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Ethnic eats meld with old-world charm in these North Side neighborhoods.

Travel + Leisure
May 30, 2012

Commonly characterized by its German culture—there’s a piece of the Berlin Wall at the Brown Line Western stop—the North Side neighborhoods of Lincoln Square and Ravenswood are shaped by a mix of ethnic influences. And while there’s no shortage of wiener schnitzel, you can also find the foods of Mexico, Vietnam, France, Thailand, India, Korea, an even Kyrgyzstan. The parks and peaceful courtyard-style residences that comprise this area affect a relaxed atmosphere. People walk at a leisurely pace here. To see the neighborhood, ride the Brown Line from Montrose to Rockwell, stopping at Damen and Western to visit the shops and eateries that surround each station. Near the Western stop, the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the crossroads of Western, Lawrence, and Lincoln welcomes you to the cobblestones of Lincoln Square, where you’ll find boutiques, restaurants, pubs, cafés, and, yes, wiener schnitzel.

Chicago Brauhaus

Since 1965, the Brauhaus has been bringing a year-round Oktoberfest spirit to the Lincoln Square neighborhood, where many German immigrants first settled in Chicago. The restaurant’s spacious interior is adorned with wood paneling, shaded chandeliers, and kitschy German statues, as well as a large dance floor where the house band has patrons performing polkas nightly. When they’re not dancing, visitors can enjoy traditional German specialties such as liver dumpling soup, bratwurst, and wiener schnitzel (a fried Vienna-style cutlet), all complemented by a stein (traditional mug) of cold Steigl or Spaten.

Merz Apothecary

Established by pharmacist Peter Merz in 1875, this old-fashioned apothecary has been serving Chicago natives for more than a century. The flagship Lincoln Square location (the other is in the Loop) is set behind a wood-framed storefront lined with a row of stained-glass panels. Inside, beneath a gilded ceiling and delicate chandeliers, shoppers browse an immense selection of holistic and homeopathic products as well as personal care products like European soaps, all-natural cosmetics, and aromatherapy oils. Customers may also find such unusual items as white-peach-flavored Japanese toothpaste, unique herbal teas, and bubble bath jars wrapped with vintage French advertisements.

Bistro Campagne

Reminiscent of a small Parisian bistro, this restaurant brings rustic French cuisine to the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Inside, the date-worthy dining room is designed with dark wood trim, large windows, and white-clothed tables set in secluded little nooks. Even more inviting, however, is the outdoor patio strung with miniature globe lights and enclosed by brick walls and lush trees. The seasonal menu, created by chef Michael Altenberg using organic local ingredients, may feature such signatures as the French onion soup, steak frites, croque monsieur, and escargots au beurre d’ail. Desserts like the fig and brown butter bread pudding receive high praise, as well.

Nhu Lan Saigon Subs

Nhu Lan’s bakers welcome patrons with smiles at this small neighborhood favorite, which serves Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches made with freshly baked bread, plus an assortment of appetizers like shrimp spring rolls, rice crêpes, and veggie papaya salad.

Over Easy Café

Brunch-goers line up for this cute café’s Sassy Eggs (eggs of chorizo-potato hash) and Strawberry Shortcake Fool French Toast (made with brioche). You will not be the only hipster sipping complimentary Julius Meinl coffee while you wait for a table.

Gene’s Sausage Shop

Founded by two Polish brothers, Gene’s boasts 40 varieties of artisan smoked meats and naturally cased sausages, prepared in-house, as well as an equally impressive assortment of imported beers and wines, and European candies, condiments, and foodstuffs for picnicking. When the weather’s fine, enjoy the rooftop beer and wine garden.

Old Town School of Folk Music

Always wished you could play the washboard? The Old Town School can help. They also offer lessons in playing the guitar, saxophone, or djembe drums, as well as gospel singing and Flamenco and hip-hop dancing, to name a few. Housed in a former library, the school has has only been open a year, and its impact on the hood can be measured by the hordes of guitar-packing pedestrians and the crowded restaurants before and after concerts, which are held every weekend. Headliners include guitar great John Prine and Barbarito Torres of Buena Vista Social Club fame. In town for just a few days and feel like jamming? Call ahead and see what's going on; depending on availability they may let you observe a class or rent an instrument and join in. Also check out the Different Strummer, the school's music shop, which sells new and used guitars, amps, percussion, sheet music, stands and world music CDs.

Lillstreet Gallery & Artisan Gift Shop

Housed in a former gear factory, the Lillstreet Art Center, founded in 1975, accommodates students, teachers, and lovers of art in this spacious brick building. The gallery and gift shop showcase the work of both emerging and recognized artists. Find artisanal ceramics, jewelry, toys and accessories.

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