The Case for Lincoln Park
A couple weeks ago, someone was debating with me about a new ramen restaurant and its adjoining tea cafe. Both opened in Lincoln Park. Apparently this was groundbreaking news, as if Lincoln Park was some sort of restaurant-deprived food desert starved for anything new and novel. I disagree. It's certainly true Lincoln Park doesn't see the same amount of restaurant and bar openings, nor the same presence of "celebrity" chefs, as the West Loop, River North, Logan Square, or other 'hoods deemed hot. But that should not suggest Lincoln Park doesn't have a stellar, destination-worthy food scene all its own.
I'll be the first to admit a sort of apathy for Lincoln Park. I've long bemoaned the neighborhood as stale and unexciting, but that's mostly due to laziness from living in Ukrainian Village and finding it inconvenient to get to Lincoln Park, especially when so many other convenient neighborhoods boast interesting options on their own. Laziness aside, I can absolutely respect the caliber of culinary options in Lincoln Park, something that has seen a huge uptick in the past few years; something that is certainly no longer a novelty.
Firstly, let's point out that Lincoln Park is home to one of the world's best restaurants, Alinea. Routinely listed in the top 10 of global dining destinations, Alinea is Chicago's highest ranking restaurant, and it just so happens to be in Lincoln Park. Just next door is BOKA, the restaurant that started it all for one of Chicago's most successful and fawned over restaurant group, which has gone on to open Perennial Virant, GT Fish & Oyster, Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, Momotaro, and Balena, located just down the street (also in Lincoln Park). Alinea, BOKA, and Balena continuously draw crowds to experience their wholly unique interpretations of cuisines, from contemporary American and Italian to elaborate degustations of molecular gastronomical proportions unmatched most anywhere else.
And this is just within a few blocks of Halsted. Venture out and you'll discover a wonderland of different dining and drinking districts throughout the eclectic neighborhood. Further up Halsted is the perpetually packed Summer House Santa Monica and Stella Barra, a one-two punch from Lettuce Entertain You and California chef Jeff Mahin. Around the corner is Armitage Avenue's central shopping corridor, also once home to Charlie Trotter's and now home to Blue Door Farm Stand, Sugar Fixe macaron shop, Butcher & the Burger, and more.
Expand beyond Halsted and its borders to discover an Epcot-like miscellany of cultural dining along Clark Street. Start with some of the best classic Italian cuisine in the city at Riccardo Trattoria then move northward from there. Indulge your sweet tooth with some French confections at Vanille Patisserie, fill up on shawarma and falafel at Sultan's Market, snack on South American empanadas at Lito's Empanadas, go cutesy-Americana with cupcakes at Molly's Cupcakes, journey to Hawaii with a gluttonous meal at Aloha Eats, and chow down on Korean-Mexican fusion with kimchi-laced tacos at Del Seoul. Nearby, you'll find Intro, a truly innovative dining concept from Lettuce Entertain You that invites different "chefs-in-residence" to take over the dining concept and run the restaurant for a few months at a time.
Elsewhere in Lincoln Park is one of the sweetest blocks in the city. By Webster and Racine you'll fine Floriole Cafe & Bakery, one of the best spots in the Midwest (and likely the country) for house-baked breads, desserts, and pastries both classic and modern. It's exceedingly impressive that Floriole can master something as unique and newfangled as a hot cross bun macaron while also perfecting the chocolate brownie. On the same block as Floriole, you'll find a sunnier and more nostalgic sweets shop in Sweet Mandy B's. Here, the focus is less on rustic, mature, and elegant, and more on pudding parfaits, vivid cupcake buttercream, creamy cookie sandwiches, and chewy candy apples.
To drink, Lincoln Park is much more than coffee shops and twee cafes. Impeccable cocktails can be sipped at Barrelhouse Flat and The J. Parker, the latter of which offers stunning views of Lincoln Park proper and the Chicago skyline from its rooftop perch atop the Hotel Lincoln.
Then there's all the new stuff opening there and coming soon, from the French-accented The Blanchard (foie gras to the max) and Los Angeles import Jinya Ramen Bar to a new groundbreaking sushi concept from the owners of Juno and Lettuce Entertain You. Plus, New York-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que just opened a massive new Chicago location by North Avenue.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg. It hardly seems like a deprived restaurant wasteland to me. Lincoln Park may have ceded some cool points over the years to other neighborhoods, but it is no less a culinary destination.
- Matt Kirouac