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The Grid: Andersonville’s appeal is its diversity and small businesses

Andersonville’s allure is rooted in its Swedish history, walkability, racial and ethnic diversity, LGBTQ-friendly charm and patchwork of independent restaurants and specialty shops.

The North Side neighborhood is known for its stretch along Clark Street and mainstays like the bookstore Women & Children First, Andersonville Galleria, Neo-Futurists theater company, Calo Ristorante, Hopleaf Bar and Simon’s Tavern. But there’s so much more to explore. Here are some of my other picks.

Hopleaf in Andersonville. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Lost Larson, 5318 N Clark St.

Filling the gap left by beloved Swedish Bakery’s 88-year run, Lost Larson pays homage to pastry chef Bobby Schaffer’s Scandinavian roots. An alum of Michelin-starred restaurants, Schaffer painstakingly crafts his pastries and breads into works of art. My personal favorites are the cardamom bun, lingonberry almond cake and (life-changing) duchess cake.

Freshly baked passion fruit tarts at the pastry counter at Lost Larson. Breads and pastries are baked throughout the day to ensure peak freshness. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times

Passerotto, 5420 N. Clark St.

Chef Jennifer Kim’s creations fuse her love for the Korean and Italian meals that colored her childhood and travels as a working chef. Don’t miss the raw bay scallops with xo sauce, lamb ragu rice cakes or soondubu (tofu seafood soup).

Little Bad Wolf, 1541 W. Bryn Mawr 

Open at 11 a.m. everyday, the kitchen stays open until 1:30 a.m. during the week. Often, I’ve found myself ordering elevated pub food at midnight, starting off with an order of fresh fried shrimp. Little Bad Wolf‘s menu runs the gamut — burgers, tacos, baos and steak frites –– and is executed well.

Ora, 5143 N. Clark

Affordable sushi has always seemed suspicious but Ora is an exception. I highly recommend ordering omakase, which literally means “I’ll leave it up to you” in Japanese. With omakase, you’ll be allowing the chef to decide what you’ll eat at this BYOB spot. The techniques and ingredients used are comparable to high-end sushi restaurants. And the best part — your bill will be a third of the cost of other omakase.

Taste of Lebanon, 1509 W. Foster

Taste of Lebanon is cash-only but worth a trip to the ATM. My consistently delicious order is always the same — chicken shawarma wrap and lentil soup, with a side of hot sauce.

Inside cozy Taste of Lebanon, where diners indulge in authentic Middle Eastern fare – cheap but delicious cuisine at its finest! | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times

Marty’s Martini, 1511 W. Balmoral

An old-school LGBTQ-owned bar that’s off the main strip, Marty’s can easily be overlooked. Charming and intimate, the establishment is exponentially boisterous due to the friendly staff and heavy pours. You don’t have to be embarrassed — go ahead and order that cosmopolitan martini. No judgment here.

Woolly Mammoth Chicago, 1513 W. Foster

This unique shop, owned by couple Adam and Skye Rust, is dedicated to “odd, amusing and eclectic items resurrected from the past.” Browse vintage taxidermy, books, toys, and gadgets from the medical and military world. “It’s kind of a touchable museum, motionless zoo, art installation, and most things are for sale. A lot of locals like to bring their out-of-town visitors here,” Adam Rust said.

Mammoth in Andersonville. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Shoppers browse oddities inside Woolly Mammoth in Andersonville. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Milk Handmade, 5137 N. Clark

Open since 2012, owner Hallie Borden’s womenswear boutique places an emphasis on local and female artisans and designers. New to the shop is a line of the store’s eponymous clothing label. There’s also a wide selection of jewelry, accessories, candles, beauty products and gifts. Next door is sister store, Honey Bridal, that specializes in the modern bride.

Jewelry, clothing, accessories, candles and bath products are all handmade at Milk Handmade boutique, with an emphasis on local and women designers and craftsmen. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times

Cowboys and Astronauts, 1478 W. Summerdale

This men’s lifestyle and supplies store has collected rave reviews since its opening just a year ago. As you browse books, housewares and clothes, you’ll notice a life-sized astronaut figure, antlers and a Smokey Bear print decorating the business.

Cowboys and Astronauts is a modern men’s lifestyle and supplies store with a curated blend of apparel, accessories, grooming products, travel supplies, home goods, and gifts. | Ji Suk Yi/Sun-Times

Transistor, 5224 N. Clark

A combination shop, art gallery, recording studio and event space, Transistor works with over 100 mostly local artists. You can purchase unique art, books, vinyls, home goods and electronics.

Martha Mae, 5407 N. Clark

A shop of “art supplies and beautiful things” curated by owner Jean Cate is an Instagrammer’s dream as the artwork, books, vases, paintbrushes and pencils are displayed in picture-perfect form.

Martha Mae is named after shop owner and artist Jean Cate’s beloved dog and features art, books and art supplies. | Provided photo

Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark

There’s a secret entrance to the bar that serves up cocktails, speakeasy vibes and magic tricks. For those looking for an intimate setting, there is a smaller room for guests to enjoy.