in a barn. The cuisine is simple but consistently well executed, like fried cheese curds served with house ketchup; a very solid grass-fed burger, even better with the addition of a fried egg; earthy roasted mushrooms and, for brunch, perfect, flaky biscuits with butter. The Midwestern beer list notes how many miles away the brews come from, so you can drink a beer from Temperance (1.5 miles down the road in Evanston) or Milwaukee’s Lakefront (74 miles), and marvel over much good beer is brewed in our backyard.
Owner Amy Morton and chef Nicole Pederson (formerly of C-House and Lula Cafe) have given Evanston the restaurant it’s been searching for: a place that’s casual (and relatively affordable) enough for Northwestern students seeking a sandwich and a beer and yet civilized enough for suburbanites wanting a three-course meal. Whether you like the found object–inspired decor is a matter of personal preference, but Pederson’s thoughtful, unfussy food (small plates like juicy lamb meatballs with pistachios, entrées like rushing waters trout with lentils and parsnips) has universal appeal.
Tony Hu’s excellent Lao Sze Chuan, which has several city and suburban locations, opened an Evanston outpost in March. The vibe is similar to the Uptown location, and has a lounge feel, with glowing purple-lighted columns, huge panda photographs and bamboo throughout. The menu is pretty much the same as the other spots, with so many dishes it would take ages to try them all. For total newbies to the restaurant or sze chuan cuisine, start with the Chef’s Recommendation section, which includes a mix of spicy and non-spicy dishes. The chef’s special dry chili chicken, chicken with three chilis and sze chuan string bean are all on the list and a good introduction to the fiery cuisine.
New owners have put the whip and brush to this favorite neighborhood spot of locals and NU students. The kitsch has been toned down, the wads of tin foil removed from the ceiling, the yard sale art minimized. Tables and chairs have been replaced, white paint applied, windows cleared to make the place brighter. It remains just as busy, if not more so. The bosses were smart enough to leave the menu of home cookin' untouched. Try the Mexican omelet with veggie-potato hash at breakfast and tandoori chicken (on a salad or sandwich) at dinner. The sides are fantastic: Mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet-potato fries and gratis corn bread are all equally tasty. In early 2015, the space will morph further, when a bar is installed to serve craft beers.
From the street, Evanston's top spot for Neapolitan pizza looks like an old bank, scooped out and filled with the warm, low glow of Edison bulbs and a wood oven. The pies are indeed highly devourable, with toppings like lamb, eggplant and rosemary melting into crusty-chewy dough from the nearby Hewn bakery, not to mention classics like a well balanced (read: well-basiled) margherita, but don't overlook the small plates and daily specials. Octopus and squid are routinely cooked to the right tenderness, vegetables are clean and simple, and the molten eggplant parm, the Tuesday special, is a hot hug. Oh, and never neglect the polenta pound cake, warmed in the oven and topped with a seasonal fruit compote, a carry-over from chef Vince DiBattista's more upscale Campagnola down the road. It's more reason to come up to Evanston than taking in a show at SPACE, the concert hall in back that books name singer-songwriters, folkies and the outlying indie act.