The Grid: West Town’s East Village ripe for exploration
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There’s a corridor in West Town — a stretch of Chicago Avenue from Noble to California — that’s ripe for exploration. For this list, I’m concentrating on a portion known as East Village, from Ashland to Damen, where restaurants, boutiques and art galleries have blossomed within the last few years.
RR #1, 814 N. Ashland
This eclectic, funky, filled-to-the-brim boutique has whimsical displays of stationary, jewelry, candles, bath products, housewares, baby and gag gifts.
Beatnik, 1604 W. Chicago
The menu and decor at Beatnik are inspired by international excursions. Chef Marcos Campos incorporates flavors from his native Spain with those of Asia and South America. Inside, lush greenery, posh chandeliers, candelabras with dripping wax, ornate rugs, pillows and carved teak wood furniture invoke romance and adventure.
Hoosier Mama Pie, 1618 W. Chicago
Since 2009, Indianapolis-native Paula Haney has been wowing customers with her pies. Her cookbook has over 100 recipes but why not save some time and purchase a pie at Haney’s charming shop? The selections change daily. Some favorites include maple pecan, chocolate chess and the Fat Elvis (an ode to peanut butter and banana). There’s also savory pie, quiche and pastries.
Funkenhausen, 1709 W. Chicago
This modern beer hall is inspired by Chef/Owner Mark Steuer’s Southern and German roots. On the menu, you’ll find influences from Steuer’s love of South Carolina barbecue along with irreverent takes on schnitzel, spaetzle and wurst.
JJ Thai Street Food, 1715 W. Chicago
This BYOB, 28-seat restaurant specializes in Bangkok street food. There’s the familiar basil chicken and tom yum soup as well as less known treats like “khao aka moo” — stewed pork in five spice gravy that comes with a hard boiled egg and pickled mustard greens over rice.
Epic Spices, 1725 W. Chicago
An array of fresh, well-sourced spices and seasonings are curated in this unassuming shop where the owners take requests for the hard-to-find seasonings for cooking novices, local chefs and mixologists.
Alcala’s Western Wear, 1733 W. Chicago
Since 1972, this iconic shop has been the go-to for western wear, quality cowboy boots and horse tack. Services include custom in-house tailoring, hat shaping and boot cleaning and repair.
Forbidden Root, 1746 W. Chicago
This airy, rustic brewpub — formerly a movie theater — specializes in craft beer with botanical ingredients— bark, stems, flowers, herbs, spices and roots. Some popular items include crispy chicken skins and small and large plates of duck & dumplings and roasted arctic char.
Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill, 1751 W. Chicago
Long wait times and lines are the norm at this sushi spot known for its colorful sauces and playful jumbo rolls jam-packed with unexpected ingredients. The deep-fried “Motown Effect” has smoked salmon, unagi, kani kama (artificial crab meat), cream cheese, avocado, jalapeño topped with spicy mayo, sweet soy sauce, scallions and red tobiko.
Tecalitlan, 1814 W. Chicago
This cozy restaurant has been welcoming locals with Mexican comfort food for nearly 50 years. Second generation owners — brother and sister Karla and Carlos Garcia — serve up a heaping dose of hospitality along with margaritas, fajitas, burritos and homemade tamales.
Arami, 1829 W. Chicago
Consistently hailed as one of the best sushi restaurants in the city, Arami offers an impressive selection of sushi, robata and hot Japanese small and large plates.
Roots, 1924 W. Chicago
At Roots, you’ll find “Quad Cities-style” pizza, made with malt dough that lends a nutty, toasted sweetness to the crust and toppings under the cheese. “Quad Cities-style” pizza is also known for its cut — thin, long strips. If you don’t want to overindulge, you can always select from a range of hearty salads and appetizers. My go-tos include the “Green Goddess” salad and “Lollipop Chicken” wings.
Cleos Bar, 1935 W. Chicago
An official Chicago Fire soccer bar, Cleo’s is also among the choice locations to watch international soccer matches.
Trattoria Ultimo, 1953 W. Chicago
This hidden BYOB gem serves freshly made pastas, sauces, in-house sausages and desserts. Artisanal pastas include king crab ravioli with saffron cream, butternut tortellini with parmesan-sage and capellini with fresh black burgundy truffles.