As a Chicago native who’s lived in California for years, I count eating and hiking among my favorite pastimes. Back in town for a recent visit, I decided to combine the two. I set out early on foot from Evanston with two modest goals: Make it downtown before dark, and try as many places on Clark Street as physically possible—then hightail it back to my gym in L.A.
My first mistake: pouring a strong black cup of coffee ($1.90) from Peet’s Coffee & Tea (1622 Chicago Ave., Evanston; 847-864-8413) into an empty stomach at 6 a.m. Heavenly, but a mile later, my empty gut is screaming: “Couldn’t you have gotten a ROLL with that?”
A & T Grill (7036 N. Clark St.; 773-274-0036) stands for “abundant & tasty.” The “A” part is indisputable. I wish I’d left more of the breakfast special (eggs, hash browns, Canadian bacon, toast; $5.85) on the plate.
So many promising Mexican places in Rogers Park, most of them closed at 7 a.m. Finally one that’s open: Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero (7024 N.; 773-338-6450). I try a medium cup of arroz con leche ($1.75), piping hot, sweet, and wonderful.
Panaderia Evita (6975 N.; 773-508-9557) is a true dive, the kind you’d never stop into. My advice: Stop, then get your-self a fresh, delightful conche de chocolate (30¢).
I don’t actually purchase anything at the Marathon gas station (6260-6262 N.), but you try this without a pit stop.
M. Henry (5707 N.; 773-561-1600) is a sunlight-filled café full of exposed brick and pretty people. Fannie’s Killer Fried Egg sandwich (see Best Dishes; $8.25) delivers the goods: crisp bacon, Gorgonzola, the works. Will it kill me? Ask me in eight blocks.
Svea (5236 N.; 773-275-7738) calls itself “Home of the Viking Breakfast,” and this Viking is on his fifth breakfast already. The menu claims the Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam ($4.30) are “the best . . . out- side of Sweden.” Could be. But just try finding deep- dish pizza in Stockholm.
I don’t feel good.
I sit at the bar of The Cubby Bear (1059 W. Addison St.; 773-327-1662) to regroup over a Diet Coke ($3). The cute bartender laughs at the folly of my quest. “I wouldn’t eat here no matter what,” she whispers.
My waiter at Bolat African Cuisine (3346 N.; 773-665-1100) hails from a village in Niger, and his favorite dish is egusi stew ($9): goat meat and chewy cow skin with ground watermelon seed, spinach, and tomato sauce—plus a side of pounded yam. Good stuff, but get it without the skin.
The Wieners Circle (2622 N.; 773-477-7444) is a good place to lose that second wind I was starting to feel. One order of fries ($1.80) could power a biodiesel Mercedes for days. I’d prefer them crispier and the hot dog ($2.60) casing a tad snappier, but right now I just want to survive.
The Cubby Bear bartender sent me to Sultan’s Market (2521 N.; 312-638-9151), and the tabouleh on the sampler plate ($6) represents the first actual green food I’ve seen all day. Bummer that falafel’s so salty.
Ponzu Sushi (2407 N.; 773-549-8890) is so new they couldn’t figure out the credit card machine, but the décor is serene, the tuna roll ($3) fresh, and the wasabi-inflected rice warm.
Tiparos Thai Cuisine (1540 N.; 312-712-9900) is more polished—and less interesting—than the holes-in-the-wall I’ve seen today. The glass noodle salad (yum woon sen; $6) has been unforgivably altered to suit Western tastes. It’s not terrible; it’s just not authentic. Nor spicy, like I requested.
I stop in at Walgreens (191 N.; 312-634-0152) to call my wife, moan, and buy a roll of Tums (market price). Then it’s over to the Red Line north to Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are already down 6-0 in the sixth. My hamstrings are useless, but I get a $10 SRO ticket and buy a Bud Light ($5.50). Ahh. Another perfect day in Chicago.