Read about our locals and their favorite spots in the neighborhoods below:
Although she admits Pilsen could use a bookstore, Annie Novotny, 30, may be the neighborhood’s biggest fan. The rents are low; the Loop is a 22-minute ride on the Pink Line; and she likes the mix of newcomer culture and Mexican identity, the latter anchored by the National Museum of Mexican Art (1852 W. 19th St.; 312-738-1503). Annie’s clothing design studio, Workshop (818 W. 18th St.; 312-226-9000), doubles as a store, and she loves that fellow merchants participate in area events, such as the Second Fridays art walk (Halsted and 18th streets). Her favorite vintage boutique, Knee Deep Vintage (1425 W. 18th St.; 312-850-2510), throws a midnight sale every second Friday as well. Places like Café Jumping Bean (1439 W. 18th St.; 312-455-0019) and Irv’s Bike Shop (1725 S. Racine Ave.; 312-226-6330) typify the area’s indie vibe, while the local food joints skew Mexican. Annie’s picks include Perez Restaurant (1163 W. 18th St.; 312-421-3631) for margaritas, Mundial Cocina Mestiza (1640 W. 18th St.; 312-491-9908) for “awesome Mexican fusion food,” Fogata Village (1820 S. Ashland Ave.; 312-850-1702) for weekend karaoke, Don Pedro Carnitas (1113 W. 18th St.; 312-829-4757) for takeout pork by the pound, Honky Tonk BBQ (1213 W. 18th St.; 312-226-7427) for ribs, Kristoffer’s Café and Bakery (1733 S. Halsted St.; 312-829-4150) for its legendary tres leches cake, Nightwood (2119 S. Halsted St.; 312-526-3385) for hipster farm food, and the tamale guys in front of the Bank of America at 18th and Paulina (“I get pork rojo tamales”).
LISA PREDKO-VASQUEZ AND ROBERT VASQUEZ
In the ten years since Lisa Predko-Vasquez, a 35-year-old photographer, and her husband, Robert Vasquez, a 43-year-old ad exec, found their corner lot in Berwyn, they’ve converted the oversize backyard into a private oasis, with a tiki head carved from a tree stump and enough space for lawn darts. When not relaxing at home, the pair takes bike rides that end up at the Tastee Freez (6621 W. 26th St.; 708-749-7377) or Henry’s Drive-In (6031 W. Ogden Ave.; 708-656-9344) in Cicero. Justice Produce (6901 W. Ogden Ave.), a Mexican grocery near their house, is great for veggies. Bodhi Thai (6211 Roosevelt Rd.; 708-484-9250) does good takeout, and Lalo’s (3011 S. Harlem Ave.; 708-484-9311) is the spot for listening to mariachis on a lazy Sunday. Truth be told, the couple prefers to hole up at home, but if she was to go out, Lisa might visit FitzGerald’s (6615 Roosevelt Rd.; 708-788-2118) for its alt-country acts or Olive or Twist (6906 Windsor Ave.; 708-484-1808), a martini bar next to her friend Laurie Richter’s gift shop, Fly Right Gifts (6902 Windsor Ave.; 708-484-7899). She might even be persuaded to try Cigars and Stripes (6715 W. Ogden Ave.; 708-484-1043). One reliable lure is the Berwyn Rt66 Car Show (berwynrt66.com), which in September takes over a three-block stretch of Ogden Avenue, part of the historic road. Every year the Vasquezes walk the show to look at the lowriders and vintage classics—and, of course, they throw a raucous backyard party in its honor.
Although Logan Square is home to hordes of hipsters, it also supports a population of young families whose lives orbit around early bedtimes. George Langford, the 37-year-old director of facilities for Northwestern’s law school, loves the many family-friendly features, including his local Y—the McCormick Tribune YMCA (1834 N. Lawndale Ave.; 773-235-2525)—which offers daycare for kids, like his own, on the Chicago Public Schools’ Track E schedule. The brood stays close to home for grocery shopping, too: Dill Pickle Food Co-op (3039 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-252-2667) for organics, Tony’s Finer Foods (3607 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-278-8355) for staples, and Supermercado Chapala Tianguis (3552 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-227-7972) for “every bean you would like by five different manufacturers.” (The Mexican grocery also sells limes for a nickel apiece.) Eating out is a snap. George, a vegetarian, recommends the coconut spinach from Life on Mars (2910 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-489-6277); his wife, Cecily, 36, satisfies her craving for burgers at Street Side Café (3201 W. Armitage Ave; 773-252-9700). Cecily, a public-school teacher who sings in a band called I Kong Kult, also escapes to the legendary blues hall Rosa’s Lounge (3420 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-342-0452). Recently the Langfords let their daughter Mia pick any restaurant in Chicago for her sixth-birthday dinner. Her choice? The Brown Sack (3581 W. Belden Ave.; 773-661-0675), for chili and vegetarian sloppy Joes. Sometimes the world right around you is big enough.
A year after moving from Logan Square to Evanston, Jamie Anderson, a vice president at the ad agency Cramer-Krasselt, still struggles. “I self-identify as a Chicagoan, but I am not,” says the 41-year-old Beverly native. That said, he loves being near the lake and the cultural perks that come with Northwestern. He also likes the charming retail district on Central Street, an alternative to downtown Evanston within walking distance of his house. Paper Source has a branch there (2100 Central St.; 847-733-8830). Foodstuffs (2106 Central St.; 847-328-7704) provides gourmet groceries. He’s keen on breakfast at Prairie Joe’s (1921 Central St.; 847-491-0391), the Mexican dishes in particular. Bonsai Café (2916 Central St.; 847-866-7498) is his spot for sushi. Tag’s Bakery & Pastry Shop (2010 Central St.; 847-328-1200) does a great chocolate cake. And Linz and Vail (2012 Central St.; 847-475-1381) handily competes with Starbucks and makes its own gelato. Farther afield, Jamie and his wife, Kristen, frequent Bennison’s Bakery (1000 Davis St.; 847-328-9434) for breakfast sandwiches on Saturdays and Bookman’s Alley (1712 Sherman Ave.; 847-869-6999), where he found a complete set of Edward Gibbons’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Jamie says the suburban tranquility has transformed Felix, his six-year-old German shepherd. Once a fearsome guard dog, Felix now forgets to bark at strangers. “His street cred is gone,” Jamie laments. “Fat rabbits chewing on grass? He could not care less.”
Dee Hawkins, who grew up in the house where she lives today, has watched Bronzeville swing from middle-class gentility to downtrodden and back. “When I was growing up, this was the downtown of the South Side,” says Dee, 52. “You had cobblers, haberdashers, and real butchers with chickens running around.” Bronzeville, once called Chicago’s Black Metropolis, is now a mix of historic landmarks and thriving businesses—a rapidly gentrifying hub for young African American couples on the verge of starting families. Dee says the neighborhood ladies still go to Sims on 47th (618 E. 47th St.; 773-538-6544), an old-school barbershop, to get their eyebrows done alongside men who eschew the swanky amenities offered by At Da Barber Shop (343 E. 47th St.; 773-855-5777), an upscale newcomer. Dee, an independent Mary Kay sales director, gets dressy shoes at Sensual Steps Shoe Salon (4518 S. Cottage Grove Ave., No. 1; 773-548-3338), “fabulous” macchiatos at Bronzeville Coffee & Tea (528 E. 43rd St.; 773-536-0494), and massages at Bahdy Therapy (635 E. 47th St.; 773-344-7124). Soul food is big here. Among the many worthy destinations, Dee favors Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles (3947 S. King Dr.; 773-536-3300) for its namesake offerings and Mama Lou’s (124 E. 35th St.; 312-326-6400) for the short ribs, smothered chicken, and peach cobbler. Her choice for Chinese takeout? New China Café (225 E. 47th St.; 773-548-0384): “I love their fried rice and lobster-style shrimp.”
NAN CIBULA-JENKINS AND JOHN JENKINS
When Nan Cibula-Jenkins, 58, and her husband, John Jenkins, 66, moved from Rogers Park to Albany Park in 1992, they did so without knowing much about their new environs. “We fell in love with the house,” Nan says. “The neighborhood was a mystery.” In the nearly two decades since, the Jenkinses have discovered lots to recommend in the greater region of their North Side enclave. Their list of places to eat reads like a cheat sheet to the neighborhood’s remarkable ethnic diversity, from Swedish meatballs, duck, and pancakes at Tre Kronor (3258 W. Foster Ave.; 773-267-9888) to the nightly Lebanese specials at Semiramis (4639 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-279-8900). Las Cazuelas (4821 N. Elston Ave.; 773-777-5304) is perfect for date nights over Mexican food, and Beijo de Chocolat (3334 W. Foster Ave.; 773-267-0138), a bakery and coffee shop, makes its own chocolate candies and Brazilian pastries—the perfect reward, Nan says, after a vigorous workout at the Galter LifeCenter (5157 N. Francisco Ave.; 773-878-9936). As theatre professionals—John teaches acting at DePaul, and Nan is a costume designer who also teaches there—the couple was delighted to find the Albany Park Theatre Project, a youth theatre company that performs real-life stories at the Eugene Park field house (5100 N. Ridgeway Ave.; 773-866-0875). Its latest show, Feast, considers the cultural role of food. And the venue, which the Jenkinses can see from their backyard, couldn’t be more convenient.
Photography: Andreas E. G. Larsson