The brown line's Kimball stop is, in a variety of ways, something of an anomaly. It lies at the end of the line, further from the Loop than any other spot on the brown line. Walk off the Kimball stop and you'll find yourself in a cultural mishmash that typifies Chicago's most colorful neighborhoods; Spanish, Korean, and Chinese writing decorates the storefronts. Perhaps oddest of all, the Kimball stop is neither subterranean nor elevated, but at ground level, right there among the people.
Safety rating: There are scores of more dangerous neighborhoods in this city, but you're better off traveling with a friend at nighttime.
Panhandler rating: Even an easy mark like me was never asked to reach into his pocket for a stranger.
Where to chill
Edy's Ice Cream and Donut Doctor
3342 W. Lawrence
If you come expecting an ice cream shop sells mostly ice cream, then check your expectations at the door of this place. In addition to the frozen treats, muffins, donuts and coffee that are routine in ice cream parlors citywide, this joint pedals some vice as well. Lottery tickets, video poker, cigarettes and a handful of locals hanging out and smoking make this the most colorful and coolest ice cream shop I have ever had the pleasure of entering. Like a spoonful of chocolate syrup, the smattering of posters from various faraway countries and assortment of foreign currency by the front counter top off the atmosphere perfectly.
Sure bet for shopping
3444 W. Lawrence
Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Among the dozen or so discount clothing shops in easy walking distance from the Kimball station, Ameer is your best bet for a good deal. Housed in a big building on Lawrence Avenue, Ameer has deals for girls, boys, men, women and anyone else who might need an outfit. Jeans, in styles ranging from outdated to futuristic, are an easy find here, and there is likely no better place in the city for a cheap T-shirt. Easier still, you can't miss it, with the giant bedspreads of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Spongebob and Spiderman virtually guaranteed to grab your attention.
3346 W. Lawrence
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday
With up-to-date Columbia, Timberland, Nike and Adidas products lining the store, Rave Sports offers everything you could expect at a Foot Locker without the indignity of going to a mall and the mildly depressing feeling of adding to the coffers of a corporate powerhouse. This modest sports store has boots and basketball shoes galore, as well as baseball caps representing every team from the Cubs to the Durham Bulls. Rave Sports is also a good place to find sports accessories like socks and wristbands, as well as stylish shirts, jerseys and winter jackets.
3500 W. Lawrence
Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday
Forget coupons. At this grocery, the deals and the quality are too much to pass up. Bananas for 25 cents per pound? Give me 10! Hundred-pound sacks of rice for $35? I'll take two (and be eating rice for months)! For the Mexican food enthusiast, the options at Chicago Produce were more plentiful than those at Jewel or Dominick's, with aisles full of hot sauce and refried beans, jug upon jug of Tampico juice, and eight or nine different styles of pork available at the butcher's counter. Chilean reds highlight the wine possibilities, and the savings extend into beer as well.
4748 N. Kimball
Hours: Always open
Anyone who has spent any time traveling around the Southeastern United States can testify as to the friendliness of the roadside Huddle House. You know what you're in for the moment you see the highway billboard 30 miles away: dark coffee, soft-scrambled eggs, salty sausage and delicious bacon. The dishes (chili cheese omelet, Philly cheese steak, fries with the trimmings) aren't for the diet conscious, but they are darn good. And because it's always open, you can get your fix whenever you need. While this spot is not tucked away outside of Knoxville just off of I-40, the Kimball Avenue Huddle House still measures up to its southern counterparts. Extra grits, please.
Arena for the a.m.
4734 N. Kimball
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday
Any corner of Albany Park promises a wealth of taquerias competing for your peso. It's no different here, and perhaps the best choice at the Kimball stop is El Rincon. Open daily at 10 a.m., El Rincon delivers 16-ounce coffees for less than a dollar, and eight-or-so delicious breakfast plates. The traditional Mexican menu delivers a giant list of selections from a rather small kitchen, tilting heavily toward beef, pork and chicken plates. Counting all of the meals that could reasonably served for dinner, El Rincon offers more than 80 different choices. With than number, it will take a while to eat your way through the entire menu, but it will surely be a labor of love. As a prelude to the food, the jukebox full of Mexican rock matches the quality of food note for bean.
Peking Mandarin Restaurant
3459 W. Lawrence
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday
Despite the competition from Mexican restaurants here, there and everywhere, Peking Mandarin Restaurant is not intimidated. For fans of Chinese food, there is no better destination in Albany Park, if not the world. The menu options range from the standard Chinese fare (kung pao, shrimp fried rice, chop suey) to slightly more unusual dishes (three sea delicacies with cornstarch, sauteed sea cucumber). The midday specials are an easy way to get through the lunch hour on the cheap. The surprisingly large restaurant delivers a dark but not gloomy atmosphere, with dozens of decorations to entertain the wandering eye.
Where to chill
Albany Bank and Trust Company
4100 W. Lawrence
It can be hard to find a green spot to sit down in this cement-laden part of the city, but the grounds at the Albany Bank are more than enough for me. There are no picnic benches, but the high cement steps are a comfortable enough place to take a load off, check out some trees and sip on a cup of coffee. It's not an entirely public space, but bank staffers must have more important things to do; no one seems to mind the handful of pedestrians relaxing and taking refuge from a stiff winter wind.