College is hard. It’s tough to find the perfect balance between having fun and managing a solid GPA. If you want to play hard, you have to make sure to work hard, too.

But you can’t study on an empty stomach, so we set out to find the best study spots in the Chicago area where you can get sh*t done, get caffeinated and get fed right. Every place we tried has real coffee and food options like sandwiches or salads, none of that tea and scones nonsense. #SpoonTested and approved.

1. Two Hearted Queen (Lakeview)

sandwich, bread, tomato, cheese
Ariel Coonin

Two Hearted Queen will remind you of the importance of supporting local coffee shops. The baristas are extremely friendly and try to get to know all of their customers, so it’s absolutely nothing like a Starbucks or any old chain shop. There’s tons of seating in the back of the shop, and you’ll have enough room to really spread out if you need it. 

The coffee menu is extensive with signature options like the Queen of All Hearts, a caramel latte with Himalayan sea salt, or the Iced Crown Chai. There’s also a wide variety of tea options for the non-coffee drinkers. The best part is that every time you order, you get to pick a card from the deck and if you pick the queen of hearts, you win a discount on your order.

The breakfast Panini will steal your heart. Seriously. You have a choice between the King of Hearts, a classic bacon egg and cheese, or the Queen of Hearts, a slightly healthier twist on the classic. Both are great options served in an adorable, delicious heart shape. Snap a picture for Instagram, but don’t wait too long because the sandwiches are best hot.

2. Elaine's Coffee Call (Old Town)

sandwich, avocado
Ariel Coonin

Located right across the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo, Elaine’s Coffee Call is a really popular coffee stop. You’ll see everyone from regulars to the occasional bridal party stopping in.

Since Elaine’s shares a lobby with the Hotel Lincoln, its atmosphere feeds off of the hotel’s vintage vibes. Patrons can enjoy their coffee and morning paper while sitting in comfy red chairs surrounded by hints of wood, brick and chic wallpaper. The best place to sit is at your own table by the window, but if you can’t find a spot there, you can always snag a spot in the lobby of the hotel.

The baristas take the time to make the coffee fresh and exactly the way you ordered it. The coffee menu has good hot and cold options. But if you’re looking for a really visually appealing coffee, order a hot cappuccino because these baristas are skilled in the coffee art.

When it comes to food, you’ll have your choice of various different breakfast and lunch options like salads and sandwiches or crepes made on site. If you’re studying earlier in the day, definitely consider ordering the egg, goat cheese and spinach crepe. It’s topped off with a light pesto and it’s warm and gooey in all the right ways.

Treat yourself to a salted chocolate chip cookie if you need a boost. They’ll warm it up for you so that you can get a flawless, melted chocolate chip bite. It’s just what you need to get through that last question on your problem set.

3. Ipsento (Bucktown)

sandwich, avocado, cheese
Ariel Coonin

Ipsento is everything you’d expect from a hipster coffee shop and more. Of course they serve all the classic coffee shop beverages, but with a twist. Their signature drink, the Ipsento latte, a sweet but spicy drink made with honey, coconut and cayenne pepper, tells you everything you need to know about this sassy shop.

Besides the signature latte, they also offer interesting beverages like Nitro coffee served at 39 degrees instead of over ice. It’s highly caffeinated, so watch out, you don’t need a large size.

It’s a tiny shop, so you might have to wait for a seat if you come during the morning rush or at lunchtime. There’s cozy seating in the back of the shop, but the best seat in the house is up front by the window so you can people-watch while you work.

Definitely show up ready to eat - their food portions are huge. All their sandwiches are named after famous authors, so this is the perfect place to go to write a paper for your lit class. You can write a paper on a work by F. Scott Fitzgerald while eating a sandwich named after him – what could be better? My personal sandwich recommendation is the Garrison Keillor: turkey, cheddar, apple, avocado, greens and honey mustard on multigrain.

4. The Grind Café (Lincoln Square)

mango, corn
Ariel Coonin

The Grind Café is a perfect place to grind out a problem set or a paper. There are plenty of tables at the front when you walk in. You might be tempted by the pretty pastry containers up front, but hold off because the menu offers a diverse selection of real food options and tons of different drink choices.

For breakfast, you’ll have your choice of quiches, yogurt with granola, or made-to-order bagel sandwiches. But if you’re not a morning studier, there’s food served all day including salads, sandwiches and soups. #SpoonTip: all the sandwiches come with sides, so you’ll get a sandwich and a soup as a 2-for-1.

In regards to staying caffeinated, there’s no shortage of coffee and tea options – both hot and cold. Plus, if you’re feeling a need to detox from your caffeine addiction, there are smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices on the menu.

The key is to order right away and make sure you get the WiFi code at the counter. Before you know it, you’ll have downed a couple cups of coffee and finished your senior thesis.

5. Kitchen Sink (Edgewater) 

sandwich, cheese, coleslaw
Ariel Coonin

Kitchen Sink is the perfect spot to cozy up to a cup of coffee and study for hours. The setup is perfect: walk in, order, grab a spot in the back. The seating area has plenty of room to spread out your stuff, and the brick walls seem to block out any distractions or signs of time passing so you’ll really be able to focus.

If you’re looking for the weirdest combinations of foods that somehow taste great when they’re all throw together into a sandwich, you’ve got to come here. The sandwiches are made up of practically everything but the kitchen sink and surprisingly, it works. We tried The Mayor, a crazy combo of peanut butter, turkey, brie, bacon, and apricot jam, and the slightly tamer Peggy Sandwich with bacon, BBQ sauce, horseradish, pickled onions and cheddar cheese.

The coffee menu seems pretty standard at first with espressos, lattes, cappuccinos and iced beverages. But ask to see their signature drink menu and everything changes. All the specialty drinks seem to match the fun flare of their food menu with lattes like the Black Forest Mocha or the Almond Joy. 

6. Hoosier Mama Pie Company & Dollop Coffee Co. (Evanston - other location in East Village)

chocolate, cream, cake
Ariel Coonin

Hoosier Mama offers a daily rotating menu of both savory and sweet pies, so you’ll likely never run out of new options to try. You’ll have your choice of more traditional options like Apple or Banana Cream Pie and more adventurous pies like S’mores or the Fat Elvis. If sweets aren’t your go-to study snack, check out one of their many savory options like Chicken Pot Pie, quiche, or one of their freshly made sandwiches.

Besides the amazing food, the atmosphere in Hoosier Mama is perfect for an all-day study session. The coffee is strong and there are plenty of tables to spread out. The key is to get there early, bring homework and camp out for hours. This way, you’ll definitely snag a good table, have room in your stomach to try one of their savory options as a main course and then still have time to digest before scarfing down an entire slice of sweet pie.

But before you dig in, make sure to snap a photo of your picture-perfect pie. The simple white plates on the wooden tables have a retro aesthetic, and seats by the window have the best lighting for the prime food Instagram. 

7. First Slice Pie Café (Evanston - other locations in Manor, Ravenswood, Andersonville)

peanut, peanut butter, butter, cheesecake, chocolate
Ariel Coonin

First Slice Pie Café offers all the fixings of a traditional coffee shop plus the addition of unbeatable pies. The Evanston location is a prime study spot with plenty of seating from bright blue couches and coffee tables to wooden tables and funky red chairs.

Holy mother of pie – this place has it all. Flavors may change daily or seasonally, but some classics include Chocolate Cream, French Silk, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Polka Dot and Apple Pie. All of the pies seem to be popular in their own right, but customers rave about the Chocolate Peanut Butter made from an Oreo crust and peanut butter filling topped with a layer of real chocolate and drizzled with peanuts.

If you’re not in the pie mood, you’ll still find plenty to eat. First Slice offers a variety of salads, sandwiches, and quiches. No matter what you order, the food is made fresh and the portions are huge. If you’re looking for a light option, go for the Harvest Salad packed full with chickpeas, pear, pickled onions and more.

First Slice offers a variety of different caffeinated beverages from hot lattes to cold brew. The icing on the cake (or pie?) of First Slice is that it is an entirely not-for-profit café. Every week the organization provides over 600 meals to the homeless. So you don’t need to question the purchase of that second, or third, cup of coffee – consider it a donation.

8. Cupitol Coffee & Eatery (Evanston)

croissant, butter, coffee
Ariel Coonin

Cupitol will instantly teleport you to a café abroad with their European-inspired menu and atmosphere. When you walk in, you can choose to sit either at a table or in a lounge area with couches and coffee tables. No matter which study environment you prefer, you still get access to the full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus.

This is not your average coffee shop. Cupitol serves real breakfast, lunch and dinner options and in huge portions. For breakfast, order the Shroomed Omelet stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and gruyere, or a sweet and crispy Belgian Waffle served a la mode. For lunch or dinner, dig into a juicy cheeseburger or a heaping plate of Basil Pomodoro Gnocchi. If you’re seeking lighter fare, there are abundant salad or sandwich options. Or if you just need a small snack, there are eye-catching sweet and savory pastries kept up at the counter.

The drink menu keeps up with extensive food menus serving both hot and cold coffees and teas. There are even specialty coffees like a Greek Frappé (like a Starbucks Frappuccino but better) or a Freddo Cappuccino, the drink after which the WiFi password is aptly named. If coffee or tea aren’t quite your speed, they also serve freshly squeezed and cold-pressed juices. To top it all off, Cupitol serves a variety of different cocktails so you can toast to finishing your homework.

Rumor has it that a full belly is the first step towards getting a 4.0. So if I were you, I’d head to one of these places and eat up - you can thank me when grades are posted.