Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here. We hope you enjoy reading about these date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them, and that you’ll give some of them a taste.
So, in the spirit of this selection: buen provecho!
We both hail from Texas. While being residents of the Lone Star State doesn’t exactly make us experts on Mexican food (and it’s much-loved local variants, known collectively as Tex-Mex), we know our way around a taqueria. That is part of what made eating at Big Star such a treat: It is authentic and well-made Mexican food at a price we couldn’t often find back home. The primary eating area of Big Star is technically a bar and thus closed to those under the drinking age, so if you aren’t 21 (or can’t pass for it) you could find yourself eating from the takeout window and sitting outside. This is what we did, and we were quite satisfied with the results.
Restaurant: Big Star
Address: 1531 N. Damen Ave., Chicago
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30 am - 2:00 am, Sat 11:30 am - 3:00 am, Sun 11:30 am - 12:00 am
Getting there: approximately 40 minutes by L if you catch the Purple Line Express. If not, closer to an hour by train.
I had the Tostada con Pollo, a crispy corn tortilla topped with seasoned chicken, chorizo and peppers; the dish was rich but not overwhelming, and it was extremely flavorful. While the tostada wasn’t especially large, it only cost $4 and was quite filling. But to be honest, I was sold on Big Star before ever taking a bite of the tostada. We also ordered a salsa dish that came with chips and two kinds of house-made salsa (around $3), and a taste of each immediately won me over. I have not had anything as spicy since coming to Chicago, and finding salsa this flavorful can be difficult at Mexican restaurants in Texas. The red salsa was richer and went well on the tostada. The green salsa (or salsa verde) was tangy and spicier than the red; I liked the green better, but my mouth has been starved for spice for a while now. For fans of hot food, Big Star is a must.
At Big Star, patrons who are under 21 are only served outside, seated at heavy hardwood picnic tables. Still, the food is the same that is served inside and, if anything, it probably gets to your mouth more quickly via the takeout window. The takeout staff is friendly and helpful, happy to take requests and quickly wraps up food for convenience.
Big Star itself has a very trendy atmosphere, in keeping with the generally hip air of Bucktown, where it is located. A broad patio is kept warm by heat lamps, and was crowded when we dined there on a weeknight. The takeaway area was more sparse, with the aforementioned hardwood tables, but it had its charm: dog walkers and bar hoppers made pleasant conversation downwind of the food-perfumed takeout window.
Date Factor (4/5)
While a bit out of the way for most NU students, Big Star is located in a fun neighborhood not far at all from the Loop, making it the perfect way to wrap up a day of shopping and exploring. The casual air of the takeout zone and the trendy bar inside (for those over 21) both make great date locations. We’ll definitely be back.
The food at Big Star is both spicy and flavorful – a combination that I have yet to discover in my standard dining hall diet. I ordered the Taco al Pastor, a soft-shell taco filled with fresh grilled pineapple chunks, pork strips, cilantro and pico de gallo. This taco is a delightful balance of sweet and spicy. It’s also significantly easier on the wallet than some of our past picks (coming in at $3). A great accompaniment to the heat of the taco is the soothing horchata. This traditional Mexican drink of rice milk and cinnamon is especially well-executed at Big Star. Rumor has it that Big Star also specializes in $1 Schlitz Shorties and relatively inexpensive alcoholic beverages. It is first and foremost a bar, after all. For a cheap college student with a Mexican food tradition, Big Star is paradise.
Because John and I are both under 21, we were confined to the takeout window and a few open air tables. The takeout window was about as nice in the service department as any fast food establishment, but it left some to be desired. The staff was friendly and helpful; my minimal contact with them was certainly acceptable. The service for minors simply isn’t the stuff of which dreams are made. For the 21-and-over crowd, though, service appeared to be much nicer. Waitresses wandered through the outdoor patio fairly frequently, talking with patrons and answering any questions.
Big Star is an oasis in the urbanity of Chicago. The restaurant is immediately visible from the Damen stop on the Blue Line, identifiable by its large fluorescent star-shaped sign. Although the patio opens onto a bustling street and sidewalk, Big Star very effectively maintains a pleasant and personal atmosphere. Joggers and dog-walkers, in addition to minors, frequent the takeout window. This restaurant creates a world of its own. My only qualm with the quaint outdoor seating is the obvious lack of lighting.
Date Factor (4.5/5)
For a relatively inexpensive but appropriately long date, Big Star is a fabulous destination. A combination of Big Star’s delicious food and charming atmosphere makes such a seemingly casual restaurant special. The 45-minute train ride provides plenty of time to chat with your sweetie, and the trek is far enough outside of the Evanston bubble to lend an air of occasion to the evening. This destination is more than adequate for those under 21, but I can imagine the increased appeal for a crowd that can splurge on an alcoholic beverage or two. Big Star is a testament to the simple but enjoyable date night.
Good food at a great price makes Big Star more than just large order of homesickness for us. Whether you and your date are big fans of Mexican food or just looking for a pleasant change of taste, Big Star and the surrounding neighborhood are both well worth the visit.
Big Star is our first venture into the city, and it turned out to be one of our favorite spots so far. Then again, that’s not surprising: Chicago is full of wonderful places, and we have only just started exploring them. If you know any good eateries or date spots in the greater Chicago area (or, of course, Evanston) we would, as always, love to hear from you.