North Lincoln is a collection of neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago through which Lincoln Avenue wanders, remembering treasures and curiosities of the last century in Chicago life, moving along, and forgetting them all over again.
Lincoln Square, Albany Park, and North Park are much better known to residents than tourists, but anyone will feel welcome here. To paraphrase Lionel Richie, this is where Chicago is easy like a Sunday morning, all week long.
The best reasons to come here are the shopping — unquestionably cool, and completely unpretentious — and the restaurants, which serious Chicago food lovers consider some of the best in the city.
Lincoln Square was settled by German farmers in the 1860s, when the area (along with portions of the neighboring Uptown) was known as Ravenswood. With the arrival of what is today known as the Brown Line elevated train in 1906, population surged, and a thriving small business community developed under the L tracks and around the network of streetcar lines. By the 1920s, the relatively affluent community had a movie palace, now known as the Davis Theater, and rows of attractive commercial buildings — most notably the Krause Music Store, whose façade was the last commission of master architect Louis Sullivan. Although the neighborhood is now culturally diverse, a few vintage businesses like Lincoln Square Taproom (formerly The Huettenbar) celebrate its German heritage through, well, celebration.
Today, Lincoln Square has some of the city's best shopping (even for people who don't like shopping), and some terrific restaurants and bars; more than anything else, though, Chicago doesn't get any more pleasant than Lincoln Square for brunch on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
The Greater Lincoln Square area includes the smaller, residential neighborhoods of Budlong Woods, Ravenswood Gardens, and Ravenswood Manor, which is crossed by the pretty North Branch of the Chicago River — unrecognizable from the more famous sludge in the Loop.
Also listed in this article are Albany Park and North Park, two diverse residential neighborhoods to the northwest of Lincoln Square. Albany Park in particular is one of the most diverse in Chicago, and even the USA - many of residents are immigrants and they come from all over the world. There’s no better place in Chicago to find late-night Guatemalan dinner or Filipino dessert. Kedzie Avenue has an amazing run of authentic Middle Eastern restaurants, and a major Korean population lives and works on the stretch of Lawrence Avenue known as "Seoul Drive." The Brown Line makes it easy to skip the over-priced tourist restaurants downtown and enjoy a quick culinary tour at a fraction of the price you’ll find by your hotel — unless you’re staying on the Sin Strip (see Sleep).
Welcome to the neighborhood
When Chicago was offered a piece of the Berlin Wall, Lincoln Square was the natural choice for a location, considering its German roots. It's now in the lobby of the Western Brown Line CTA station. Anyone can have a look, but tearing down the wall is strictly prohibited.
The CTA Brown Line runs from the Loop, and makes stops in Ravenswood (Montrose, Damen), Lincoln Square (Western), Ravenswood Manor (Rockwell, Francisco), and terminates in Albany Park (Kedzie, Kimball). The stations from Rockwell to Kedzie are street-level, and most have a second entrance on the other end of the platform. All stations are wheelchair accessible.
- 49 Western runs all night through most of the city, connecting to the Brown Line at the Western station in the heart of Lincoln Square.
- 49B North Western starts at the Western Brown Line station in Lincoln Square and heads north to the Indian restaurants on Devon ending at the Howard Street, the city limits.
- 50 Damen connects with the Brown Line at the Damen station.
- 78 Montrose runs along the border with Irving Park on the Far Northwest Side, connecting with the Brown Line in North Center.
- 81 Lawrence is ideal for travel on "Seoul Drive". It connects to the Red Line in Uptown.
- 82 Kimball/Homan connects with the Brown Line at Kimball serving Albany & North Park heading up to Devon.
- 92 Foster connects with the Red Line at Berwyn and is the best way to reach Andersonville from the train. It also ends up west at the Jefferson Park Blue Line station.
Lincoln Ave is the main thoroughfare for Lincoln Square. While few roads in Chicago can match Lincoln for unique shops and restaurants, it's perpetually under construction, and traffic rarely moves fast. Take Western if you are in a hurry. Accordingly, if you are coming up the Kennedy Expressway, take the Western Ave exit, although if you are coming from the north on the Edens Expressway, the Peterson Ave exit is probably the fastest way into the district.
Free parking is generally available on side streets, but keep an eye out for permit-parking zones.
The heart of Lincoln Square is Giddings Plaza, a fountain square on a one-way stretch of Lincoln Avenue. It's a popular gathering spot, and on summer evenings, impromptu concerts from the Old Town School of Folk Music often spill out into the square. Nearby, there are a few flourishes in honor of the neighborhood's German heritage and namesake: while out and around, look for the Maypole, a few German murals, the decidedly Teutonic Thomas Jefferson Pumping Station, and the Beardless Action Lincoln statue.
The only notable sight in the neighborhood is the home of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but an aimless stroll on a sunny day in Ravenswood Manor is one of the best afternoons Chicago has to offer. Exit the Francisco Brown Line stop and you're right in the midst of several blocks of classic Chicago bungalows and brick mansions.
- Cambodian Association of Illinois, 2831 W Lawrence Ave (Francisco Brown Line), ☏ . Community center M-F 9AM-5PM, museum & memorial M-F 10AM-4PM, Sa Su by appointment. In addition to their work with Cambodian immigrants and refugees, the CAI also runs a small but highly effective Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial at their building near Albany Park.
- DANK-HAUS German Cultural Center, 4740 N Western Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . Sa 11AM-3PM, and for special events such as German Cinema Now, showing contemporary German films with English sub-titles, on the third Monday of every month at 7PM. D.A.N.K. is an acronym for German American National Congress, which is also on-site, a cultural and social hub for the German-American community throughout Chicago and the Midwest. The Cultural Center hosts art exhibitions in two gallery spaces. Usually free.
- 1 Krause Music Store, 4611 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line). Built in 1922, this was the last commission of legendary architect Louis Sullivan. The beautiful terra-cotta façade was restored in 2006. It houses a design studio.
- 2 Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N Ravenswood Ave, ☏ . Rosehill doesn't have as famous a burial list as Graceland nearby in Uptown, but the mix of Chicago historical figures, Civil War soldiers, and Bohemian statuary makes it worth a look. The Gothic cemetery gate was built in 1864, one of the few remaining structures from before the Great Chicago Fire.
This is a laid-back area, with plenty of opportunities to relax or pick up a new hobby.
- Albany Park Theater Project, 5100 N Ridgeway Ave (92 Foster bus), ☏ . A community gem: experienced theater veterans guide a multi-ethnic ensemble of teenagers in creating original plays about the immigrant stories in their neighborhood.
- The Chopping Block Cooking School, 4747 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M-F 10AM-9PM, Sa Su 10AM-6PM. Even if you're only going to be in town for one day, you can drop in for a class (no experience necessary) on a wide variety of culinary subjects, with plenty of hands-on experience included. Check the calendar on their website to see if anything strikes your fancy. Kids classes $20, adults $40-85.
- 1 Davis Theater, 4614 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . In the neighborhood for more than 80 years. They mostly show current Hollywood movies, but there are special features every once in a while, including Bollywood musicals for the Indian community on Devon. Tickets $8, $5.50 before 6PM.
- Gompers Park, 4222 W Foster Ave (Foster & Pulaski), ☏ . A big, lovely park (39 acres) with the full range of outdoor sports activities, including a lagoon for fishing. A statue in honor of the park's namesake, labor hero Samuel Gompers, was unveiled in 2007.
- Surge Coffee Bar & Billiards, 3241 W Montrose Ave (Kedzie Brown Line), ☏ . A classic pool hall with eighteen well-kept tables. It's where the seedy Marie's Golden Cue used to be.
- The Old-Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . If you're interested in folk music from America or anywhere else in the world you should definitely plan to spend some time at the Old-Town School. There are classes ranging from beginners' clawhammer banjo to advanced Flamenco dance. Even if you are just passing through town, consider stopping by to see a concert or just to check out the store, which features a fabulous array of banjos, fiddles, guitars, and rare folk instruments from around the world, as well as recordings of just about every sort of folk music (and early jazz) you can imagine.
- Welles Park, Between Western, Lincoln, Montrose, & Sunnyside Ave, ☏ . Sunrise to sunset. One of the best neighborhood parks in the city. Welles Park is a perfect match for Lincoln Square: 15 acres of great facilities (tennis, softball, an indoor pool) that never feels remotely crowded.
If you've come to Chicago to shop, give the designer jumble on the Magnificent Mile its due and then come to Lincoln Square, where they have stuff you can't buy at the mall back home. There are several labor-of-love shops here, and they're a lot of fun to browse.
- Book Cellar, 4736 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M W-Sa 10AM-10PM, Tu Su 10AM-6PM. Splendid, comfortable book store with author events, a wide selection of Chicago books, and wine by the glass.
- Gallimaufry Gallery, 4712 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-6PM (Th to 8PM), Su 1-6PM. A little bit of everything, and a wonderful selection thereof; jewelry, secret boxes, imported scarves, and several varieties of kaleidoscopes are among the delights you'll find here.
- Laurie's Planet of Sound, 4639 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-10PM, Su 11AM-7PM. Excellent neighborhood LP, CD, & DVD store with staff who care about music — not infrequently is this called the best record store in the city.
- Merz Apothecary, 4716 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M-Sa 9AM-6PM. Established in 1875 as a typical corner drug store, Merz Apothecary sold herbal medicines and traditional remedies from the Old World under several generations of the Merz family. In 1972, Abdul Quaiyum bought the store and expanded sales to include international health, body, and beauty products, and today, the thriving business doubles as a tourist destination for its classic atmosphere.
- Quake Collectibles, 4628 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . If you have long yearned to re-assemble the squad of Dinobots that your mother so heartlessly sold at a garage sale, this would be a good place to start. Prices for in-original-package items vary, but the real danger lies in the several bins of loose action figures at $3 apiece or 4 for $10.
- Rock N Roll Vintage Guitar Shop, 4740 N Lincoln Ave, 2nd floor (Above Salamander Shoes, Western Brown Line), ☏ . M W F noon-6PM, Tu Th noon-7PM, Sa noon-5PM. If you've been looking for that special guitar you had as a kid or you want to step up to a more serious guitar you might want to visit Rock N Roll Vintage. They have loads of vintage and used guitars, amps and even some new gear packed into every corner of their shop.
- Sweden Shop, 3304 W Foster Ave (82 Kimball/Homan, 92 Foster, or 93 California/Dodge bus), ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 10AM-3PM. Scandinavian import store in North Park, owned by the couple that runs the Tre Kronor restaurant (see Eat).
- Timeless Toys, 4749 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M-W Sa 10AM-6PM, Th F 10AM-7PM, Su 11AM-5PM. Classic toy store — as in no Disney characters or movie tie-ins.
Put simply, there's food in this area that's found nowhere else in Chicago, and it's good. Middle Eastern and Korean are the headliners, but there are also Thai, German, and Japanese places that are consistently mentioned among the city's best. With most restaurants easily accessible from the Brown Line, it's worth a trip for dinner even if you're staying elsewhere.
- Garcia's Restaurant, 4760 N Western Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M-Th 10AM-1AM, F 10AM-3AM, Sa 10AM-4AM, Su 10AM-midnight. Cheap Mexican restaurant that earns loyalty for plentiful, tasty food and late-night hours. $4-12.
- Nazareth Sweets, 4938 N Elston Ave, ☏ . M-Sa 9AM-7PM. If you've had dinner on Kedzie, skip dessert there and savor this on the train back to the hotel. Nazareth has the cheap, fresh baklava and semolina cakes you so richly deserve. $2-5.
- Salam, 4636 N Kedzie Ave (Kedzie Brown Line), ☏ . 9:30AM-9:30PM. Falafel comes no cheaper in Chicago than at this mostly Palestinian restaurant. It's a neighborhood hang-out and has nothing in the way of decor, but anyone is welcome, and the menu changes throughout the week to keep the regulars satisfied. $3-10.
One of the true pleasures of Chicago dining is a weekend brunch in Lincoln Square. Cafe Selmarie is the best-known spot, but a few of the bars serve a worthy brunch as well — see Drink for more options.
- Kabobi Grill, 4748 N Kedzie Ave (Kedzie Brown Line), ☏ . 10:30AM-midnight. Lebanese cuisine in Albany Park. $10-22.
- Cafe Selmarie, 4729 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M 11AM-3PM, Tu-Th 8AM-10PM, F Sa 8AM-11PM, Su 10AM-10PM. A favorite spot for brunch since 1983, with outdoor sitting right in the fountain square. $8-17.
- Chicago Kalbi, 3752 W Lawrence Ave (81 Lawrence bus), ☏ . W-M 5PM-midnight. Korean/Japanese BBQ. Reportedly has a shrine to Japanese baseball players, making it worth the trip for pro yakyu fans. $14-30.
- Great Sea Chinese Restaurant, 3254 W Lawrence Ave (Kimball Brown Line), ☏ . Su-Th 11AM-9:30PM, F Sa 11AM-10:30PM. A nice attractive restaurant serving a wide range of Chinese and Korean foods. $8-14.
- Jerry's Sandwiches, 4739 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . Su-W 11AM-1AM, Th-Sa 11AM-2AM. Indecisive people beware: there are 100 sandwiches on the menu at Jerry's, and you're welcome to customize even further. The seating is comfortable, and there's beer, too. $12.
- Midori Japanese Restaurant, 3310 W Bryn Mawr Ave (82 Kimball/Homan bus), ☏ . M-Sa lunch: 11:30AM-2:30PM, dinner: 5-11PM, Su 4-11PM karaoke: 7PM-1:30AM. This Japanese restaurant is an excellent value, offering all sorts of hard-to-find Japanese dishes and private (tatami) dining rooms for up to 6 people. $10-15.
- Noon O Kabab, 4661 N Kedzie Ave (Kedzie Brown Line), ☏ . M-Th 11AM-10PM, F Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-9PM. Persian food that deservedly earns rave reviews, particularly the polo (seasoned rice) dishes. Meals come with some tasty complimentary appetizers. It's a great take-out option, too. $7-17.
- Spoon Thai, 4608 N Western Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . 11AM-10PM. Authentic Thai food, with bits and pieces from other Asian cuisines. Rumor has it that a secret Thai-only menu exists for a wider range of options. Weekday lunch specials are only $4.95.
- Ssyal Ginseng House, 4201 W Lawrence Ave (81 Lawrence bus), ☏ . M-Sa 10:30AM-9:30PM, Su 1-9PM. Ginseng-infused Korean soups (chicken, fish, and miso). Check out the bizarre (and perfectly natural) twisted jars of ginseng in the window. $11.
- Tre Kronor, 3258 W Foster Ave (82 Kimball/Homan, 92 Foster, or 93 California/Dodge bus), ☏ . Tu-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 9AM-3PM. Along with Andersonville, North Park has a pocket of Swedish Chicago. Good for breakfast, brunch, or a quick fika. $5-15.
- Lutz Cafe & Pastry Shop, 2458 W Montrose Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . Su-Th 7AM-7PM, F Sa 7AM-8PM. Enjoy coffee and something sweet from this legendary bakery (est. 1948), or just stop by to gaze in awe at the amazing display case. The cafe has a nice outdoor garden (weather permitting).
- The Perfect Cup, 4700 N Damen Ave (Damen Brown Line), ☏ . M-F 6:30AM-9PM, Sa 7:30AM-9PM, Su 7:30AM-8PM. A quiet coffee shop near the CTA with a take-a-book leave-a-book policy.
Not accidentally, you'll find more than a few karaoke joints on Lincoln, Western, and Lawrence, near the Korean BBQ restaurants. The rest listed here are upscale restaurant/bar combos and a few affable dives.
Sin Strip slipping away
In the early days of the inter-state motorways, US-41 was the route of choice between Chicago and Milwaukee. Twelve motels sprang up on Lincoln Avenue between Peterson/Devon and Foster to accommodate road-weary travelers, with giant neon signs bearing names like Stars, Tip-Top, and Rio.
- The Daily Bar & Grill, 4560 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . Su-F noon-2AM, Sa noon-3AM. The perfect distillation of a stylish 50s diner and a full bar with enough screens to keep a sports fan satisfied, along with a food menu of staples done well like mac 'n cheese, pot pies, and cheesy tater tots.
- Lincoln Karaoke, 5526 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln or 49B North Western bus), ☏ . M-Th,Su 7PM-3AM, F Sa 7PM-5AM. Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English karaoke heaven, with private rooms, free parking, and very friendly staff. Rooms $25/hour, beer $3.
- Montrose Saloon, 2933 W Montrose Ave (Kedzie Brown Line), ☏ . A truly beautiful dive bar with games, cheap beer, and a schedule of events that includes a bluegrass jam on the second Wednesday of every month.
- Rockwell's Neighborhood Grill, 4632 N Rockwell St (Rockwell Brown Line), ☏ . M-Th 4-10PM, F 4-11PM, Sa 10AM-11PM, Su 10AM-10PM. A neighborhood favorite at the center of a small commercial district around the Rockwell CTA station, not far from the river. The outdoor seating is especially nice and will slip pleasant hours from your pocket.
The #11 Lincoln bus runs past all of the Sin Strip motels (see infobox), and stops at the Western Brown Line station in Lincoln Square. Though the Stars Motel has been demolished, its classic sign is still standing at the corner of Lincoln and Jersey, near the River Park Motel.
- 1 Apache Motel, 5535 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln or 49B North Western bus), ☏ . Run by a friendly, eager family of Indian descent (as in India, not the yellow Native American Indian head that sits atop their sign). The fact that they have a website should give you a sense of how the owners are trying to set their motel apart. Close to a public library. $59 per night.
- Diplomat Motel, 5230 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln, 49B North Western, or 92 Foster bus), ☏ . The southernmost of the surviving motels, within a reasonable walk of Lincoln Square. TV. $52 per night weekdays, $62 weekends.
- Guest House Motel, 2600 W Bryn Mawr Ave (11 Lincoln, 49B North Western, or 93 California/Dodge bus), ☏ . Enter through the tunnel indicated by the once-neon arrows into the secluded kingdom of the Guest House Motel. All smoking rooms, so stay away if you have an allergy. $52 per night weekdays, $62 weekends.
- O Mi Motel, 5611 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln or 93 California/Dodge bus), ☏ . Other than the candy-stripe turquoise/white wall near the office, the O Mi is restrained in decor, but the name practically demands enthusiastic delivery. It's across the street from the Budlong Woods public library. $45 per night.
- North Park Inn, 6250 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln or 82 Kimball/Homan bus), ☏ . Replaced the old Patio Motel. $55 per night.
- Rio Motel, 6155 N Jersey Ave (11 Lincoln, 82 Kimball/Homan, or 84 Peterson bus), ☏ . Just off Lincoln, a reasonable walk from the Indian food on Devon. Television, but no cable. $62 weekdays, $67 weekends.
- River Park Motel & Suites, 6060 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln, 82 Kimball/Homan, or 84 Peterson bus), ☏ . This more recent member of the club lacks the neon glory of its fellows, but is rather a lot cleaner and has modern amenities like free cable and Wi-Fi Internet. $49 per night.
- Summit Motel, 5308 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln, 49B North Western, or 92 Foster bus), ☏ . Also within a reasonable walk of Lincoln Square. $50 per night.
- Albany Park Library, 5150 N Kimball Ave (Kimball Brown Line), ☏ . M W 10AM-6PM, Tu-Th noon-8PM, F Sa 9AM-5PM. Free public internet access. Befitting its location, this library has a strong collection of Korean-language materials.
- Budlong Woods Library, 5630 N Lincoln Ave (11 Lincoln or 93 California/Dodge bus), ☏ . M W noon-8PM, Tu Th 10AM-6PM, F Sa 9AM-5PM. Free public internet access, walking distance from most of the motels.
- Mayfair Library, 4400 W Lawrence Ave (81 Lawrence bus), ☏ . M W noon-8PM, Tu Th 10AM-6PM, F Sa 9AM-5PM. Free public internet access.
- Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 N Lincoln Ave (Western Brown Line), ☏ . M-Th 9AM-9PM, F Sa 9AM-5PM, Su 1PM-5PM. The regional library for the north side of Chicago, with a huge collection and free public internet access.
- A short walk south down Lincoln Avenue, in North Center, the colorful spectre of Honest Abe's giant head (at the Lincoln Restaurant) beckons all who enjoyed themselves in his Square.
|Routes through North Lincoln|
|END ←||NW SE||→ Lakeview-North Center → The Loop|