Whether you’re new to Chicago or settled into the windy city, this list will point you to fresh, one-of-a-kind spots for a mean cup of joe. Cozy up and let’s get started.
Having lived in both west and east Pilsen, I urge you to venture south of the loop. Unlike the North Side, the South Side gets a bad rep. It’s misguidedly conflated into one taboo neighborhood. This list weaves through South Side neighborhoods highlighting my havens in the city.
Okay, now for some coffee.
I live my life between cafés.
In Pilsen, the go-to’s are Café Jumping Bean and La Catrina Café.
When Café Jumping Bean opened its doors back in 1994, the idea of operating a coffee shop in Pilsen was unheard of. Now, the place is a neighborhood staple. With bright pink pillars ushering guests inside and a gallery featuring rotating artists lining its walls, this teeny café is teeming with energy. It’s garnered a ton of loyal customers, which is why there’s often a line leading out the door. But service is quick and courteous, making it a great spot to grab latté on the run or meet friends for an inexpensive bite to eat.
Walking down 18th St., you cannot miss La Catrina Café. Sure, there are a ton of murals in Pilsen but La Catrina’s exterior is decked out with trippy graphics that nod to La Calavera Catrina, the iconic Day of the Dead skeleton woman after whom the shop is named. Its laid-back ambience and plethora of workspace make it most ideal for camping out with your computer or textbooks for a long day. Fair warning: In my experience, they tend to hire less experienced workers. My coffee drinks don’t always taste great, but the vibe keeps me coming back for more. You’ll often find local art bazaars happening just outside!
Bridgeport Coffee on South Morgan and West 31st St. is hands down the best coffee shop in Chicago. If you disagree, we can take this outside. Consisting of four separate rooms with varying street views and levels of intimacy, Bridgeport provides an ideal environment for any coffee shop patron. The wood tables and chairs lend to an old-school feel. If you need loud noises to encourage productivity, sit at the barstools where the mouth of the building opens to the street. If you want a calmer setting with classical music where your distracted gaze can drift over a wall-consuming world map, sit in the far east room. None of this matters though. Once you try their coffee and chocolate donut, you’re sure to stay.
Bridgeport Coffee (not a typo, had to put it twice) in Hyde Park is just as dreamy as its original location above. Situated adjacent to the Hyde Park Art Center, this is an ideal spot for students and Hyde Park shoobies. If you’re camped out on the lake all day and didn’t bring provisions, pop over here for a black bean burger in a spinach wrap with hot peppers or one of their other delicious snacks and sammies.
Build Coffee You’re deep in Hyde Park looking for more than a coffee shop, something more radical—a socially conscious workspace, if you will. Look no further. Situated just south of the UChicago’s Hyde Park campus Build Coffee’s vibe is vibrant and academic. Surrounded by community-driven non-profits and civic journalism projects, Build Coffee aims to be “a hub of great coffee and radical collaboration.” Indeed, I found this spot while attending City Bureau’s Public Newsroom which takes place every Thursday from 6-8PM. Get your coffee, then get involved.
Honorable Mention: Atomix Café
So you want to be Jacob Malco (Marc Maron), the author and illustrator fumbling through each season of Netflix’s Easy. The character’s most frequented spot, Atomix Café lives on the corner of Chicago and Damen. I know what you’re thinking. That’s not the south side, which is why I’m awarding it an honorable mention. This self-proclaimed “Home to Coffee & Tables” is mad hip and it’s a great spot to hunker down and hammer out some work. Quiet and low-key, it feels like a refuge within the buzzy West Town neighborhood.
Got a spot I haven’t mentioned yet? Tell me your favorite in the comments below!