Hello Chowhounds, I'm going to be staying in Wicker Park this weekend and I'm looking for ideas in the following categories that are nearby:
Good places for brunch
Middle eastern food
Other restaurants that come highly recommended in this area
You might also consider Forno for brunch. I haven't been, but I love dinner there, and I've heard good things about brunch.
People's Lounge is, IMHO, no more than a mediocre tapas joint - you could do better elsewhere in the city, for sure, but if you're fixed on staying in WP, it's the only option I can think of.
Word to the wise about brunch in Wicker Park, the Bongo Room is probably the most popular place in the neighborhood and its constantly packed to the gills with a line out the door. If you can't get into the Bongo Room, there's also Milk & Honey (about 4 blocks south) on Division (http://www.milkandhoneycafe.com/). I think the brunch at Rodan is also underappreciated since its so well known for being a bar-scene, but I had these really cheap brazilian doughnuts that were exactly what I was craving.
While Sultan's is the default for Middle Eastern in the area (I blame management's use of incredibly cute falafel line boys for this popularity), I think Babylon (http://centerstage.net/restaurants/babylon-eatery.html) has far fresher and better ingredients--I find their falafel to be crispier, more flavorful and I like their larger, flatter pitas. If you feel like venturing, go south to Chickpea (http://chickpeaonthego.com/), its a new palestinian casual food place with a really nice twist on the usual middle eastern favorites. The restaurant is beautifully decorated with classic movie posters in Arabic.
As for tapas, I love Peoples Lounge on Milwaukee avenue. Its definite spanish tapas with a few twists, nothing too experimental but with solidly, well-seasoned dishes. People is decorated a little bit like a Spanish Mission so the tables are a huge and communal.
I think the most well regarded restaurant in the area is Spring, which is a few notches above the more popular restaurants in the neighborhood. Hope this helps!
The waiting time phenomenon for Sunday brunches is well described by Eaterlover. The most well-known places - and yes, that would be Bongo Room, but also Feast - have a line out the door at prime times. There are several ways to deal with that. One is to go out for breakfast/brunch on a Saturday or weekday; most of these places don't have any waits at all except on Sundays. Another, on Sundays, is to go early, as close as possible to whatever time they open (you can look up hours in the Metromix listings at http://chicago.metromix.com/restaurants ). One more strategy is to make a reservation for Sunday brunch, although most of the places with the lowest prices and greatest value don't accept reservations. In Wicker Park, Feast and Adobo Grill both accept reservations for Sunday brunch on Opentable. Finally, if you can find that great, "underappreciated" brunch spot that doesn't get inundated and doesn't have waits, that works - which is what Between was like, before they appeared on Top Chef, although it's unclear whether they will start having waits when they resume serving Sunday brunch this spring.
I couldn't agree with you more about Babylon being the better choice over Sultan's. Sultan's needs to sharpen their quality control methods as the ingredients on occassion have been down right wilted and far beyond their shelf-life.
Babylon serves some of the very best Shawerma in the entire city...the rest of the menu is pretty darn great as well!!! The chicken and beef Shawerma is outstanding, YUM!!! Have you tried the tangy green sliced potato appetizer? Really fantastic stuff and I've never seen it prepared in that fashion!! I know, sliced potato's sound pretty ordinary, right? Not these tasty neon green taters!!
Only one complaint with Babylon, the portions are a bit smallish, but reasonably priced nevertheless.
Also try Las Asadas on Western just north of Armitage for some of the very best char-grilled steak tacos and burrito's, period!!
Pollo Salvaje on Western just north Armitage for the very best rotisserie chicken in town. The restuarant is Peruvian. Also try the Peruvian chicken tamales.
For brunch, I *love* Bongo Room. If you enjoy sweet items (like I do), you're more likely to love it too. They specialize in pancakes with sweet sauces on them, although they also have egg dishes (as well as sandwiches and salads). My favorites have included blueberry pancakes with almond panna cotta sauce, and pretzel pancakes with white chocolate sauce. Note that a standard order is three huge pancakes, but you can also order a one-third order or a two-thirds order at a reduced price. This lets you try more than one kind if that's of interest. They get particularly busy on Sunday mornings.
I've also had brunch at Feast and they do quite a good job with egg and pancake dishes; I still like Bongo Room better, but Feast is another good option. I love Between's brunch but they have discontinued brunch for the next month or two. I've had the brunch at Hot Chocolate and it was not bad but nothing special either; I was rather disappointed as I had expected better.
I'm not aware of Middle Eastern or tapas in Wicker Park, but Wicker Park isn't that far from other restaurant neighborhoods like River North (where tapas options include Emilio's Sol y Nieve and Cafe Iberico), Lincoln Park (Emilio's and Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba), etc. For additional tapas recommendations, see these discussions: