Chicago chef Sandra Holl lists the best restaurants in Lincoln Park
Chef Sandra Holl takes us on a culinary trip through Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood — Photo courtesy of Matt Hass
Sandra Holl’s Lincoln Park cafe and bakery, Floriole, is the kind of spot you can accidentally spend all day at. Breakfast, coffee, lunch and dinner go by as you work under the skylights and Instagram your beautiful rustic pastries and delectable sandwiches.
After selling pastries and bread at Chicago‘s Green City Market with her husband Mathieu for several years, Holl opened Floriole in 2010, and over the past decade, it’s become a community gathering place. She sources produce, meats and dairy locally and regionally along with the best European-style butter, cage-free eggs and Valrhona chocolate.
Holl was named Chicago’s Pastry Chef of the Year at the 2015 Jean Banchet awards, and her croissants can be found in spots around town such as L.A. Burdick and Cafe Integral inside the Freehand Chicago. Here’s her guide to the best eats in Lincoln Park.
Green City Market
Holl still visits Green City Market every Wednesday and most Saturdays. Although she orders directly from farmers now for Floriole, she loves visiting her friends, picking up flowers and getting inspiration from whatever’s just coming into season.
“It’s a great place to grab lunch and great fruit,” she says, encouraging all foodie visitors to stop by when they’re in town. “Especially if you’re staying in an Airbnb. It really gives you an idea of what chefs are cooking with and what you’ll see in restaurants.”
“This place has been around for over 40 years and is packed with regulars,” Holl says. “It’s no frills and absolutely perfect. My favorite is the chicken shish-kebob over wet fries.”
Fries here are served underneath your entree, and they soak up all the chicken jus and any sauce. Portions here are generous and the restaurant is BYOB, so feel free to play sommelier. Greek Assyrtiko is an excellent option to drink on Athenian Room‘s large patio during summer.
Parson’s Chicken & Fish
“This place is perfect for lazy day drinking with friends,” Holl says. “I love the Negroni Slushy and popcorn chicken.” Just beware – those Negroni Slushies are a little too refreshing and go down fast.
Fried food is the calling card at Parson’s, from popcorn chicken to spicy hot chicken, fish fry and hush puppies. There are even tempura-fried veggies served with buttermilk dressing with sides of pimento cheese dip, baked beans, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. Casual comfort food at its finest.
Sweet Mandy B’s
This old-fashioned, classic American bakeshop is just down the street from Floriole, but there’s no bad blood or rivalry between the bakers. With totally different styles, they complement rather than compete with each other.
“Years before opening Floriole, I visited this bakery and fell in love with the sweet nostalgia,” Holl says. “I love the molasses cookie with vanilla buttercream.” This colorful sweet shop is quite popular among the stroller-wielding parents and nannies with school-aged kids.
Sweet Mandy B’s is best known for their cupcakes, in kid-friendly flavors like cookie monster, snickerdoodle and chocolate peanut butter. These cupcakes are the most coveted birthday treat in Lincoln Park elementary school classrooms.
The pizza at Pizzeria Bebu is a far cry from Chicago-style deep dish, but their thin crust pizza is crispy and perfectly charred, featuring top-notch Italian ingredients like mozzarella, spicy salami, tomato sauce, Sicilian pistachios and house-cured pancetta.
“I love their modern, artisan pizzas,” Holl says. “Stella, my 12-year-old, is a tough eater but she loves it. And they’ll even split the pizzas which is so nice for us. She can get something really simple and we can get something more sophisticated.”
There’s a white sauce pizza with little neck clams, bacon, garlic and Crystal hot sauce along with a vodka meatball pizza featuring housemade meatballs, parmesan, mozzarella and pickled jalapeño. There are great salads and roasted veggie side dishes too, and try to save room for dessert – the fresh-piped cannoli are superb.
“They’re a newcomer to the neighborhood but I’m not sure how we ever lived without this place,” Holl says. James Beard Award-winning chef Zachary Engel moved to Chicago to open Galit, his own contemporary Middle Eastern restaurant, after working at Shaya in New Orleans with chef Alon Shaya.
A rabbi’s son, Engel has visited Israel many times to perfect his wood-fired pita, super creamy hummus, falafel, kibbeh and coal-roasted meats and vegetables.
“We did the chef’s selection family-style menu,” Holl says. “The pita blew my mind. I want to go there every day.”
This Michelin-starred restaurant is the crown jewel for Boka Restaurant Group. Founders Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz finally won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2019 on their fourth nomination.
“This is seriously some of the best food in the city,” says Holl. “It’s consistently great and splurge-worthy. We went for my birthday this year. The chicken is just so good.”
The roast chicken Holl speaks of is a signature dish that never leaves the menu. Chef Lee Wolen rubs butter and brioche breadcrumbs under the skin to fry the skin from inside out for an extra crispy exterior.