The elusive hidden gem. Foodies are constantly looking to discover a new, go-to restaurant that many others are not familiar with — a hidden gem nestled into your average mainstream suburban town. Overall, the only credentials necessary to make this (elite) list were that the restaurants found in the Chicago’s North Shore had to be underrated, under-appreciated, and, often unknown by those outside of the community. So, without further ado, I present you with five places that you should probably try to hit up this week before they become too popular.
1. Upper Crust – Deerfield
Tucked into an itty-bitty strip mall right in downtown Deerfield, Upper Crust Bagels does not get the rap it deserves among its on-the-fly breakfast competitors. In fact, most people outside of Deerfield don’t even know what “Upper,” as it’s commonly referred to, is (being from Deerfield, this is just really sad…smh).
Known most prominently for their help in creating the perfect “Homeroom Breakfasts” on Friday for procrastinating high schoolers on their way to Deerfield High School, Upper has an ever-growing array of New York-style bagels, each one better than the next. Toasted or untoasted, cream cheese or nah, this is without a doubt one of the best bagel on the North Shore. Whatever your style, Upper is the place to schmeer and schmooze.
2. Taco Nano – Northfield
Another cozy nook neatly tucked away in a strip of assorted shops, Taco Nano sports traditional tacos, quesadillas, and the like with an elegant twist and lots of flavor. Its menu is somewhat small, but don’t be fooled: their tacos are top-notch. Mixing and matching is a must (2 or 3 tacos should fill you up) to get the whole Taco Nano experience.
For those with a less sophisticated palate (like me), start with the The Old El Paso. You won’t regret it. Furthermore, the atmosphere is great, the vibrant color scheme is aesthetically pleasing (and perfect for the ‘gram if you go all @foodintheair up in there), and, real talk, their bathrooms are SO. NICE. Definitely check out all of these things next time you’re rollin by the Nano, but just be prepared for a line of loyal, local foodies out the door of this quaint, aqua restaurant.
3. Glenview Dairy Bar – Glenview
A little, red-tented shack with a lot of character, the Glenview Dairy Bar epitomizes the go-to summertime treat. Composed of two windows for hungry ice cream-goers to place their order and no indoor seating, the Dairy Bar invites customers to soak up some sun or look up at the stars while enjoying big cones for a fairly low prices. From the more traditional chocolate shake to the exotic pineapple and blueberry sundaes, this menu has something for everyone.
However, the “Blue Goo” cone with rainbow sprinkles is a must for first-time visitors at one of Glenview’s most underrated community hotspots for 50-plus years. Be sure to check out this hidden gem next time you’re looking for a creamy mid-day pick-me-up or a late-night snack (they’re open until 10 pm).
4. Joy Yee’s Noodle Kitchen – Evanston
While most of the restaurants on this list are pretty small in size, Joy Yee’s Noodle Kitchen in downtown Evanston is actually pretty big in size and flavor alike. Just across the street from the renowned Chicago-style pizzeria Giordano’s, Joy Yee seems to humbly prevail in the shadows.
Lined with yellow walls and long tables best suited for group outings, Joy Yee offers sharing-sized portions of authentic pan-Asian cuisine which are fantastic, but it’s the Bubble Tea that makes this place an underrated “must go” on the North Shore. With pages and pages chock full of various real-fruit options, there’s definitely a smoothie for everyone. And if getting the “artsiest” smoothie is more important to you than the actual taste (it’s all good, we’ve all been there), then rest assured, there are images of each smoothie on the lengthy menu. #blessup
5. Stoney River – Deer Park
Okay, so this one’s a little bit more far-fetched and off the map, but it’s nonetheless fantastic. With ten or so locations nationally (but just one in Illinois, making it a hidden gem), the under-appreciated Stoney River features renowned steaks, which are some of the best on the North Shore (or, in Deer Park’s case, the near-North Shore area). Aside from the great meat this place boasts, their hush puppy-style bread baskets are to die for. Like I’m talking best things I’ve ever eaten: they’re that good. And glazing these munchkin-esque bread balls in cinnamon butter makes them that much better.
Even if you’re a vegetarian or don’t fall head over heels for a great steak like I do, Stoney River is still the place to be for a classy meal.
#SpoonTip: Try to grab a parent or grandparent for the trip and maybe guilt them into paying the bill.
There are so many diamonds in the rough out there, unearthed and ready to be discovered. I encourage anyone who has made it this far to go out, find that incognito restaurant, and proudly proclaim it yours (and hit me up with the name in the comments section so I could get on that, too).