"Hit or miss" would be a charitable way of describing Hyde Park's dining options. Use this guide to make your meals more of the former.
Thai 55, 1607 East 55th Street » A stone’s throw from the Snail, this is yet another denizen of Thai Row. Food here is pretty much the same quality as any of the nearby restaurants, but delivery can be a little spotty. However, it is a bubble tea oasis in the tapioca-free desert that is Hyde Park. (773) 363-7119
Third World Cafe, 1301 East 53rd Street » We’re not sure how pricey tea and brownies bear any relation to the Third World, but we’ll roll with it. Coffee and freshly baked muffins are perfect for an afternoon study session. And if you wait around long enough, you can snag one of the comfy chairs near the windows. (773) 288-3882
Valois, 1518 East 53rd Street » No one should graduate from the University of Chicago without having eaten at this Hyde Park institution. (Actually, that’s not a bad idea. What about replacing the P.E. test with a Valois meal? Both require stamina.) Arguably the most famous restaurant in the neighborhood, it’s certainly the only one to have a sociology book written about its patrons (Slim’s Table by Mitchell Duneier). It’s a classic cafeteria-style diner with a twist: People must wait in a single line to order and receive food from the chefs themselves.
Valois serves the best French toast you will ever eat. The coffee, hash browns, and broccoli-cheese omelets are perennial favorites, but stay away from the biscuits. Best of all, the food is super cheap. Say hi to the after-church crowd, the friendly vagabonds, or Barack Obama’s Secret Service agents. (773) 667-0647
Uncle Joe’s, 1461 East Hyde Park Boulevard » Newsflash: Calypso isn’t running the only jerk chicken game in town. Uncle Joe’s offers a full-flavored alternative to the Hyde Park favorite, with a variety of lunch and dinner options, from classic jerk chicken to curry goat to ox tail. The price tag is a bit steep for the average college student dinner, but with a heaping side of red beans and rice and, of course, the all-important fried plantains, Uncle Joe gives you get what you pay for. (773) 241-5550
Windy's Deli, 1013 East 53rd Street » Windy's Deli serves up cheap, tasty sandwiches, though they appear to be little more than a front for its brisk lottery-ticket-selling business (standalone lottery ticket vendors aren't legal; hence the tiny video rental store beside Harold's Chicken that offers six VHS tapes, plus Powerball, Mega Millions, and scratch off games). We recommend the #1: bigger and better than any sandwich at the Med, for one third the price. (773) 288-6505
Wok ‘n’ Roll, 1408 East 53rd Street » What every cheap Chinese joint place should be: It serves Chinese food, and it’s cheap. If that’s all you expect from Wok ’n’ Roll, you will not be disappointed. Certainly don’t go for the décor: The restaurant resembles a DMV more than an eating establishment. It’s best to order before 3 p.m., when they offer their lunch special (entrée, rice, and an egg roll for under $6). (773) 643-3500
Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe, 1323 East 57th Street » Pretentious graduate students everywhere proclaim: Z&H makes the only decent coffee in Chicago. Thanks to their ultra-fancy Clover machine, Z&H brews coffee one cup at a time for those with a discriminating palate. For the less epicurean among us, the price tag for a cup of joe is a bit steep. Whimsically named sandwiches run for about the same price as at University Market and have a similarly devoted following. Look for unusual touches, like quince paste on a ham sandwich. (773) 538-7372