To Chicago’s already deep-dish identity—food capital, sports town, architectural giant—comes one more personality: university town. In the spirit of back-to-school season, we visit three college neighborhoods for a taste of life outside the dorms.
Evanston – Northwestern University
VIBE: From bustling college dormitories to majestic mansions on Sheridan Road, Evanston is socioeconomically diverse and known as the dining capital of the North Shore. The busy downtown is just blocks from Northwestern University’s lakefront campus, so there’s plenty to do without trekking into the city.
BITE into Indian-inspired riffs on banh mi sandwiches at Soulwich (1634 Orrington Ave., 847.328.2222, www.soulwich.com), a favorite among students and professors.
CHEAT on your diet at Edzo’s Burger Shop (1571 Sherman Ave., 847.864.3396, www.edzos.com) with big greasy burgers, garlic fries and Nutella milkshakes.
MAKE LIKE A PARISIAN at Creperie Saint Germain (1512 Sherman Ave., 847.859.2647, www.creperiestgermain.com) where the myrtille crepe, layered with mascarpone and blueberries is worth the daytime decadence.
SNAG historical prints, photographs and old travel posters at Alley Gallery (1712 Sherman Ave., 847.475.1535, www.thealleygallery.com), and they’ll frame your artwork, too.
Lincoln Park – DePaul University
VIBE: Stately brownstones. Sidewalk cafes. Girly boutiques. It doesn’t get any more picturesque than Lincoln Park, also home to DePaul University. The sprawling park—less than a mile east of campus—also happens to be a major tourist draw thanks to Lincoln Park Zoo, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool and more.
SHOP HOP along boutique-rich Armitage Avenue, where Frimson (715 W. Armitage Ave., 312.846.1466) stocks locally designed sundresses with fabrics shipped from India and one-of-a-kind jewelry.
TAKE ADVANTAGE of the skylights, spacious seating and free Wi-Fi at Floriole (1220 W. Webster Ave., 773.883.1313, www.floriole.com) to catch up on email and nibble on flaky croissants, canelés and beef brisket sandwiches.
CATCH A SHOW at the Tony Award-winning Steppenwolf Theatre (1650 N. Halsted St., 312.335.1650, www.steppenwolf.org) after enjoying brussels sprouts pancetta pizza and fava leaf pesto gnocchi across the street at Balena (1633 N. Halsted St., 312.867.3888, www.balenachicago.com).
RELIVE THE COLLEGE YEARS at McGee’s (950 W. Webster Ave., 773.549.8200), your classic co-ed bar scene and a great place to watch the game, play euchre and watch live bands. Plus: dollar burgers on Wednesdays.
Hyde Park – University of Chicago
VIBE: This South Side neighborhood was cool before the world found out it was Barack Obama’s home. With broad leafy streets leading to gothic buildings, it’s also the base for the University of Chicago and one of the most diverse clusters in the city. Next year, the spotlight will shine brighter when the Harper Court development aims to become the dining and entertainment hub. Until then, there’s plenty to keep us engaged.
GET SCHOOLED at the massive Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., 773.684.1414, www.msichicago.org), the last standing building from the 1893 World’s Fair. Inside, a baby chick hatchery, full-size replica coal mine and German U-505 submarine are a few of the museum’s most popular exhibits.
TAP YOUR INDIANA JONES at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute (115 E. 58th St., 773.702.9514, www.oi.uchicago.edu), featuring ancient Middle Eastern relics from Mesopotamia to Egypt, including cuneiform tablets and mummies.
SCORE the latest graphic novels and rare collector’s editions at First Aid Comics (1617 E. 55th St, 773.752.6642, www.firstaidcomics.com).
REMEMBER YOUR SCHOOL LUNCHROOM at off-campus Valois Cafeteria (1518 E. 53rd St,, 773.667.0647), where diners still slide cafeteria trays across Formica countertops for generous helpings of prime rib and mashed potatoes.