The best hidden gems on and around Northwestern’s campus


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Coffee Lab, 910 Noyes St. Coffee Lab provides handcrafted espresso drinks and a wide array of pastries, including pastries made with ube, a staple ingredient in the Philippines. The café is one of many hidden gems to check out in the city of Evanston.

Wilson Chapman, Reporter

Northwestern incoming students will quickly get acquainted with a few choice spots that all NU students frequent, but after a while, the initial euphoria of being in a college town starts to fade. Most students rarely venture beyond the few blocks that make up the downtown area right outside campus, and constant closures of beloved hotspots like Cheesie’s, Andy’s Frozen Custard or Panera Bread has made the food options in Evanston seem a lot smaller than they used to be. 

But if you know where to look, there are a lot of great places to eat, shop or just kick back and relax around Evanston and on campus. You might not hear about these hidden gems during Wildcat Welcome, and you might have to shlep a little farther than normal to get there. But take the effort, and you’ll see that there’s so much more to Evanston beyond the Orrington Avenue Burger King. 

Coffee Lab: It sometimes feels like there are way, way too many coffee shops in Evanston, so Coffee Lab on Noyes Street can fly under the radar. The coffee is quite good, and the baked goods and food items are delectable (the turkey melt is a personal favorite). But between its charming ambiance and the fact that you usually can get a table, the real appeal is that it’s the best coffee shop to study in, grab a drink with a friend or simply relax and unwind.

Dave’s New Kitchen: If you haven’t tried this place, you are missing out on some of the best take-out in Evanston. The restaurant, located on Noyes Street, offers a wide variety of pastas, pizzas and other Italian dishes, and provides several gluten-free options, including gluten-free pizza. There’s pretty much no dish you can go wrong with at Dave’s, although standouts include their firecracker chicken and pasta diavolo.      

Evanston Public Library: Just a few minutes from campus, the public library is one of the most underrated study spots in Evanston. The coffee shops are all impossible to get a seat in; Norris is far too noisy; the libraries are all a little depressing. But EPL has a charming, friendly atmosphere, plenty of empty rooms to work in, and very few NU students. Taking a step out of the NU bubble can be especially refreshing, and once you do it you’ll never want to pull off another all-nighter in Mudd Library again.    

Hecky’s Barbecue: The legendary Hecky Powell passed away this past May, but his legacy lives on at his iconic Evanston establishment. Established in 1983, Hecky’s Barbecue serves a variety of staple meals, including ribs, fried chicken and pulled pork sandwiches, with barbecue sauce that is to die for. Located on the Northwest corner of Green Bay Road and Emerson Street, the restaurant is a great takeout spot, and an important slice of Evanston cultural history.         

Public parks: There are over 75 registered parks in the city of Evanston, but most NU students only take walks on the Lakefill. Fix that by taking a stroll around some of the parks closest to campus. On South Campus, a stretch of lakefront parks sits right past the Segal Visitors Center, and includes access to beaches, volleyball courts and scenic ponds. Past North Campus is North Beach and Evanston’s historic Grosse Point Lighthouse. Either option is perfect for a day out with your friends, provided you pray for good weather. 

Hoosier Mama Pie Company/Dollop Coffee and Tea Company: This pie place is a bit of a trek: It takes around 30 minutes by foot, depending on where you live on campus. But if you make the journey, you will be rewarded with the best dessert in the entire city. Hoosier Mama serves delectable sweet and savory pies, ranging from favorites like apple pie and chicken pot pie to more unique options, like their chocolate chess pie or the chicken tomatillo pie. A cup of coffee or an iced latte from Dollop is a perfect complement to the delicious food offerings. 

Dollop Coffee Co. and Hoosier Mama Pie Company, 749 Chicago Ave. Stop in for a slice of pie or an iced latte. (Daily file photo by Brian Lee)

Squeezebox Books and Music: You can find some brilliant hidden gems at Squeezebox. The shop sells a variety of used books, LPs and CDs, and their collection ranges from popular releases to obscure items long gone out of print. The shop’s atmosphere is just pretentious enough to begin cultivating your indie aesthetic. 

Tech green area/atrium: The Shakespeare Garden gets all the hype, and, yes, it’s pretty, but the Tech green area is arguably better. Located by the infamous Technological Institute, the area is a balcony surrounded by foliage to the side of the main building. It’s hard to find and very out of the way, but when you get there you’ll find a nice, tranquil spot perfect for reading or taking an afternoon nap. The F wing on the second floor of the building also has an atrium-style area that’s one of the most peaceful study spots on campus.

Peckish Pig: You’ll definitely need an Uber to get to Peckish Pig, which is right near the border of Chicago and Evanston. But it’s worth the visit, as one of the most unique and tasty restaurants in the entire city. Peckish Pig is an upscale gastropub, with a large menu that encompases everything from fried chicken sandwiches to duck confit mac and cheese. The venue currently offers takeout, so it’s a great place to grab an appetizing meal and a refreshing beer –– if you’re 21 or over, obviously.

Comix Revolution: Even if you’ve never touched a comic book in your life, you should still check out Comix Revolution. The selection of comics at their Davis Street location is impressive –– the store holds 2,000 graphic novels every day, according to their website. The selection is varied, from mainstream DC and Marvel titles to local independent titles, and they have a robust kids section filled with picture books. And even if you don’t want to add something to your reading list, the location sells prints, figurines and other assorted memorabilia that works as great dorm room decoration.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @wilsonchapman6