<$20 seafood/steak/burgers/italian/american in Evanston?
I was admitted into a ph.d. program at Northwestern and am going to Evanston for the official visit day in a couple of weeks. My dad is coming out to Chicago to spend a couple of days with me, too.
I'm looking for places that are casual, moderately priced (entrees <$20), not too adventurous or "ethnic" (my dad's a picky eater), and preferably someplace where lower-sodium options are available. The best options are seafood or steak (if reasonably priced), Italian, burgers, and brewpub/new American-type places.
My dad would be just as happy at a chain, but I'm seriously considering spending the next five years of my life as a student out there, so I'd prefer to get a feel for the town. So, closer to Northwestern is better, but if there's something good elsewhere in north Chicagoland, that's fair game.
The Northwestern campus is right next to (just north of) downtown Evanston, within walking distance, and you'll find excellent food at moderate prices in each of the categories you've asked about. I'll note my top picks towards the end of this post. (Sorry it's so lengthy!)
Seafood - Davis Street Fishmarket in downtown Evanston is very good, with fresh seafood in competent preparations, modestly priced. Definitely the place to go in town if you want seafood. www.davisstreetfishmarket.com
Steak - Pete Miller's is the only steakhouse in downtown Evanston, and it is very good too. Not all that expensive as steakhouses go. www.petemillers.com
Burgers - Evanston has a place in downtown Evanston that has been proclaimed by some for the best burgers in the entire Chicago area. It's called Edzo's and is own/run by a chef with a fine-dining background. They offer a choice of thinner burgers smashed down onto the griddle, or plumper flame-broiled burgers. They offer upgrades for grass-fed beef from several ranches, although their standard beef is also very good. They have ten different kinds of (excellent) fries, including lobster fries. And their shakes are the best on the planet! (Try the Speculoos shake, a not-on-the-menu option featuring the Belgian cookie spread.) They get very busy during the lunch hours, but it's worth any wait. www.edzos.com Another burger place recently opened on Noyes Street, west of the NU campus and north of downtown Evanston. It's called DMK Burger & Fish. It's excellent too, but it's very small and seating is limited, especially at lunchtime. www.dmkburgerfish.com
Italian - Campagnola is a terrific, moderately-priced Italian restaurant in Evanston, with a casual bistro atmosphere. It's in the Main Street area about a mile south of downtown Evanston. www.campagnolarestaurant.com (There's also a really dreadful Italian place downtown called Dave's Italian Kitchen. Do NOT go there.)
Pizza - You can enjoy Chicago's amazingly delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's in downtown Evanston. Phone ahead with your pizza order if you don't want to wait 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake. They have seating and also offer carry-out and delivery. www.loumalnatis.com
"Brew/pub New American" - Prairie Moon has very good California/global food with a sports bar theme, and is moderately priced. At the southern end of downtown Evanston. www.prairiemoonrestaurant.com Tommy Nevins Pub and Bar Louie are on the same block; both lean more towards the "pub" part of the equation. www.tommynevins.com www.barlouieamerica.com All three are decent; of the three, I prefer the food at Prairie Moon.
American (not brew/pub) - Found is a small plates restaurant in downtown Evanston serving American/global cuisine and is absolutely wonderful. www.foundkitchen.com Terra Bistro is a very good, moderately-priced bistro about two miles north of downtown Evanston. www.terra-bistro.com On Noyes Street north of downtown, Al's Deli has sandwiches and terrific chocolate chip cookies; they're open for lunch only, and seating is very limited. www.alsdeli.net
Breakfast - You didn't mention breakfast, but there's an absolutely heavenly breakfast-specialty restaurant a couple miles north of downtown Evanston, just over the town line in Wilmette. It's called Walker Brothers Original Pancake House, and they have the highest quality of everything from their omelets to their crepes to their pancakes to their coffee. They have a couple of unique, amazingly-delicious specialties: a huge puffed-up cinnamon-y apple pancake, and a German pancake made from the same batter but without the apples and cinnamon so it's not quite as sweet. Expect lengthy waits to be seated on weekends between 9 and 1, moderate waits at lunchtime on weekdays. www.walkerbrosoph.com
Prices - The websites for all of these restaurants have sample menus showing prices. The burger, sandwich, and breakfast places are the least expensive and Pete Miller's the most expensive, with the others somewhere in the middle.
Reservations - Davis Street, Pete Miller's, Campagnola, Found, and Terra Bistro all accept reservations, and I strongly recommend making them in advance if you're going on a Friday or Saturday night, when they get busy and you may encounter lengthy waits without one. During the week, Found gets busy too so the same advice applies; at the others, you'll probably get seated immediately on weeknights but a reservation wouldn't hurt.
TOP PICKS - All of these are excellent at what they do. Which of these are "DO NOT MISS" options? Edzo's for burgers, Lou Malnati's for deep dish, Walker Brothers for breakfast, and Campagnola or Found if you want a nicer meal.
Side Note - If and when you're here without your dad and you're interested in something more adventurous, ethnic, and/or spicy, places to consider include Thai Sookdee ( www.thaisookdee.com ), Lao Sze Chuan ( www.tonygourmetgroup.com - the Evanston location opened recently and is not yet on their website), 527 Café (Taiwanese - www.527cafedavis.com ), Tapas Barcelona ( www.tapasbarcelona.com ), and Bat 17 (deli-ish - www.bat17evanston.com ). All are in downtown Evanston. For Mexican, the places in Evanston (That Little Mexican Café - www.tlmcafe.com and Lupita's - www.lupitasmexicanrestaurant.com ) are okay, but the best Mexican food is just west of Evanston in Skokie/Lincolnwood, where you'll find Yolo ( www.yolomexicaneatery.com ), Libertad ( www.libertad7931.com ), and Wholly Frijoles ( www.whollyfrijoles.net ). If you ever have a special occasion where moderate pricing isn't a constraint, Evanston's fine/finer-dining options include Oceanique ( www.oceanique.com ), Quince ( www.quincerestaurant.net ), Chef's Station ( www.chefs-station.com ), and Jilly's Café ( www.jillyscafe.com ).
In addition to steaks, Pete Miller's has a decent bar menu with burger options at not-awful price points. Added value is that they have live Jazz pretty much every night and the seating area for the bar menu is right in front of the house where the band plays.The drinks are priced on teh high side but it's still a reasonable night out.
Union is about 10 minutes south and has a great beer menu and a good burger as well as wood-fired pizza and a selection of small plates. It shares an entrance with SPACE, a live-music venue that occasionally features well-known acts in addition to lesser-known indie folk and rock artists.
One other tip. Evanston also has a Naf-Naf (a local outlet of a local Middle Eastern chain) serving great chicken shawarma and falafel with house-baked pita. A great cheap lunch (or dinner).
to add to nxtasy's great list - I would also add for seafood Bonefish Grill in Skokie - it is a chain but I travel a lot and have found the food to be consistently top notch. https://www.bonefishgrill.com/
For breakfast Walker Brotehrs is great and an institution in the north shore but I would add in Evanston Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop - it is one of my favorites - http://www.dixiekitchenevanston.com/
To add some adventurous places - I would include Siam Splendour - http://www.siamsplendourevanston.com/ for another Thai spot, Joy Yee - http://www.joyyee.com/ for pan asian and for sushi http://www.searanchincfishsushisashim... or Sashimi Sashimi - http://www.sashimisashimi.com/