More and more the L stop of shopping fiends everywhere, this ever-changing (and by changing, we mean chain-infested) area is home to plenty of GAP, Banana Republic and J. Crew shopping options. But let's put the "Clybourn" back in North and Clybourn. Straying from the everything-for-everyone options on North takes you to a quieter, maybe-I'll-actually-find-a-parking-space stretch of Clybourn that's equally kind to shoppers (Crate & Barrel Outlet, anyone?) but filled with cheap eats and good-for-groups dining options.
Where to chill
This contemporary American restaurant is a solid choice when your dining appetite can be classified as "modern," with a garden-full of salads (with homemade dressings like walnut vinaigrette), plenty of sandwiches, steak and prime rib, and specialties like the grown-up version of a childhood favorite: Mr. Jack's Chicken Finger Platter, served with bleu cheese slaw. The aforementioned Jack is no fictional character but Jack Massey, perhaps best known for his purchase of Kentucky Fried Chicken from Colonel Sanders in 1962, and owner of the J. Alexander's that dot the country. Wary of being labeled a chain, everything is as down-home as possible: Fish and beef are hand-cut on site, for example.
Those looking to meet a few friends for a drink will find few restaurant bar areas as invitingly hip. Leather armchairs and settees provide living room-like settings that urge you to stay awhile, and the drinks do little to sway you from logging some serious time. The beer selection is unremarkable, but the cocktail selection makes good on its name; no froo-froo drinks here, just well made classics concocted from choice liquor. The North Side Bloody Mary is a tomato and Grey Goose blend, and is sided by Knob Creek Manhattans and Dirty martinis on the menu. Those whose favorite flavor is "grape" will have no trouble picking a glass or bottle from a wine list that includes Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon and Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc.
Though delivery kicks off at the early hour of 11 a.m., this is one pizza joint you may want to eat-in at. Colorful murals, handwritten menu boards and meal-in-itself aromas make it hard to resist pulling up a chair. Once you do, you'll get your pick of pretty much anything your lil' heart desires: Pasta, subs, salads and calzones join a full roster of thin crust, pan and stuffed pizzas. Your large, 16-inch cheese will run you a pleasant $11.75, which you can then personalize with your pick of roasted red peppers, pineapple, grilled chicken and more. The sandwiches, served on fresh Turano bread with chips, coleslaw or cold pasta salad, average $5.25, and include mouth-watering appetizers-gone-meal-worthy like buffalo chicken breast and chicken bruschetta sandwiches. Friendly to a T, Amato's kindly asks that you "please leave porch light on for delivery person."
Grab your best canvas bag and head out to this organic gem. Earth lovers with automobiles will be happy to know there's free parking in the rear, and those on-foot only need trek three minutes past North Avenue's Whole Foods for cheaper eats (note: the elevator is the slowest this side of the Mississippi). Oddly placed next to the second-level parking garage, you'll find the famed products you know and love, like Two-Buck Chuck (try the Argenta Malbec instead, a ridiculous steal at $3.99) and Trader Joe's Light Whipped Cream (maybe not as famous as the bargain wine, but it should be).
Every natural aisle is teeming with goodies: addictive Fage yogurt, 99-cent Balance Bars, wasabi cashews, incredibly well priced vitamins, organic ketchup, frozen buffalo burgers…the list goes on and on. Cheese lovers should take advantage of Trader Joe's dairy bounty: a hunk of tasty blue cheese can run you as little as $2.30, and a wedge of brie is perfectly paired with the store's crusty demi baguettes. Be sure to swing by the built-in samples counter (walk straight to the back from the entrance) where you can be tempted by goodies you didn't plan on buying…but probably will.
Good for groups
What's the Beef
The pint-size chalkboard leaning against the front window plainly states "Eat Here." So why don't you? You'll quickly be catapulted back to grill-filled summer days, though thankfully, here you're armed with a bottle of ketchup, not a spatula. Bring a group, or just join one, when you grab a few inches of bench at the larger-than-large picnic table. Get ready to dig in. Using beef that's always fresh, never frozen, you'll have your choice of beef prepared in more ways than you can imagine: Italian beef sandwich, BBQ beef sandwich, fresh ground beef burger (with a warning: "Better be hungry"), homemade chili, cold roast beef sandwich, gyros and more. Non-beefeaters will have no problem picking between options like a veggie burger, chicken kabob pita and pepper and egg sandwich on toasted garlic Italian bread. In a bind, there's the ol' standby: fries smothered in cheddar cheese. Delivering and "beef for your party" available.
How can you walk by a burrito joint decked out with a mural of a zzzzzzz-ing sombrero-clad man, dreaming about, what else, burritos? That's right…you can't. And you won't want to, with prices and options like these. Take your pick of regular or large chicken, steak, al pastor or chorizo and egg burritos ($3.95, $4.95), or go the veggie route. The disparate offerings are Veggie Uno, with beans, veggies, tomatoes and salsa, and the not-so-Mexican Veggie Dos, with cous cous, veggies, lettuce, tomato and pesto. Specials include tamales, bistec a la Mexicana and chiles renellos. Four-tops provide seating for you and your friends, but stools along the window provide a perfect solo spot for munching on that taco.
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