Logan Square is a neighborhood in the midst of change. Although still predominantly Hispanic, the scene is slowly traversing the route Bucktown and Wicker Park have taken. Luckily, "slowly" is a word that deserves to be emphasized, as the influx of young, white urban professionals is thoughtfully and quietly leading to the establishment of a hipper, ritzier scene. The Latin presence still dominates, providing the area with a mesh of culture and cuisine. If you like discounts, this is the L stop for you. Milwaukee Avenue is lined with heavily secured dollar stores, clothing outlets and furniture retailers that suspiciously advertise their wares at "blowout" prices. But don't let the bars on the windows scare you. Logan Square is a great and safe place to shop, dine and practice your Spanish.
Safety rating: Logan Square is a busy crossroads and a close-knit community. Your mother would be safe walking around during the daytime. However, in the evenings you might want to couple up.
Panhandler rating: Beggars are few and far between. You won't have to worry about getting hassled around here.
Arena for the a.m.
Cafe con Leche
This quaint coffee shop and eatery promises "a great blend of coffee and tasty food." A quick one-block walk from the L, this is a perfect place to grab a quick cup of joe before braving the rat race. The menu offers a good selection of hearty Mexican breakfasts, including huevos con chorizo (eggs with sausage) and huevos con bistec (eggs with steak) at prices that won't make you wince. Homemade pastries and daily lunch specials round out the offerings. Be sure to brush up on that high school Spanish if you aren't already fluent: It's the language of choice here. The barstool seating at the front offers a great place to watch the hustle and bustle of the morning rush hour while listening to the cafe's overhead Latin music mix, which includes everything from big band to hip-hop.
Friendship Chinese Restaurant
Surrounded by uninspiring discount stores, Friendship Chinese Restaurant hits you over the head with its stunning outer decor. Its tall red columns, green awnings and circular windows will have you referring to your mental map to confirm you aren't in Chinatown. You'll be pleasantly surprised again to see the fabulous interior. Hardwood floors, soft lighting and lavish table setups give this restaurant a sense of class absent along Logan Square's stretch of Milwaukee.
Owner Alan Yuen is responsible for the eatery's design: After studying design and advertising in college, he took over his father's 25-year-old business. The cuisine is traditional Chinese with a slight French influence. Yuen recommends the Hong Kong steak, which is grilled and served in a fried potato shell with snow peas, mushrooms and carrots; and the crab Rangoon appetizer, which contains a unique creamy filling that is prepared with a French roux. Once a month, the restaurant serves up a $45 six-course meal with live entertainment in the form of classical Asian and Western music played on traditional Asian instruments. BYOB.
Best of the nighttime world
Dunlay's on the Square
This sister restaurant of Dunlay's on Clark in Lincoln Park offers an intimate and sophisticated setting for those looking for a night of drinking and dining. With its vibrant original artwork, dim lighting and three flat screen televisions, this is the place to go if you want to throw a little swank into your sports-watching routine. The centerpiece of the restaurant is its bar, an original, refurbished 1930s setup pulled straight from the Bismarck hotel downtown.
The restaurant, which opened January 8, has already created a buzz about its chocolate chip cookie desert, a 9-ounce, moist cookie served in a cast-iron skillet and topped with ice cream and caramel. If that's not enough to quench your hunger, try some of the Americana cuisine like the giant Wrightwood Salad or the blue cheese encrusted filet. For a cheap drink, Mondays feature half-off glasses of wine, Tuesdays will get you half-off the entire bottle of wine, and Thursdays shake up $5 Stoli martinis.
Where to chill
Whether you have Latin in your blood or are just an admirer of the culture, Zacatecas offers a festive locale to sing your heart out to your favorite Spanish tunes. Every Wednesday and Saturday this bar/restaurant provides an all-Spanish karaoke, which gives customers the chance to shake their bon-bon ala Ricky Martin. Seating is plentiful, and the side booths have large, white awnings that offer privacy for dinner dates. The menu selection is huge and includes unique dishes like bistec con tostones (beef steak with fried green bananas) and chicharron con chile (pork skin in hot sauce). Work on your pronunciation because this eight-year-old establishment's staff primarily speaks Spanish.
Delicias Guatemaltecas Bakery
So small you might miss it, this little bakery is a great stop for those interested in trying other types of Latin cuisine. Serving up authentic Guatemalan favorites like Guatemalan sweet bread and tres leches, this new addition to the neighborhood is well equipped to sate even staunchest sweet tooth. From the rich Oreo and fruit cakes in the counter display to the wide array of breads and pastries in the large, glass case in the back, even carb counters will have trouble refraining from purchasing an affordable bag of fresh-made bread. The bakery has a small seating area and, in addition to pastries, serves up lunch and dinner specials. Take note of the display case behind the counter, which contains an array of odds-and-ends for purchase such as Guatemalan dry goods as well as episodes of "Monty Python."
A must for any bike enthusiast, this bike shop and repair center sits adjacent to Logan Square's famed Lula Cafe. Specializing in commuter bikes, this is the place to go if you've got a flat or a broken spoke. There's no need to wait weeks to get those crooked handlebars fixed: Boulevard Bikes offers same-day service on urgent repairs and will, at the very least, make a damage assessment on-the-spot. If you're looking to become your own bike mechanic, the store occasionally offers repair classes. During the summer, the shop leads a Thursday night ride up to the Northbrook Velodrome for some fast-paced bike racing.
Place to be seen solo
This greasy spoon, once a 24-hour haunt, has been a staple of the Logan Square community for nearly 30 years. Serving up tasty diner classics, such as burgers, fried chicken and Ruben sandwiches, at even tastier diner prices, this is a great stop for those searching the nitty-gritty experience of eating at an old-fashioned burger joint. The entire kitchen, grill and all, is right out in the open, and the barstool-only seating makes this spot a great place to be seen solo and do a bit of seeing yourself: The panoramic view of Logan Square's busy circular drive sits just beyond the glass. Service isn't the friendliest; a sign above the grill states, "This isn't Burger King. You do it my way," which is about the attitude you get. But you can't beat the atmosphere and the prices. Menu selections are almost entirely under $6.
El Cid 2
Right across the street from the L stop, El Cid 2 offers excellent Mexican cuisine at prices that won't have you saying aye caramba. The family-owned eatery is famous for its fish tacos, which it seasons and grills with onions and cilantro. It also serves up four flavors of margaritas in sizes ranging from nine to 16 ounces. For those with a carne aversion, El Cid #2 serves up vegetarian tacos and burritos. During the summertime, the back patio opens up giving customers a chance to bask in the sun while sipping back a cool margarita served straight from the patio's own margarita bar.