First Time at Devon Ave or up north generally
Although I've visited Chicago often, as I live an hour or so away by car in Indiana, I tend to go there and eat at more "central" places whenever meeting up with family and friends who are in town.
Finally, things are playing out that I'll have some time and interested companions to head north and try the fabled Indian or other ethnic outlets there, or maybe even the Thai places like Sticky Rice which I've also never been able to try.
Any advice for a great destination given that we have one shot to take for dinner up north?
p.s., one of our party is vegan and also gluten intolerant, but she never makes much of a fuss and doesn't want people distorting their dining overmuch for her sake. Just FYI.
My guess would be Indian or Thai might be a great choice to cater to the vegan, but you might wanna look into one of the Ethiopian joints too.
If you're gonna have booze, I'd stick with a Thai BYOB. I'd also pre-plan the menu depending on the group size. The kitchen won't get taxed, and they might make some special treats for you.
For Indian, (well, Pakistani, really,)I'm still partial to Khan BBQ. Most of the places will have some vegetarian and vegan options, but the Pakistani places will have more meat on the menu, and the veggie dishes will be hit or miss (in general.) If you wanna go to a cheap dive and order everything on the menu and still laugh at the bill, check out Ghareeb Nawaz, but it's a dive, and it's not pretending not to be a dive. Tiffin might be a decent middle of the road Indian / Pakistani mix with a decent ambience as well.
Another great option for booze and a crowd would be San Soo Gab San for Korean BBQ. There will be items for the vegan, I think, but the star attraction will be the live fire and self grilling your meats, and the "I have no idea what I just ate, but I need another order of it" moments that are sure to be had. That might make the vegan feel a little left out tho.
My two cents is this tho - if you want to have booze, go with a Thai BYOB, and pre-plan the menu. I LOVE doing that with a group, but that's me. I'm a big fan of Sticky Rice, but a bigger fan of TAC Quick, and Rainbow.
Oh yeah - ever been to Sun Wah BBQ??
Maybe a Vietnamese place?
Check your bucket list, and see which option would be the best for the vegan of the group?
Foodwise, I believe these are great recommendations from Gordeaux. I sometimes judge restaurants the way they judge the Westminster Dog Show--it's not which is prettier, the maltese or the bulldog, but which dog is the best representation of of its breed's standard. With that mindset, if you want best of its class, I think Chicago's Thai restaurants these days are outstanding. For a total experience, however, and still with very tasty options, I'd suggest Devon. While the area near Western/Lincoln/Lawrence offers Rainbow, Spoon Thai, Opart and Rosded, and Aroy Thai and Sticky Rice are within a mile, this by no means appears as a Thai neighborhood. Devon, on the other hand, is truly a cultural experience, through restaurants, groceries, sari shops, and more.
One advantage of Devon is that it is a cultural twofer. If you start at Western Avenue and walk west, the neighborhood will be intensely Indian/Pakistani for about six blocks (sari shops, Hindu religous items, Indian jewelry, many Indian restaurants and grocery stores). Then keep walking past the bank that looks like New England and the stores abruptly change to Jewish and Russian. There is a Georgian (as in Russia, not the US South) bakery with a stone oven, some Judaica shops, Russian delis, and my personal favorite, the Tel Aviv Bakery with great rye bread, onion rolls,and babka.
>> Is there a convenient el stop to Western Ave?
Not around Devon.
Assuming you're coming from somewhere in the greater downtown area, the easiest way to get to that stretch of Devon Avenue via CTA is to take the Red Line to Loyola, then catch the #155 bus southbound on Sheridan Road at the el stop. The bus then turns west onto Devon, and you can get off wherever you like along that stretch. Reverse those steps for your return.
Make sure to pay your el fare with a fare card, not cash, with at least an extra $.25 on it. The fare card will be charged $.25 for the transfer. That avoids getting charged a second full fare if you pay cash.
From downtown take the Red Line subway/EL (it runs under State Street with stops at Roosevelt, Jackson, Monroe, Lake, Grand, Chicago) north ( terminal direction is Howard) and get off at Loyola. Wait right there outside the Loyola station for the 155 Devon bus (neighborhood is safe---that big stuff across the street is Loyola University and there will be students all over the place). Ask the driver to call Western Avenue. It's only 10 minutes but not an interesting walk. When you get off at Western you will be in New Delhi/Lahore. Keep walking in the direction the bus was going.
And congratulations to you on your plans to get out of downtown. Chicago has so much more to offer than the Rainforest Cafe' and Cheesecake Factory---it makes me sad to see so many visitors limiting their options.