overview: It’s easy to say one neighborhood or another is the “next hot
Chicago neighborhood”. Hell, we’ve
even alluded to it in previous posts.
But if you had to put your money down on the next haven for young
professionals, hipsters that are neither young nor professional, small plate
restaurants featuring twelve kinds of pork belly, and the latest 200+ microbrew
tavern that seats 12 comfortably, Avondale is your best bet. We say all the aforementioned in jest,
we love all those things (even the hipsters), and Avondale is starting to get
them. It’s essentially the one
remaining north side neighborhood that hasn’t truly gentrified, but it’s well
on its way.
|Belmont Avenue serves as the main artery through Avondale.|
Avondale the look and feel of a Logan Square or Humboldt Park, historic beauty and urban grit living side-by-side. It’s diverse, featuring a predominantly Hispanic contingent, but also carrying a growing young white population mixed with an older European populace. Avondale’s residential streets are also an interesting blend of housing stock. You will often find a North Side-esque two-flat next door to a South Side-esque bungalow.
It’s not yet made to be on a postcard, but Avondale has its charms. The neighborhood is certainly accessible via public transit, which will help it grow as a destination for young residents and visitors alike. And even if you haven’t heard of Avondale, there’s a good chance that you’ve been at an establishment there…and were told that you were in Logan Square. As you’ll see below though, a handful of Chicago favorites are located in Avondale. So now you have no excuse to not visit, even though you now realize you probably already have.
Note: Just…can’t…help…but feel like we’re missing something. Ahhhhh yes, Hot Doug’s! Yes, Hot Doug’s is in Avondale. No, we did not review it for this blog for the simple fact that it’s been a long while since we’ve eaten there, and we did not want to have to wait in line two hours like last time to write this entry. That being said, our feelings are wildly mixed between “totally not worth it” (Laura) and “TOTALLY worth it…if you’re willing to wait in line for two hours” (Michael). Let your tolerance for lines make the decision for you.
The boundaries: For the sake of this entry, Avondale refers to both the neighborhood as well as the community area. The northern boundary of Avondale is Addison Street, with Diversey Avenue making the southern border, and the Chicago River makes up the eastern border. To the west, it gets just a scosh tricky. South of Addison it’s Pulaski Road until you hit Belmont Avenue. From Belmont it juts west to the railroad tracks just west of Kildare Avenue. The western border follows the tracks all the way to Diversey.
|Despite recent gentrification, Avondale retains a|
predominantly Hispanic influence.
A brief history: Like its sister neighborhood to the north, Irving Park, Avondale began growing initially as a suburb of Chicago, before being annexed in 1889. Access to rail, along with immediate proximity to numerous industrial jobs, spurred population growth shortly thereafter. This made Avondale very attractive to European settlers, particularly Poles, after World War I.
Avondale remained a mostly blue collar, Polish-dominated neighborhood until the 1990s, when a large contingent of Hispanics began moving into the area, making up the largest ethnic contingent within the neighborhood today. Avondale still holds physical and demographic reminders of its Polish past, harboring two smaller Polish neighborhoods, Jackowo and Wacławowo.
|Avondale boasts some new construction, but many of|
the streets still have older, yet well-maintained, housing.
Getting there: The Blue Line is a great option. The Belmont stop will put you right in the middle of Avondale. However, the stop at Addison will drop you off at the northern tip of the neighborhood as well. Also, further south, the Logan Square stop is only a block or two from Diversey, the southern edge of Avondale.
Via bus, you best east-west options are: Addison (152), Belmont (77), and Diversey (76). Going north-south, you can always hop on the following: Pulaski (53), Kimball (82), and California (52). You can also rock the Milwaukee bus (56) going northwest-southeast through a sizeable portion of Avondale.
Kuma’s Corner (2900 W. Belmont Avenue)
|Love that building.|
Michael’s Take: OK so Kuma’s is a little loud and a lot cramped. But how many people have told you, “oh man, Kuma’s, you gotta go. GREAT ambiance!” Maybe a few huge Pantera fans but that’s about it. No, it’s all about the burgers. I got the Plague Bringer which is topped with crispy tortilla strips, savory garlic mayo, spicy jalapeños, housemade hot sauce, and attitude. It’s really amazing when you can get that many flavorful toppings and yet they never detract from the A-lister, this one being a juicy medium-rare beef burger. Kuma’s has become one of those must-do Chicago things, and for good reason: simple yet outstanding food mixed with lots of character.
|Love those BURGERS.|
Now I do understand all the hype. My words of advice would be to actually plan on spending at least 45 minutes in a bar (elsewhere, unless you love standing in a crowd with centimeters of personal space) after you put your name on the list. They will give your table away if you're not there when they call you, but our strategy was to come back about 15 min before they said it would be ready. This worked out perfectly. Next, I would say to plan this out so you can go at least 2 hours without food after you enter the place. Because on top of the time to get a table, the food was not fast coming out. Oh, and you may want to bring earplugs if you don't want heavy metal blasting in your ears, and potentially a mask too, if you don't want to inhale a forest fire's worth of ash from the grill. Still, I would go back. That's how good the burger was. I got the Goatsnake - goat cheese, corn, lemon vinaigrette, and fried red onions. It was everything I ever could have wanted in a burger- and way more. This burger literally opened up a whole new awareness for me in what a burger can possibly aspire to. The house made potato chips with it... they were so good I saved the leftovers.
Anything Else We Missed: Kuma’s has a brand-spanking-new location in…Lake View? Well, Lake View can be pretty metal, right? Initial buzz is that the lines aren’t any shorter in the location near the lake, and that the menu remains the same. Either location, if you have time and an appetite, there’s now double the Kuma’s to satisfy your red meat craving.
Revolution Brewing Company – Kedzie Brewery (3340 N. Kedzie Avenue)
|Yeah, that's me (Michael) in the reflection.|
Michael’s Take: I love what Revolution’s done with their new brewery. The place is spotless (let’s hope it stays that way). While you can get your classics like the Anti-Hero IPA and the Bottom Up Wit all the time, they also have some revolving brews that you might not otherwise be able to get at the store. Service was polite, but the day we went was astonishingly crowded (due to tours as well as walk-ins like us), so we had to wait several minutes to get a beer. Nonetheless, it’s definitely worth checking out the tap room. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate parking for visitors, but street parking is available a block or two east of the brewery. It’s in a residential neighborhood though, so please be respectful. Better yet, the Belmont Blue Line station is less than a 10-minute walk southwest of the brewery, so try to be responsible before settling on being merely respectful.
|Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenneger reprising their roles|
from the movie "Twins".
Anything Else We Missed: Tours. Oh there are tours: Wednesday through Friday at 6pm, and on Saturdays at 4pm, 5pm, and 6pm. However, they do not take reservations and they’re first-come first-served. Oh, and they fill up FAST. We were there just before 4pm on a Saturday. Within 5 minutes of our arrival, they had completely filled ALL THREE TOURS. The tap room is open from Wednesday through Saturday starting at 2pm…that might be the best time to get there to make a later tour.
Yusho (2853 N. Kedzie Avenue)
|The guy who lives next to Yusho|
is one lucky dude.
Michael’s Take: Sunday noodles is one of the supreme “affordable fine dining meets simple-yet-fun” deals in Chicago. For $20 you get a bowl of ramen (not talking Maruchan here), a house-made cocktail, and a dessert. I opted for grilled shrimp ramen with seriously plump prawns in a rich broth with just enough heat. I could have just drank the broth in a cup and been happy. You also get kimchi, that delightfully polarizing, spicy Korean cole slaw-like product, and some bamboo shoots. Soup and a cocktail might not sound filling, but you’d be surprised how satisfied you’ll be after polishing off a full bowl. For dessert, a hazelnut ice cream with an oatmeal crumble and caramel sauce was a lightly decadent way to cap off the lunch. There are about 4-5 types of ramen that consistently remain on the menu, but cocktails seem to be spontaneous. For just $20 before tip, that’s all the more reason to go back again.
|Pork Belly...it even tops Top Ramen.|
Anything Else We Missed: If you get there early enough on Sunday, you can just go for cocktails, or even a nice little coffee/tea selection. In keeping with its Japanese theme, the bar offers about eight different kinds of sake as well.
Square Bar & Grill (2849 W. Belmont Avenue)
|At the former location of "Trapezoid Bar & Grill".|
Michael’s Take: I’ll admit (embarrassed face), we came here to kill some time before heading over to Kuma’s. We’re glad we came. If you’re driving and don’t keep your eyes open, you might miss it. Also, you may need to park a few blocks away due to the limited street parking. Either way, this is worth a trip on it’s own, and not just cuz you’re in the neighborhood to grab a burger across the street. The beer list on tap and in bottle is surprisingly extensive. A Goose Island Night Stalker (imperial stout…richer than Warren Buffet) was a great find on-tap, and definitely made the rest of my experience much more chill. If I was in the neighborhood, for ANY reason, I’d stop by here for a beer or two. Also, our server was very attentive and helpful.
Despite being just a way to kill time to start with, I really enjoyed Square Bar! When I started to really take in my surroundings, I realized how cool it was there. It seemed like a great neighborhood place, but with just a little bit more of an edge than you would find in Lakeview. Nobody was trying too hard and there were a variety of neighborhood people there to spend part of their Saturday. Plus, as soon as I saw Matilda on tap, I quickly became a happy camper.
Anything Else We Missed: THE FOOD! A strong brunch menu highlights crepes, pancakes, and biscuits & gravy. Later in the day, pizza, sandwiches, and burgers are solid offerings. The Volcano Burger features jalapeños, bacon, and pepper jack cheese. There’s also cheese stuffed INTO the beef, and it’s all on a pretzel bun. Mercy.
Small Bar (2956 N. Albany Avenue)
|Eat? Hey, you're not the boss of me, dude.|
Michael’s Take: Your classic no-frills bar, but with a dynamite beer selection. Small Bar fits its small space nicely. Besides the mind-blowing beer list, draft and bottle, our server was incredibly polite and attentive. It definitely caters to the growing Avondale hipster crowd, as well as the spillover from Logan Square, but all comers are welcome. Although we didn’t this time, you can order a burger or sandwich from their tiny yet efficient kitchen as well. As Avondale continues to grow, expect your opportunity to grab a seat at this spot to get slightly more difficult.
Laura’s Take: Come to Small Bar if you are looking for a low-key, chill experience with a truly extraordinary beer selection. Your beer list here is really pretty special and you will definitely enjoy it if you like to see something different when you peruse the menu. I had a great time here feeling tucked away in a comfy corner of Avondale. I indulged in a banana bread beer which I will order like a dessert when I can find it on a menu. What you see is what you get at Small Bar.
Anything Else We Missed: Small Bar also has another location in the Ukrainian Village (2049 W. Division Street). However, the Avondale location (which they call the “Logan Square Location” – trust us, it’s Avondale) is the original. Also, the draft beer list is updated frequently and new additions can be found on their website.
Avondale: The Final Tally
|Turrets bookending a quiet residential slice of Troy Street.|
Over the past couple years, people have talked up the next hot neighborhood for gentrification (good thing?) in Chicago. Among the nominees are usually Bridgeport, Pilsen, and Albany Park. But with its access to public transportation, adjacency to other trendy neighborhoods, and already burgeoning young population, Avondale is primed to truly explode in the next few years. And as you can see, the seeds have already been sewn for investment in the community. Now is a perfect time to go see both the present, and the future, of this fascinating neighborhood.
|Just SOME of the places to check out in Avondale|
|Grilled shrimp ramen at Yusho|
|Sleek bar for some bevs at Yusho|
|Hip buildings and hip people abound|
|Inside SQUARE Bar & Grill|
|Inside SMALL Bar|
|Burgermeister Meisterburger in the zone at Kuma's Corner|
|Lookie lookie what we found|
outside Revolution Brewery
|Nondescript exterior, flavorful interior|
at Revolution Brewery
|Avondale (magenta) is a quick Blue Line ride from the Loop (blue)|