Best few square blocks to eat really well, and cheaply | Best of Chicago 2011 | Food & Drink | Chicago Reader

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Best few square blocks to eat really well, and cheaply 

Lawrence between Rockwell and California

I'd be curious to learn about more and different forms of recreation in Albany Park, if only because something's needed in order to break up all the eating: life, you know, the thing that happens between breakfast, lunch, and dinner? In the meantime, you could spend a day here just dining. Start on the corner of Rockwell and Leland at Beans & Bagels (2601 W. Leland, 773-649-0015,, a cafe that, since hiring Jean-Yves Martin as baker a few years back, turns out excellent croissants and other French pastries—I once had a life-changing experience here with a blueberry turnover. Now meander over to Lawrence and Talman and get a chewy, salty, earthy spinach pie from Hella's (2627 W. Lawrence, 773-271-7500), a Greek bakery where customers get little goodies like anise-flavored cookies thrown in with their orders. It must be lunchtime at this point, right? Cross Lawrence to Nhu Lan Bakery (2612 W. Lawrence, 773-878-9898,, whose bahn mi tops its closest competitor, Uptown's Ba Le; the spring rolls, herbal, hearty, and served with an excellent peanut sauce, are also superlative. In anticipation of dinner I suppose you could go bowling at Lincoln Square Lanes (4874 N. Lincoln, 773-561-8191); the last time I was there (in the bar, natch, where whiskey flows cheap and generous) I encountered a guy in a white coat handing out free samples of cheese and sausage. Now head back down to Lawrence and to the corner of California, where Taqueria Santa Rita (2752 W. Lawrence, 773-784-6055) serves great, and cheap, Mexican food—there's a lot to recommend here but I've never had a better vegetarian burrito than this one, which is just loaded with avocado. All this happens within mere blocks of the Brown Line, but after a day like this, you'd probably be just as well walking home, particularly if you live in Indiana. —Sam Worley

Critics' Picks

Best bargain Michelin chef

Danny Grant of Balsan continue

Best use of alcohol at breakfast

Burton's Maplewood Farm rum-infused maple syrup continue

Best tater tots

2535 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-486-0011
The Rocking Horse continue

Best few square blocks to eat really well, and cheaply

1812 W. Montrose Ave. 773-769-2000
Lawrence between Rockwell and California continue

Best one-woman kitchen

6930 N. Glenwood Ave. 773-338-9494
Noon Hour Grill continue
(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)