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Sep 10, 2001 05:06 PM

Univ. of Chicago

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I'm going to be a student there in a week; any recommendations for good, cheap, unpretentious food in the neighborhood or easily accessible by public transport? I like any kind of ethnic; plus the usual american like hamburgs, pizza, ribs, fried chicken etc. Just so long as it's half as good as mom's cooking. Thanks for the help.

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  1. Welcome to Chicago...Hyde park is an interesting neighborhood, but the outstanding food is relatively thin on the ground. Many of the people who post here lived in Hyde Park at some point, so you should be able to find fair amount of information on local favorites by searching this board for hyde park and related terms. I know alot has changed since I lived there just three years ago so be sure to report on any discoveries you make!

    Some highlights (with threads)

    Harold's Chicken Shack: Kimbark Plaza @ 53rd and Woodlawn Harold's is dirt cheap and damn good. The thread above has long descriptions of exactly what to expect there: mammoth wings, deep fried to perfection, slathered in hotsauce (or mild), heaped on top of a bed of french fries. Harold's is open late and is a hyde park institution: a veritable southside fried chicaken empire.

    Ribs and Bibs at Kenwood and 53rd, In a pinch, Ribs n Bibs will satisfy your barbecue cravings. I am a proponent of their rib tips over the other items on the menu, little blackend hunks of beef with half-digestible bones to gnaw on in a passable sauce. Like many other BBQ shacks in Chicago there's no place to eat inside, so in my day, I would either carry them home or sit in the park on 55th St byt the fountain and sully myself with rib grease there. But for the really great ribs, check out Lem's (not in Hyde Park, more below
    Jimmy's 55th and Woodlawn. Jimmy's is the newly remodelled old-school home of HP's major imbibers. It has a great diverse clientele, Philosophy phD candidates jockey for position at the bar with HP locals, the occasional homeless man, and underage undegrads. They have a full menu of Bar Grub: I like the cheeseburgers at Jimmy's quite a lot, the fries were ordered fairly frequently, I never regretted eating the hot dog, brat or italian beef there either. The cheeseburgers are small and thin, with a single slice of american cheese, on a squishy soft grease-glistening that's been fried on the grill till it's just developed a greasy edge. I like to spend time layering the pickles carefully on the non-cheese side of the bun. I can eat three at one one sitting.

    Valois: See Your Food. 53rd and Harper. Another old-school HP institution: diner food and blue plate specials at incredibly low prices.

    Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop, 53rd and Harper (in the mall). A soul food place with tasty chicken fried steak, nice fried catfish, and tasty johnny cakes.

    Medici 57th and Kimbark. Not great food, unfortunately, but if your experience is anything like mine was you'll end up eating as many meals here as in the dining halls. The dinner menu features mediocre pizza, very large hamburgers, greasy quesadillas, (with a nice pico de gallo), and a bevy of other unremarkable dishes. Breakfast is (in my opinion) the Med's strong suit. Their pastries are homemade, and although no on in france would characterize the heavy buttery slightly soggy rolls they serve as croissants, they are a nice way to start a sunday morning. Good enough eggs benedict and florentine.

    JJ Chicken and Fish (47th and Lake Park): I've never been there, but one recent out of town visitor claimed to have eaten the best fried oysters of his life at the downtown branch of this fried food chain. (Has anyone been since that thread went up?
    In the Dearly Departed Category (and also the old style looks section) we had Ciral's House of Tiki. Which was a very good place, with very fauz polynesian decor, and very greasy fried chicken wings, and a terrific jukebox. But, alas, it is no more, and I'm merely wallowing in nostalgia.

    There are lots of other places in Hyde Park along 53rd and 55th and 57th: Does anyone here have a havorite Thai restaurant? Or a source for reliably good middle eastern food?

    Plus, you have at your disposal the rest of the South Side. Search for threads on Lem's, Army and Lous, and others. And check out the rest of this board sometime when you get a chance--there's a lot of information for the enterprising hound.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Seth Zurer

      Thanks very much for all the suggestions, it's a great start. Is there a secret to searching the boards? I haven't figured it out. Thanks again.

      1. re: Philly

        Hi Philly, There are two ways that I use for a search. The most obvious is to use the search feature on the homepage. It works great. The second is to load the index for the board you are interested in, go to edit, and then the "find" . It will allow you to enter the thing you are searching for and will then find it and highlight it. Try either or both and if you have trouble let us know. This sort of discussion rightly belongs on the Site Talk board though. Good luck. Pat

      2. re: Seth Zurer

        To answer Seth's question, I *have* been to J&J's Fish downtown since HLing's posting. The shrimp were really, really great. I didn't have the fried oysters (hmmm... perhaps today for lunch), and the perch were very fresh tasting and good.

        Overall a great fish experience, although I wouldn't recommend bringing the take out up to the 24th floor on an elevator--boy did I stink everything up!

        1. re: Michael

          Hi Chicago chowhounds!

          I saw J&J in the title and decided pop over here for a second. FRIED OYSTERS!!! Wish I could get some right now.

          I wasn't aware though, that J & J is a chain. Is it really? or is JJ different from J&J Fried Fish and Chicken? I only know that the owner of J & J also owns Goosh Popcorn few doors down. (tasty caramel popcorn!)

          1. re: HLing

            I believe they are all called J&J Fish, not JJ as I wrote earlier. I was never quite sure because their logo represents the "and" as a fish that doesn’t look anything like an ampersand (the Js are red shrimp with curled tails). The one downtown on Adams, the one in Hyde Park on 47th, and all the others I’ve seen have the same logo. I don’t know if they are true franchises but the phone book lists about 25, virtually all on the south side. I kind of think of J&J as the Harold’s of fish. It’s good stuff and way better than just about any chain. I think I’ve only had the basic perch but will certainly give the oysters a try soon.

            1. re: Rene G

              Thanks for the reply, Rene!

              The girl who works at Goosh popcorn said her place is relatively new at the time but that she's been eating over at J&J's ever since she started working there at Goosh Popcorn. According to this girl, the owner of J&J and now Goosh Popcorn really cares about his food. He had consulted Garrett's (? I think that was the name)Popcorn for recipe before opening up Goosh Popcorn. I really loved Goosh's caramel popcorn, and sampled some of the cheese, which was also very tasty, BUT, I wondered if Garret's had left out a secret or two, as the popcorn doesn't keep its crispness long enough! On those humid days that I was there a small bag of popcorn went from wonderfully tasty and crunchy at the beginning of the L train trip, to still tasty but a bit soft by the time I got off in Evanston...Nevermind the next day!

              I've never had Garrett's popcorn. Would be curious to hear if you happen to know Garrett's and how Goosh's compares...

        2. re: Seth Zurer

          Second the emotion on Army & Lou's - excellent place. I always get the chitlins - not to everybody's taste, but definitely something you want to order in a restaurant and not try to cook at home.

          1. re: Tom R (TJR)

            Well, if you are going to be heading to Lem's - a worthwhile trip, especially on a cold dark Chicago winter's night - you should also consider Soul Vegetarian East on 73rd (?)...which is exactly as it sounds. A vegetarian/healthfood place that has some good inexpensive juices but also serves a vegan "roast pork sandwich" and so on. Definitely not your typical vegetarian fare.

            And an aside - does anyone know about pupusa places south of HP? I went to a pretty good one in the shadow of the skyway bridge basically on the border with Indiana, but I think it closed!

          2. re: Seth Zurer

            speaking of HP nostalgia, how about these gems:

            the old harold's on the corner of 53rd and Kenwood, no sit-in tables
            the lunch counter at Woolworth's
            the Agora, aka Prairie City Diner, aka Ann Sather, aka Lulu's, etc..
            Rainbow's End for ice cream on 53rd, between blackstone and harper (now noodles)
            Campus Chicken--where Kinko's on 57th is (I think) for good, non-hot sauce fried chicken
            Windy's Deli/Thai food on 53rd, between Greenwood and Ellis
            TJ's on the park
            Tipsuda (now snail)
            Nicky's old location (now Harold's) (by the way, Nicky's has been the local whipping boy for as long as I can remember, but I've never known anyone who has eaten there, although I'm sure it's awful)
            Jessleson's Fish (now Pepe's)
            Middle Eastern Gardens, Either where Freehlings pots and pans is, or next door (used to fill up on the free salads--pickles, onions, cucumbers, etc..) while nursing the $2.25 sandwiches
            Bob's place, where the parking lot for the IHOP is, for a great candy selection, including many types of "fizz" candy
            The Tropical Isle for Carribean food, right across from Kenwood
            Barbara's "candy-orama" or as everyone called it, "the corner store" for now and laters, $.05 freeze pops, hot cheeze doodles with tobasco on top (for .10 extra), hot pickles, and pickled pigs knuckles (no extra charge for hot sauce) on 53rd and Ellis across from what used to be the Osteopathic Hospital

            and of course, above all, the House of tiki for late night zombies and fish and chips platters, badgering tiki Ted, watching the thugs posture for their ladies, UofC nerds vomiting on the floor, and having a place to go after jimmy's, until 4 am (5 on saturdays). the neighborhood is a shadow of its former self without it, in fact, I can't believe people I know still live in HP without it.

            The food scene in HP, I hate to say, is dismal, but you are, as others have pointed out, close enough to Pilsen, chinatown, lem's, etc... to make the isolation bearable.

            Eat as much Harold's, Valois, and Jimmy's fried Hard salami on rye sandwiches as possible, take the bus downtown to see movies, no matter how tempting do not visit the Falcon Inn, and stay the hell out of ELm park and off of wooded Island and you should be alright. Enjoy the neighborhood!

          3. Hi Philly,
            One thing Seth didn't mention is Noodles, Etc. on 57th. For unpretentious cheap food its the boss. There is a real black vortex when it comes to food in HP so I hope you check out Noodles.

            1. I imagine you’ll find out soon enough about the options on campus. Here are comments on places in the surrounding neighborhood. As Seth recommended, I would be sure to explore outside of Hyde Park; there are lots of worthwhile places nearby (don’t forget Chinatown). Believe me, if you live in HP you’ll likely become much too familiar with all the neighborhood places much sooner than you’d like.

              I’ve listed nearly every place, good and bad, I can think of. From south to north and west to east, more or less. I doubt very much if it’s up to date though.

              57th Street

              Sammy's Touch
              Their sign reads: "Beef, Cigarettes, Lottery." Very greasy. One of the Gyros Platters will stick with you for months.

              Maybe one of the better local pizza chains but nothing to write home about.

              University Market
              Owned by next-door Medici. A little deli counter in the back makes some pretty good sandwiches. Take-out only.

              Pizza can be okay but it's difficult to recommend because the quality varies wildly. I like their huge, buttery cinnamon rolls.

              Noodles Etcetera
              I haven’t been to this new one but the original on 53rd is solid.

              I cannot for the life of me understand why this Greek-Mexican-American diner is popular. Well, it's fairly cheap. Edible breakfasts but I’ve been very unimpressed with the Greek and Mexican specials.

              Caffe Florian
              Tolerable deep dish pizza in the original Medici quarters.

              Piccolo Mondo (56th)
              I only went once and had an unspeakably bad seafood pasta. I suspect the food’s usually better than that. Pleasant room.

              55th Street

              Jimmy's (Woodlawn Tap)
              A great neighborhood bar, recently renovated but still retains its soul. The old-fashioned bar food serves its purpose. You may not believe it when you first eat one, but you’ll have fond memories of the burgers decades later.

              Petite Folie
              Good French food, somewhat pricey (for HP).

              Bonjour Cafe
              A pretty good little French bakery with home-made pastries and a limited menu of French sandwiches.

              Hyde Park Coop
              The original store of Hyde Park's grocery monopoly has a little café in front. Not much to recommend it except some interesting HP old-timers hang out there.

              Moderately fresh sushi and other Japanese fare.

              Cafe Corea
              Korean restaurant recently under new management. Haven’t tried.

              Thai 55
              Tolerable Thai (sorry, I’m really not current on HP’s 4 Thai restaurants).

              Ditto for Middle Eastern.

              Sorry excuse for a deli. Gristly sausages, fatty meats. Here's a little story that sums it all up (I swear this is true). Years ago I was waiting at the register and craned my neck around to look for napkins or something. Next to the phone I saw a printed list of common questions and the management-approved answers. When someone complained of getting sick from some Morry's food, the employee was supposed to answer, "We serve hundreds of those every day and we have gotten no complaints from anyone else."

              Another Hyde Park Thai.

              Yet another. This seems to be some people’s favorite HP Thai.

              Mexican-Caribbean food. A few changes of chefs and reports vary.

              53rd Street

              Abysmal Chinese food. Ages ago, Nicky's used to be a pizza parlor and made an easy transition into chop suey, fried rice, etc when the pizza competition heated up. Take-out/delivery only.

              Harold's Chicken Shack #14
              Love it or hate it, a south side classic. One of many Chicken Shacks, this one is unusual for its cutesy country decor (with the usual bulletproof glass). Some formica booths but mostly take-out. Arguably the best food in HP.

              The Leona's mini-chain (Italian) used to be pretty good but no longer. The Hyde Park branch never was.

              Lousy Mexican chain.

              Jacob's Brothers
              An outlet of the local chain. Respectable bagels (at least compared to most other chains).

              A local chain that serves veggie-intensive pita sandwiches.

              I've heard several claims that this is the worst outlet of the worst fast food chain. Won’t get an argument from me.

              Buffalo Max
              Dunno, haven’t been. Looks like standard Chicago fast food.

              Wah Lung
              Chinese take-out. Been around a long time. Strange little place, everything takes place behind a curtain.

              Doesn't appear very promising at first glance (the usual Chicago fast food stuff) but has a little menu of Jamaican food. Worth exploring as some of it isn't too bad.

              Ribs ‘n’ Bibs
              Not in the upper echelon of Chicago BBQ but decent for a neighborhood place. Ribs cooked slowly over real hickory. Pork shoulder varies from very good to horrifyingly fatty. Killer fries (w/sauce).

              Wok and Roll
              I’ve only had catering/take-out and wasn’t at all impressed. Reportedly the same owners as Triple Crown in Chinatown.

              Pizza Hut
              What can you say?

              Dunkin' Donuts
              Hyde Park's only 24 hour "restaurant."

              Boston Market
              One of the remaining outposts of this once ubiquitous chain. Bland city.

              "We bake our own bread." Why don't they just go out and buy some good stuff? Really doesn't matter cuz most fillings aren’t very good either.

              Outlet of the local pizza chain. Some people (not me) like their stuffed pizza.

              Rajun Cajun
              An oddity: steam table fast food featuring soul food and Indian cooking. Nothing cajun. Respectable veg selections. Some of the home cooked dishes can be comforting if not outstanding. I rather like this place.

              Noodles Etcetera
              Thai-based noodle house. While a lot of the things taste a lot alike you can get a reasonable lunch for around $5.

              Go to the family-run Bonjour instead (they roast their beans and bake their pastries in-house).

              Pizza Capri
              An outlet of the local mini-chain. Pretty good "eclectic" pizzas.

              "See Your Food." A classic steam table cafeteria draws a very diverse crowd. Home-cooked dishes like short ribs and pot roast at pretty good prices. A great place in many ways.

              Mellow Yellow
              A pleasant enough restaurant but ignore their claims for best chili in Chicago. Things like salads, omelettes, sandwiches.

              Far East Kitchen
              Very Americanized but (yikes!) I guess it’s the best Chinese in HP.

              Thai Twee
              Used to be Thai Twin before an easy sign change. Was okay, but I haven’t been for a long time.

              Formerly HP’s great, tacky Polynesian bar, now closed. Supposedly the new owners will open a steak house any year now.

              Cholie’s Pizza
              Kinda greasy thin crust pies. Can do the trick if you’ve had enough to drink.

              Cedars of Lebanon
              Decent middle eastern food, definitely a cut above Nile. Their prepackaged food is all around (Coop, campus) but isn’t as good as that in the restaurant.

              Harper Court (52nd & Harper)

              Gold City Inn
              Some of the worst "Chinese" food I've ever had. Hard to fathom but it's worse than Nicky's.

              For years U of C students were drawn to the W 63rd St Maravilla's 24 hour spot. Now they bring the burritos to the students (but only 'til midnight). Okay basic Mexican but not anything to go out of your way for. Real Mexican Coke.

              Dixie Kitchen
              Cutesy "bait shop" decor and good southern/Cajun food. Just don't get your hopes too high, it’s not N.O.

              Calypso Café
              From the Dixie people. I still haven’t been.

              51st St (Hyde Park Blvd)

              Original Pancake House
              So it's not Walker Brother's but the breakfasts are really quite good.

              Kentucky Fried Chicken
              I'm mean really, why not go to Harolds?

              Kenny's Ribs
              I mean really, why not go to Ribs ‘n’ Bibs (or better yet, Lem’s)?

              Burger King
              No comment.


              47th Street

              JJ’s Fish
              One of about 30 outlets of the south side fried fish empire. Better than Dock’s. I haven’t tried the oysters.

              Italian Fiesta Pizza
              I always forget about this one but it can be a welcome change from the usual HP pizza.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Rene G
                Vital Information

                Rene, what a great post. Nobody ever writes about crappy places. Spend a few days in Oak Park and then do for Oak Park what you've done for HP!


                1. re: Rene G

                  Thank you forever for such a great post. I'm printing up a few copies to take with me. Where is chinatown? People are always talking about neighborhoods in their posts, but the map I have doesn't show where any of them are. Thanks again, you guys are the greatest.

                  1. re: philly

                    below is a link to a map of chicago neighborhoods. it's not detailed enough to show streets, however, but it will give you a relative idea of where things are.


                  2. re: Rene G


                    as always an exhaustive great post- a few notes/comments:

                    One option left out and invaluable for the student is divinity school basement cafeteria for lunch--takeout selections from almost all the ethnic places mentioned here and lots of veg options.

                    Of the hyde park thai options my favorite was always thai twin--specifying spicy though haven't been in some time (in fact I am not sure if I was there since it was twee-but I think its the same owners)

                    piccolo mondo is overpriced for sit-down but I have found some fairly tasty stuff to munch on in their take-out counter (those pizza-bread things are good and cheap)

                    rajun cajun since indian owned must be pronounced as such:

                    raaaah'jin caaaah'jin, its pretty bad indian food but it is the only indian food in quite some ways.

                    the little mexican grocery store on 53rd next to kimbark plaza has great frsh-squeezed juice in plastic tubs on the weekends

                    Nothing, nothing is worse than Nicky's if you include the actual hatred they seem to have for their customers. I have never met a propietor who seem less cut out for the job of owning a restaurant than he

                    Medici also known for their funky odd "international" hot chocolate drinks - some of which are quite good on a cold day

                    Mellow Yellow--desert crepes can be quite good

                    What ever happened to Snappy's on 55th.

                    Also Philly do a search for Lem's on this board the state street location is actually very close to UC

                    Nonfood you can get a decent chess game in Harper court, and there's a farmers market there on thursday mornings-I'm not sure how much longer it goes

                    Cafe Corea sucks

                    I have a Literal) soft spot for Sammy's polishes-grilled (it has to be specified) with grilled onions

                    Another not mentioned on 57th-Lulus Dim Sum and Then Sum--Pan asian, pretty, overpriced but better than any other asian in HP. Haven't been to the HP location but my guess is will normallly be busy.

                    To sum it up the strength of HP is. . .used bookstores

                    1. re: zim

                      "Nothing, nothing is worse than Nicky's if you include the actual hatred they seem to have for their customers. I have never met a propietor who seem less cut out for the job of owning a restaurant than he."

                      I have a candidate! Can't remember the name of the place, but it's a tiny Italian trattoria just west of Clark on the north side of Wrightwood. We've never gone inside but just reading the signs is a major trip! I won't spoil your fun - go look at it. Then eat somewhere else, like Frances' around the corner.

                      1. re: Tom R (TJR)

                        It's really too bad about the change in Nickys format. When I was living in HP, Nickys had the best thin-crust pizza going. This was 25 years ago now (god, 25 years?!) but I can still taste it. That razor thin crust with a thick layer of super-greasy cheese and sausage was fabulous -- the pizza was mostly topping, unlike the pizza chains and stuffed versions which are mostly bread. Nickys was just the thing for late-night study breaks.

                        1. re: Tom R (TJR)
                          David Wakelyn

                          The Italian place west of Clark is a father and son joint called Monte Rotondo. One of the weirdest father and son combos I've ever seen. Dad is an Italian immigrant and the son dresses like he's the bass player in a punk band but he's always courteous.

                          The frozen/fresh pasta, especially the artichoke stuffed ravioli is quite good. Where else on the north side are you gonna get fresh pasta?

                          1. re: David Wakelyn

                            I have to reply - the proprietor is no more italian than Dubya. It's some weird ruse he perpetrates to convince his customers of the place's authenticity. I speak Italian, sortof, and when I launched into conversation I immediately noticed an accent & some verbal tics. And you're right, the signs are a trip - more 'forbidden' activities than are listed at then entrance to a state park.
                            But the gelato is divine. Direct from Italy. Try the nocino (hazelnut) - almost as good as Tre Scalini in Rome.

                            1. re: Mary B.

                              Deep scoop, MB.
                              Nice to see you here.
                              Hope you stick around.

                              Erik M.

                        2. re: zim

                          Glad you brought up the Div school basement--I was going to do so myself.

                          Lulu's on 57th? Gone. And gone for awhile now. Rumors are that the one in Evanston is going away too...

                          I recommend staying away from Caffe Florian, which always, ALWAYS smells like sewage.