Hyde Park is famous for being home to two things: the University of Chicago and President Obama’s house. It’s not known as a place with a happening restaurant scene - unless you count Subways and pizza delivery places. And since Barack and Michelle (probably) aren’t inviting you over for dinner, you should have other options on hand when you find yourself in the neighborhood. Here are the spots we like best.
This upscale Southern restaurant is one of our favorite date night spots in the neighborhood. The dining room is bright and airy, and there’s a separate, dimly lit bar area that’s great for just grabbing cocktails. The menu has small plates like gizzards with rice, asparagus with pig’s ears, and entrees like creamy shrimp and grits or some very rich short ribs. It isn’t the lightest food in the city, so make sure you’re on the kind of date that allows for going home and putting on stretchy pants.
Goree is a Senegalese restaurant on the border of Kenwood and Hyde Park, but the food is so good we’re not letting a technicality prevent us from including it. At lunch you can order one of their fantastic stews (our favorite is the maffe made with lamb, peanut butter, and yucca), and their entrees (like grilled red snapper or dibi chicken) are available all day. Portions are large, so come with a group and plan on sharing everything.
The Soul Shack
The Soul Shack is a casual spot that (as the name suggests) focuses on soul food. They have dishes like smothered fried chicken, lollipop lamb chops, and sides like mac and cheese and cornbread. And while those things are tasty, we come here for the soul rolls. They’re fried egg rolls stuffed with jerk chicken, yams, mac and cheese, and greens. They will send you straight to bed. Luckily, everything here is served in to-go containers, which makes a quick exit pretty easy.
B’Gabs is a vegan cafe open for breakfast and lunch, and almost everything here is made in house. The menu has lots of fruits and vegetables along with plenty of gluten-free and raw options. This is where you come for the type of food that will make you feel good about your healthy decisions - things like smoothie bowls, breakfast scrambles made with chickpeas, and a zucchini noodle pad thai salad. Everything tastes light and fresh, and if you’re a University of Chicago student with parents in town, it’s a great way to show them that living here doesn’t mean a steady diet of pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef (though balance is important).
If you’ve ever spent time in a coffee shop on a college campus, Cafe 53 will feel familiar. You get the feeling that everyone inside it has imminent plans to ruin family get-togethers by incessantly quoting Nietzsche. The interior feels comfortable and lived in, and they have a menu full of sandwiches and salads, with a whole section devoted to vegan options. Come for a vegan buffalo sandwich, and stay to finally finish reading that used copy of On The Road.
This neighborhood classic has been around for more than 50 years. It’s a casual counter-service operation, known for its gigantic triple decker sandwiches (particularly the corned beef and pastrami), which are perfect pre-nap or post-hangover-inducing-night-out meals.
The Sitdown Cafe & Sushi Bar
You need to understand a few things about this place, the most important one being that it’s not a sushi spot to travel across town for. But you can count on finding fresh and tasty Americanized sushi here. Get the “Chicago Fire” (their version of a rainbow roll) or anything with tempura, but definitely ignore the non-sushi items on the menu (like the pizza and the prosciutto rolls) - they’re not very good and we don’t know why they’re there. This is a good casual option for lunch or dinner, but keep in mind that they’re closed during the University’s winter break.
This cafe feels light and airy, and is located right on campus in a building with a university bookstore. Come here for French-inspired tartines, salads, and kind of healthy grain bowls. The food is fresh and good, and it’s a nice change from hanging out on beanbag chairs surrounded by last night’s pizza boxes.
If you didn’t already know about it, you may have heard of Valois because of President Obama - it’s famous for being one of his favorite spots in Hyde Park. There’s even a sign letting you know what he likes to order. But what really makes this place unique is the fact that it’s an old-school cafeteria, complete with old-school cafeteria food (like meatloaf), plastic trays, and people who will yell at you if you move too slowly through the line. Breakfast - like eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and pancakes - is our favorite thing to eat here. Just remember that it’s cash only.
This is from the same people who owned Pizzeria Da Nella, a fantastic pizza place formerly in Lincoln Park. Now they’re in Hyde Park, serving the same awesome Neapolitan pies as always. The decor feels modern and even a little cheesy, with cans of tomatoes and a bright yellow Vespa dangling over the bar. But it’s great for groups, or a low-key date night. Especially if you’re on a date with a Vespa enthusiast.
This is a Hyde Park/UChicago staple that will please the college student in everyone. It serves all three meals, and has a menu reminiscent of The Cheesecake Factory’s in terms of length. There’s better food to be had elsewhere, but it’s perfect for large groups, with options ranging from pastries and egg scrambles to pizza, burgers, and quesadillas. In fact, this place serves pretty much everything, even alcohol after years of not - but you can still BYOB.