I gave up high-test coffee years ago, but I’ve never lost my taste for a great cup of coffee (and places that deliver a good cup of decaf earn my undying respect). But mama needs more than coffee and free WiFi to sustain her while working feverishly on her laptop, more specifically a little sumpin’ sumpin’ in my stomach to absorb the acidity of said cup of brew. These spots are turning out terrific coffee drinks, sure, but also serving up calorie-worthy chow to keep your stomach happy. No need to depend on the big corporate coffee barons, with their pre-packaged, mediocre food offerings, anymore. Time to branch out!
1800 1/2 S. Carpenter St., Chicago, 773-999-1800
No run-of-the-mill coffee drinks here! This is a Vietnamese café, a daytime counterpart to Thai and Danielle Dang’s Pilsen stunner, HaiSous. So the coffee is delightfully strong and aromatic, to be tempered with sweet milk, vanilla egg custard, or even yogurt. Summer days obviously call for a coffee slushie to accompany your Bánh Mì filled with roasted pork (veggie, grilled chicken, or beef are options) topped with a generous handful of herbs, pickles, chili sauce, and luscious chicken pâté. You’re a fool if you miss the Coconut Bun or the Pandan Brioche, and their fried chicken wings are some of the best in the city.
5425 N. Clark St., 2530 N. Clark St., 1211 N. Damen Ave., and 2261 N. Milwaukee in Chicago; 716 Church St. in Evanston
This Milwaukee import has taken Chicago by storm, with outposts in Andersonville, Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park, and Evanston sprouting up in the past year. All the beans are roasted in Milwaukee and delivered several times a week. Inventive drink options (Cold Brew Horchata with oat milk, cinnamon, and vanilla syrup; Bloom Latte with house-made chamomile syrup) combine with made-to-order breakfast options (hello, Potato-Bacon Burrito and Baja Breakfast Bowl), solid pastry and carb offerings (running the gamut from giant pretzels and blueberry-lemon scones to enormous snicker doodles and Cinnamon Rolls), sandwiches, bowls, and wraps to keep anyone full and focused.
812 Grove St., Evanston; 455 E. Illinois St., Chicago
These “all-day lounges” — one in Evanston, the other in Streeterville — draw virtual workers like moths to a flame. The Freddo Cappuccino, a tall glass of icy, perfect frothiness, is definitely one draw, but the vast food selection, featuring pasture-raised egg dishes, pastries from the family bakery, and a very fine ‘Shroomed Patty Melt (please ignore the calorie count!) among other all-day entrées, gets the lion’s share of the credit. I’ve had countless meetings at the Evanston location, which is filled with inviting lounge furniture as well as tables and chairs for those with a laptop situation.
312 W. Chestnut St., Chicago, 312-291-9922
Located in the almost-too-hip Fieldhouse Jones Hotel in River North, Dropshot Coffee & Snack Bar offers all-day breakfast (Avocado Toast with Poached Egg and herby chimichurri, Chilaquiles with Pulled Pork, Oatmeal Pancakes), a Bagel Bar, a sandwich or two, a few interesting and seasonal salads, and a kick-ass Curry Bowl with chickpeas, sweet potatoes, spinach, and a runny egg. All this, and great brew from NYC-based Partners Coffee? I’ll post up on a bleacher seat and spend a few hours.
700 Vernon Ave., Glencoe, 847-242-0220
There’s been a coffee place on this corner for many years, but it wasn’t until Julie and Lou Rubin bought it, rehabbed it, and reopened as Hometown Coffee and Juice that it became a North Shore destination. The room, once dark and drab, is light and airy, and the new menu — locally sourced, always made fresh — is a big part of the appeal. I love the Cold Pressed Juices (especially the 8-Carrot Gold, bright with carrots, apple, ginger, and lemon) and Smoothies (the PB & Banana with a shot of espresso or dark Lavazza chocolate is out of this world), and the multigrain Hometown Toasts — especially the Avo & Lox and the Apple Almond Toast — are real standouts. I’d put their steamed bagel sandwiches, like the eponymous Rubin’s Reuben, an irresistible stack of turkey, cole slaw, Russian dressing, and melty Swiss on a rye bagel, up against anything you’ve got.
1618 1/2 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-868-8863
You’ll find Dollop Coffee Co. outposts throughout Chicagoland, from Hyde Park to Uptown. But it’s in Evanston, where they’ve partnered with the Hoosier Mama herself, Paula Haney, that they attain their fullest expression. Gorgeous seasonal pies — currently strawberry rhubarb is a special — nestle in the pastry case with crowd pleasers like the Fat Elvis (involving peanut butter, chocolate, bananas, and pretzels, of course), Chocolate Cream Pie, and Blood Orange Meringue. There’s a savory story here, too, involving the chickeniest Chicken Pot Pie imaginable; hand pies stuffed with Moroccan Lamb or Spinach/Ricotta/Feta; and tender-crusted quiches with ethereal cheesy custards in flavors such as Asparagus Gruyère and Sausage/Rapini/Parmesan. Generous salads and sandwiches share the bill as well. Freshly roasted Dollop Coffee is the name of the game here.
5318 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-944-0587
Portland’s Stumptown Coffee is the brew of choice here in Andersonville’s newest favorite Swedish bakery. The Rose Cardamom Latté has a cult following among local shop owners, especially paired with chef Bobby Schaffer’s delectable cardamom buns or double chocolate croissant. Loaves of crusty, fresh-baked breads (like the irresistible Potato Bread, flecked with chunks of purple potato and bits of rosemary and caramelized onion) line the wall, awaiting their fate as the base for your open-face sandwich — the smoked ham with dill Havarti, lingonberry jam, and peppery arugula is a particular favorite, transporting me back to Stockholm in the summer of 1982 (because I’m old). At night, the bakery morphs into a “vinbar,” serving Smorgaasbord and shareable plates (Mushroom Custard with Jonah Crab, Beef Tartare, Roasted Carrots, etc.) along with cocktails and a lovely selection of wines by the glass or bottle.
1615 Howard St., Chicago, 773-961-8289
A community gathering place for the Rogers Park crowd, Sol Café has always had spectacular coffee (from 4LW and Gaslight Coffee Roasters in Logan Square), but they’ve stepped up their food game considerably in the past two years. The Sao Paolo Bowl, with a choice of pulled chicken or tofu, is layered with chimichurri rice, avocado, sesame cukes, cabbage slaw, edamame, watermelon radish, and pineapple salsa for a taste of South America. The Big Breakfast Salad is a welcome change from gigantic omelettes and pancakes, while the Sol Avo Toast, an Ottolenghi-influenced version with za’atar and herby/spicy green zhoug sauce, is instantly craveable.
1640 W. Division St., Chicago
The first Philz opened in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1978, and a mere 40 years later, they are betting big on Chicago. The Wicker Park store just opened, with Hyde Park opening in August and Lincoln Park and Evanston shops following in September. Smartly, they’re sourcing pastries from Aya Bakery (the Samoa Cake is particularly outstanding), gluten-free goodies from Defloured, and scones, croissants, and the like from Fabiana’s Bakery. Open-face toasts (Almond Butter Jam, Labneh Za’atar, Mediterranean Avocado) and Philz Bagel Lox sandwich are available for more substantive fare. But the real star here is the coffee, freshly roasted in San Francisco and shipped in weekly, ground to order and brewed one cup at a time. I was truly surprised by how delicious the Mint Mojito Iced Coffee turned out to be — who knew that mint and coffee were a marriage made in heaven?