The Search for the Better and Best Starbucks

Think all Starbucks are the same? Think again. I’m not going to say I’m a coffee connoisseur, because I’m not. But I will say that I have traversed the North Shore in search of good and better Starbucks.

I pretty much order the same thing every time. Most often it’s a Grande with Whip Mocha Frappuccino, although in the winter I prefer a Grande with Whip Mocha (forget that iced stuff when it’s iced outside!), or it’s a simple double espresso. For a while I was living in Edgewater and commuting to work in Northbrook.  It was a killer drive but allowed time to find the best that Starbucks has to offer.

I’ve divided the area into two categories: Drive-thrus and sit-downs.  It’s not just a matter of time, either.  Some places are exceptional one way, but not the other (which often has to do with which barista is making your drink and how much of a hurry they’re in).

Drive-thrus
(Rated 1-5 on efficiency, quality and charisma)

1.    When you’re in a hurry and need a drive-thru cup-o-Joe, the No. 1 Starbucks to hit is in Northbrook at Skokie Blvd. and Dundee (820 Skokie Blvd.) right next to Potbelly’s.  By far, they make the best drive-thru coffee in the area (a moderate sit-down, though, and not huge on the ambiance). (5E, 4.5Q, 4.5C)

starbucks_coffee2.    While a bit west (and south), next on the list has to be the Skokie Swift (5001 W. Dempster St.). They’re always fast and efficient, although there tends to be a line in the morning.  It’s also a pretty decent sit down spot, although I prefer it in the summer when I can be outside under their great awning. (4.5E, 4.5Q, 4.5C)

3.    The Evanston Central and Crawford (3330 Central St.) Starbucks has to have a spot as the first drive-thru in the area.  While third on the list for coffee quality, they definitely get a 5-star rating for service.  The baristas are always cheerful and efficient, and the few times I’ve had serious problems with my drinks and needed to park and go in, it resulted in better coffee and a coupon for more free coffee. It’s always faster to drive-thru here than to go inside (4E, 4Q, 4.5C)

4.    While not a drive-thru, the Northbrook Court Starbucks (1290 Northbrook Court Mall) is not a sit down either, so it’s getting tacked on here as a “walk-up” (which is essentially a drive-thru on foot!).  The baristas here are phenomenal.  The service does have a tendency to be slow sometimes, and the line can get long, but the coffee is great, and if you don’t like it, it’s fixed before you can say two words about it. (3.5E, 4Q, 4.5C)

Sit-downs
(Rated 1-5 on ambiance, quality and charisma)

1.    I oscillated between one and two for a long time, but the top spot goes to the Glencoe Starbucks (347 Park Ave.).  I have spent many a day here enjoying the fireplace and the bustling of people in and out as I finished a paper or delved into an intense book.  It’s a great place in the summer, but is certainly the top spot for fall and winter.  There’s usually a line, but it goes quickly.  The place has more regulars than I’ve ever seen! (5A, 5Q, 4.5C)

2.    I may get berated for making this two and not one, but the newly renovated location at Plaza del Lago (1515 Sheridan Rd.) is absolutely amazing.  The layout is generously spaced and I often see groups of four or more conversing comfortably as they sip and chat.  This is for sure my top summer Starbucks (particularly on rollerblades!), but had to slip down a notch as we head into the cooler seasons. (5A, 4.5Q, 4.5C)

3.    The Winnetka location (566 Chestnut St.) boasts a hot spot (although Caribou is very tempting a block up!), which is always hopping with intimate tables of everyone from business touch-bases to book clubs.  The space is a bit crowded but always makes for a fun place to people watch.  They make a mean hot chocolate here, too! (4A, 4Q, 4C)

4.    A last spot on the sit-down list is the Starbucks at Old Orchard (4999 Old Orchard Center) across from Banana Republic.  It’s a quaint location that you most certainly want to avoid in the few days before Christmas but allows for a nice reprieve from shopping with a number of tables for two. It’s not the prettiest location, but they make a good cup and do it with a smile. (3.5A, 4Q, 4C).

As a last note, a few Starbucks to avoid are the Evanston Starbucks (3330 Central St.) further east on Central than the drive-thru location (it has a terrible train crowd in the morning, moderate baristas, and has never produced a cup of coffee I want to completely imbibe) as well as the Edens Plaza location (3232 Lake Ave.) which really only makes a moderate specialty drink.

Do you have a Starbucks you love or hate? Comment below and tell us about it!