Lodged between the metropolitan splendor of Chicago and the barren nothingness of the rest of Illinois, Evanston has the unfortunate distinction of not being very interesting. Sure, you have a Burger King, a North Face store and a RadioShack, but none of that screams “unique.” Evanston combines the soul-crushing conformity of suburbia with the compactness of a city creating (with just a pinch of NU!) a very bland place where nothing stays open past midnight. But, besides BK, E-Town does have one of the most important things any city can have – streets. Though Evanston (or, as some dweebs would call it, Heavenston) lacks the charm necessary to separate it from, say, Kalamazoo, the city does have roads plastered with various stores and eateries. And, in the same way that some frat parties are better than others, some streets tower over the rest.
The mere existence of the Sorority Quads (the prettiest housing area on campus) on this road warrants consideration for street superiority, but what pushes the path onto this list are the late-night eateries found a little past Willard. Philly’s Best and White Hen stay open well after Conan goes off the air, providing artery-clogging cheesesteaks and jugs’ worth of Mountain Dew for the most severe insomniacs. The quality of the eats isn’t what matters (nothing screams “4 a.m. Evanston Hospital run” more than fried dough and Sour Patch Kids), just the fact that something besides Burger King remains open past midnight. Emerson’s plenty great during the day, but at night, it’s one of the best, not to mention unhealthiest, avenues to traverse.
Hinman lets you rest your head on his shoulder after a night of heavy drinking. Hinman has a lot of work to get done, but gives you a back rub anyway, because he’s just that into you. He offers you pretty scenery, charming houses and access to the rest of Evanston, plus Lake Michigan. Want late-night cheese sticks? Just walk over to him. Need a work-study job? He’s got you covered. So, what do you do for Hinman?
You talk about how dreamy Chicago Avenue is in front of him, emphasizing his length, features and accent . . . er, Whole Foods. Hinman’s the “just a friend” road of Evanston – a perfectly charming street overlooked in favor of flashier boulevards with Gap franchises. Well, I sympathize with Mr. Hinman, and will honor him. Perk up, road – she should be into you!
Currently going through heavy construction (one reason this unheralded street didn’t get higher placement), Foster nonetheless exudes charm and offers something for everyone. Those looking for quirky bookstores and coffee shops straight from a Wes Anderson feature just need to find the intersection of Foster and Maple. Others seeking a peaceful stroll can take in the idyllic greenery and houses lining the road. Want to escape the hustle-and-bustle of Evanston for the hustlier-and-bustlier Chicago? The Foster El stop provides this scintillating possibility. And for all you singles lookin’ for love, where could be better than the loneliest place in the Chicagoland area – Foster-Walker Complex.
The ultimate Evanston gauntlet of cheap food ready to clog several decades of your life away. Burger King, Clarke’s, J.K. Sweet, Einstein’s, Cosi, Buffalo Joe’s, Jimmy John’s, Tacos Del Lago, Papa John’s and Chili’s. If a more health-deteriorating street exists, it is probably in the depths of Hell. Or Wisconsin.
Traditional NU party streets always end up being a bummer. The typical route to off-campus tipsiness follows Ridge, usually stopping at the monolithic apartments of Ridge and Davis or Ridge and Noyes, but this looooong street lacks anything else of interest, even to the alcohol-fueled, who ordinarily could find a lone fire hydrant as entertaining as Sea World. More obscure streets like Simpson and Hamlin are as difficult to find as the Fountain of Youth and, due to their locations in residential areas, parties there are often broken up fairly quickly. And if someone tells you about a rager on Library . . . well, you should rethink where you are in life. It isn’t too late.
Noyes Street rests near all of these famous roads of debauchery, making it the ultimate passage to all parties up north. But Noyes also has a vibrant social scene itself – on a Friday night, one is almost guaranteed to find at least one party blaring from an apartment there. And the comparative lack of serene single-family homes on Noyes means said events often last longer. Factor in the various eateries (and a Laundromat), and you have one of the best streets north of Kellogg.
NU students find themselves on Howard for only two reasons – either to get coat hangers at Target or because the Purple Line is running slow. This southern street, though, is the most Chicago-like part of Evanston, trading in upper-middle-class institutions for more unique restaurants and stores. Now, I wouldn’t want to be walking along this street anytime after 10 p.m. unless equipped with a flamethrower and several grenades, but during the day it’s dandy. The most intriguing dining option is Gulliver’s, a basic restaurant outfitted with medieval antiques more appropriate for the Field Museum, though the IHOP nearby isn’t bad either. And of course having a Target doesn’t hurt.
The rich man’s Clark. Whereas on the latter street I could buy a chicken sandwich, a milkshake, a bagel and a slice of pizza for about as much as a movie ticket, Davis offers fancier fare at steeper prices. Giordano’s is the biggest draw, serving up some of the heartiest food in Evanston, but the culinary madness doesn’t end there. Walk farther down and you’ll discover various sit-down restaurants where I, with my Hungry Man TV Dinner-appropriate cash flow, would never dare venture, as well as Jamba Juice and Al’s Italian Beef, a better and pricier BK, minus the chicken fries. When you become sick of soul-crushing fast food and get a raise at work, just mosey on down Davis.
Word of warning though – if anybody you know wants to go to the Davis Street Fish Market, proceed cautiously. My friends once got me to go here after they said Quizno’s was “too expensive,” only to discover the prices made Quizno’s look like Dollar Tree in comparison. If you have to go, hide your wallet, and only eat bread.
As the Midwest weather slowly changes from “slightly tolerable” to “dear God, why did I come here,” it may be hard to remember that the region actually experiences decent weather come spring. Students looking to bask in the warmth of the sun (oh, that sounds so good right now . . .) should explore Sheridan Road in springtime, when it becomes the most gorgeous stretch of pavement in Evanston. The road lacks any sort of diners or stores, but makes up for it by being right next to Lake Michigan and the assorted parks curtaining that body of water. Nothing beats a good book (that is, required reading for class), some good music and a Diet Coke while sprawled out on a beach towel in the sand. Plus, you might be able to find the ice cream man I once bought a Snoopy-shaped Popsicle from. Don’t get too depressed while trying to construct a snowman from the slush NU calls “snow” this winter – just think about how great the walk down Sheridan will be in a few months.
My biggest gripe about Evanston is how “blah” it comes off. It could honestly be any other smallish city in the Midwest equipped with a college. All the interesting sights wait in Chicago, while the most peaceful stretches of nature are north in Wilmette. But one street actually oozes what could be called the closest thing to Evanston uniqueness – Central Street.
NU kids rarely find themselves on Central, except for the occasional tragicomedy known as Wildcat football, because the road isn’t conveniently located near campus. Fair point, but the trek pays off. Sure, Central has a smattering of chain stores (look, a Blockbuster and a Subway), but it also contains more than enough unique Evanston businesses. You can find stores selling NU apparel, fancy art and music, among other wares. There are unique dining options all around, plus a great ice cream place farther down. But, most importantly (and cliché), Central resembles your typical non-Disney-affiliated Main Street U.S.A., brimming with interesting local shops, restaurants and residences. Don’t be afraid to take a walk or a shuttle up here, even just for a little bit.
You know all that stuff I said about big-name businesses being one of the big reasons Evanston isn’t that great? OK, that’s still true, but Church Street is the best road in Evanston precisely because it contains the highest quantity of soul-crushing chains in town. But really, no street comes close to having the caliber of buildings Church does. Starting from Hinman, you have Whole Foods, Celtic Knot and Über Burger, only a sampling of the awesome food landmarks around. Go farther downtown and you get Sashimi Sashimi, Flat Top and the crappy-but-vital RadioShack. Plenty of slightly more specialized shopping experiences also exist, including Urban Outfitters for clothes, American Apparel for slightly more pretentious clothes and GameStop for nerd-stuff. Past the El bridge are more shops and fooderies, including Asado Grill, a dining experience comparable to reaching the peak of Mt. Everest or watching every Star Wars movie in a row – painful at times, but worth it in the end.
But I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the true reason Church crushes the competition. Chipotle. Delicious and relatively cheap, Chipotle’s food is like crack for college kids who don’t already do crack. People go to BK because it’s the only option; people go to Chipotle because they can’t get enough of their massive, massive burritos. I know people who have sworn off the stuff because of the detrimental affect Chipotle was having on their wallets and personal welfare. Chipotle is the focal dining experience at NU, the most craved and feared eatery in Evanston, and the provider of the best food one can afford on a semi-regular basis.
Church Street rules because of Chipotle – what else do you want? I’m not freakin’ Bob Woodward over here.
Centerpiece photo by wselman on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons.