Off the 'L'

That One Red Line Stop All the Way North of the Beautiful City

Sarah Grace Sommers | The PhoenixSol Cafe serves a variety of coffee and teas and a surprising amount of plants.

Chicago has much more to offer than just the touristy Michigan Avenue or Lincoln Park — the real reasons why this city is appealing to many outsiders. Away from the center of the city, located all the way north is the Howard Red Line CTA stop.

Coming from Dayton, Ohio, choosing to go to school hours away from home was to fuel my love for travel and discovering new places. And thus, the “Off the ‘L’” column was born.

Before I even got off the train, I was skeptical if I would find anything worth writing about because the stop is so far from the photogenic city and has been home to crime similarly to most of Rogers Park.

My first stop was a restaurant called ZipZ Express (1635 W. Howard St.). I took the stairs that exit to the north side of the Howard stop, and found this restaurant across Howard street and to the right.

Since the name of the place gave no indication of what was being served, I was unsure what this mom-and-pop shop had to offer. To my amazement, almost every food was on the menu. Everything from Vienna beef, gyros, Italian beef, fish, wings, chicken nuggets, Chinese, Asian chicken and ice cream could be found inside the bright yellow walls and ceiling of the restaurant.

The restaurant offered up to 15 specials — each a different unique combination I never knew I needed in my life. I could have a double cheeseburger with gyro meat and bacon or five-piece wings with vegetable fried rice, and both dishes come with a can of pop. Although the menu gave me some mixed opinions due to its great diversity and weird combos, the food was rather tasty. Who knew a place with so many different options could be good? It’s no secret the people eating here enjoyed the food as well. A couple was enjoying their food before yelling back to the helpful staff to say the food was amazing, as always. 

I kept it simple with my flavorful chicken fried rice on a regular dinner plate, rather than a side dish as I expected to get for the side order I paid for. It’s important to note the restaurant only accepts cash.

After I enjoyed my dinner, I was in the mood for some tea, so I took a right out of ZipZ and found a rustic coffee shop at the corner near Marshfield Avenue named Sol Cafe (1615 W. Howard St.). When I walked in, at first I thought I was in the wrong place because I was surrounded by dozens of plants for sale but soon found the adorable cafe through the entrance. The plant theme continued throughout the cafe as there were a variety of plants, big and small, on almost all the tables. Intertwined with the exposed pipes along the ceilings were some wretched vines that completed the restaurant’s aesthetic. 

I glanced over the chalkboard menu on the right wall of the cafe and decided to get a hot peppermint tea. After getting my mug with loose leaf tea, I took a seat at the table below a golden disco ball. The disco ball’s purpose remains a mystery but in some weird way, it still fit in. 

The menu offered much more than just tea. They have coffee, espresso and some other drinks with some off-menu items that the staff can tell you about. I missed the brunch menu, which is offered from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but I plan to come back and find a seat on the comfy couch with a nice San Paulo Bowl. The drink prices range from $1-5, while the food prices range from $7-15.  

As I exited Sol Cafe, I was craving some sweets. Sadly, after walking around for a little while, I found the only dessert options were the ice cream offered at ZipZ and a Baskin-Robbins. 

Although I didn’t get the local sweet shop fix I was hoping for, I was very intrigued by what this stop had to offer and found more than I expected for being so far from downtown. I was happy with the few places I found but if you’re looking for more than what I found, the Howard stop isn’t for you.

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