El trains and neighborhood dining: Knowing your way around both is the mark of a true Chicagoan. No matter how deeply you’ve dived into dining-by-district or traveling-by-train, we figured you’d enjoy taking the kids along for an introductory ride that combines both.
We’ve planned two, kid-sized progressive-dining adventures with just a few stops at restaurants and neighborhoods easily reached from the North Side Red Line and Brown Line.
What you’ll need: Plenty of cash for restaurant sampling (what you can’t eat you can carry out), good walking shoes and a couple of disposable cameras.
These trips can be done with a stroller, but are better-geared to parents with kids 5 and up. You’ll need a $5.75 unlimited day pass for each adult, $1 for kids 7-11, free kids 6 and under, which let you hop on and off the train at each dining hub. We’ve planned each trip around el stops with elevators/escalators. Traveling between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. should mean trains are less crowded. Expect to wait from 10-15 minutes for trains.
Wend your way through the German/continental food offerings around Lincoln Square, down some Southern grub at Wishbone, then back via the Brown Line.
Park in one of the metered lots. Before you board, start with something light from Cafe Selmarie, 4729 N. Lincoln (Selmarie granola with yogurt and fruit, $6; fresh baked brioche, $1.95, or maybe a breakfast pastry to share), next to the fountain in Gidding’s Plaza. Explore some of the shops (Quake Collectibles, 4628 N. Lincoln, a used-toy store with more action figures than you can imagine, is a huge motivator for my sons’ good deeds). Don’t miss the house-made sausages, European cheese and shelves full of marzipan at Gene’s Sausage Shop, 4750 N. Lincoln. Now hop the train down through Ravenswood to the Montrose stop.
Montrose Avenue stop
By now, you’ll be ready to grab a coffee. There’s Beans& Bagels, 1812 W. Montrose, for the independent-java-minded (Metropolis coffee) and a Starbucks. Ogle the menus and marquee at Margie’s Candies, 1813 W. Montrose, a neon-bedecked little place for old-fashioned ice cream sundaes. (If the kids are good, maybe stop here on the way back.) Travel to Paulina.
Walk two blocks south to Wishbone. In the late ’80s, the Nickson brothers-each some combination of writer, artist, chef, filmmaker-took Chicago by storm. One brother, Joel, launched a little breakfast place on Grand Avenue that became so popular, it hatched three more restaurants. Twenty years later, Wishbone’s 3300 N. Lincoln location is one the family-friendliest of the ‘bones. Introduce your kids to honest, approachable Southern fare minus the Bubba kitsch. The great kids’ menu is full of easy-access items (cornflake crunchy french toast, one-eyed-Susan sunny-side-up egg in toast, etc.). You’ll be ready to walk the few blocks back to the Paulina stop to head home.
The richly varied layers of Chicago’s ethnic dining possibilities fill city foodie Web sites with questions, tips, rants and raves around the clock. Where to start … How about the Red Line? From Caribbean-baked treats just east of the Howard Street stop, down to a panoply of Southeast Asian options west of the Argyle stop, this teeny food tour will let you and your kids sample plenty of flavors. As I tell my 10-year-old when his eyes glaze over with too many menu options: “Just pick something-if you don’t like it, don’t worry: you’ll eat again.”
Howard Street el stop: Caribbean
Park your car in the ample lots here. Before you get on the train, walk 1½ blocks east of the train stop on Howard, to the Caribbean American Baking Co. Inside you’ll find all sorts of sweet breads and meat pies. Try one of the totoes now (lightly sweet and gingery coconut cakes) and pick up some meat pies (curried chicken, beef) at the end of your journey, when you come back this way. Get on the train and travel south to Argyle.
Argyle Street el stop: Southeast Asian
You’ll spend the bulk of your adventure here. There are more than a dozen Thai and Vietnamese pastry shops, grocery stores, pho shops (Vietnamese beef and noodle broth), and Southeast Asian grocery stores along Argyle, then heading south from Argyle on Broadway. Let the kids snap a photo of the roast ducklings hanging in the window at Sun-Wah BBQ, 5041 N. Broadway. Buy something unfamiliar but appealing to them-fresh lychee fruit or Southeast Asian candy at one of the grocers. When you get hungry, there’s something for everyone (253 menu items!) at Tank Noodle Vietnamese, 4953 N. Broadway. Nobody flinches if one of the kids spills something. Jump back on the train to return north.
Bryn Mawr and/or Loyola stops: American for the veto votes
For those in your crew who crave something a little more familiar, indulge them with a pretty cake slice or cupcake at Flourish Bakery, 1138 W. Bryn Mawr, just west of the el stop, or a burger and house-made fries at Five Guys, 6474 N. Sheridan, just south of the Loyola stop. Then take the short trip back to Howard.