Welcome to Elgin! A Guide for Newbies (And Lifers)

Two sets of friends recently moved to Elgin. In the course of offering up recommendations and advice, I realized that I could probably crowd-source a much better list. So here’s my first round of advice. What advice would you give to new Elginites? Add your comments below.

The Basics

The City of Elgin website is your first resource for everything from determining your trash pick-up day to establishing water service.

Elgin has several grocery stores. Depending on where you are, you should be relatively close to one of them. Butera, right downtown on National Street at Grove, was recently renovated and has pretty good prices, though they’re only open till 10 PM. We have two Jewels – one on Summit, the other on Larkin – which are, like all Jewels, good grocery stores, albeit overpriced. I like Meijer (Randall/College Green) for my biweekly big stock-up (and late night runs). There are also multiple fresh markets, plus Klein’s Farm Stand on Lillian Street, which gets many of its veggies from a farm just outside of town.

Looking for local news? The Courier-News and Daily Herald are the two main newspapers serving town, though both are experimenting with ways to stay afloat, like charging for access. The Elginite has a good variety of topics and discussion (though be nice and identify yourself in the comments). BocaJump also has local news and opinion. All of these sites have Facebook and Twitter feeds, too.

Books & Coffee 

Gail Borden Library is fantastic. Seriously, it wins awards for awesomeness. Go get a card (free!) and use it at either branch. The main library is downtown, at Kimball and Grove, and faces the river, which makes for a wonderful reading/studying area. They always have a wide variety of events, from book clubs and public meetings to kid-focused activities. The new branch is on the west side, on Bowes west of Randall. The library publishes a biweekly e-newsletter that details all its upcoming events.

Most of the major coffee chains are represented: there is a Starbucks tucked on Randall Road by 90, in the far, far northwest corner of the city, a Caribou a little farther south on Randall, and a handful of Dunkin Donuts locations.

But go beyond those and try the non-chain options. My personal favorite is Domani Cafe on Highland. Try the Cortado (espresso and milk) when you have time to sit and enjoy it. They also have a very limited menu of very good paninis. There’s no wifi, but I consider that kind of a blessing, as I can study without interruption. Closed Sundays.

Also try Ravenheart Coffee on Chicago Street (now open evenings) and the coffee at Elgin Books (also on Chicago Street). Gail Borden Library has a coffee shop on the ground floor. Books at Sunset has some beverages to enhance your browsing. And though I often forget it’s there, I’m always happy when I remember the Country Donuts on 20, just west of Randall.


So many restaurants…

The Elgin Public House and Walnut Speakeasy are two standards for a drink or a good meal. Both are great. I prefer the food at the Public House and the atmosphere at the Walnut, and the latter does have pizza. Both have extensive beer lists and terrific burgers that are half price on Mondays. The Public House also has monthly-ish tasting nights and pairing dinners.  Befriend both on Facebook for the latest specials and events.

In the Neighborhood Deli has a wide variety of sandwiches and paninis, with high-quality ingredients combined in innovative ways. And they’re really involved with the community,  helping out with numerous non-profits, schools and local events.

Toom Toom Thai (downtown) keeps expanding their menu and has a great atmosphere to go with terrific food. White Pearl (west side) isn’t quite as “pretty,” but their Thai food is excellent, with slightly larger portions. (Oddly, their website calls them a “Chinese noodle restaurant,” but I’ve only ordered Thai from them.)

Pizza? We’ve got pizza! Bocajump actually ran a contest last year (results).

As for Mexican, there are plenty of great taquerias throughout town. Everyone has their own preference, but El Faro is my default (two locations – the State Street store is open 24 hours on weekends). And their burritos are giant enough to provide breakfast the next morning, if I scramble an egg. I also really like Delicia Tropical Cafe for Puerto Rican food.

Obviously, there are dozens of other good options. Like Spanky’s Gyros for good, greasy gyros and fries. Help me out, Elginites, with your favorites below!

Things to Do

Every week, there are dozens of activities, depending on your interests. Your best bet is to keep tabs on the Downtown Neighborhood Association and sign up for their weekly newsletter, and expand from there as your interests guide you.

The Elgin Arts Showcase also maintains a trio of calendars for events at the Hemmens, the Art Showcase and other venues around town.

So that’s my beginning of a list. Hopefully we’ll build this list over time to help residents new and old alike.

Welcome to Elgin!


11 responses to “Welcome to Elgin! A Guide for Newbies (And Lifers)

  1. I think White Cottage wins for pizza, hands down. I’ve had the vegetarian.

  2. Beef Villa for hot dogs. Locations on Dundee (25), Larkin, & Spring/McLean in South Elgin. Sammy’s hot dogs are also good (Randall near the Starbucks) as well as Mr. C’s Hot Dogs & More at Chicago St. & Shales Prkwy.

    Colonial Cafe is great for the ice cream though the food isn’t too bad.

    Al’s Cafe has good food and even better malts.

    Gee n Jays has decent food and a nice selection of ice cream related desserts.

    Paul’s Restaurant has an excellent breakfast selection, which is available all day. If you want to spend a little more, Burnt Toast on Randall is also an option.

    As far as things to do, the Elgin Public Museum (www.elginpublicmuseum.org) is a great place to visit especially with children. Lord’s Park is a beautiful place; more so now that the leaves are changing.

    Ace Hardware has 3 locations in Elgin (Spring St., South St. & Randall) if you need a quick place to stop for tools or other small hardware needs. There’s a Menards and Home Depot on Randall on opposite ends of the city too.

    Brittian’s Oil & Lube Express on Larkin is a nice place to have your oil changed in a pinch (takes about 15 – 20 min) and it’s decently priced. If you have a smartphone & Foursquare, you get a nice discount too.

    Does that help?

  3. From Julia (via Facebook):

    Good roundup. Elgin actually has three El Faro locations State, Lillian and there’s one in the Tyler Creek Plaza on N. McLean Blvd. also known as my second kitchen! 😉 I also recommend Dulce Vida bakery that’s two doors down. Yummy, affordable pastries!

  4. I’m new to the area, but have heard very good things about Bangkok House/Shanghai Restaurant (downstairs from Villa Verone). Is Toom Toom Thai better?

    • Welcome, Marc! This post was in part for you. Bangkok/Shanghai is good, too – and great when a group can’t decide on Chinese or Thai. I like the food at Toom just a bit better, and the ambiance is a lot better. But it’s personal preference. I haven’t tried Green Jade, which Kathy mentions below, but I’ll have to do that soon!

  5. We love Green Jade at Big Timber & N. McLean for Chinese. Also, don’t forget the Public House as they have good food there, too. Villa Verone is nice for a special occasion.

    If you are new, be sure to check out the old elevator in the tower building-take a ride to the top. Spacetaste Gallery is a fun place to stop, and the library is fantastic

  6. Wow, there are so many places I’ve never been! Although Elgin is just a short drive, my only encounter with it is usually driving down 21 or 30, a fleeting glimpse of a big city that seems so foreign to me.

    We occasionally go to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. The last few visits we haven’t found anything (inventory constantly changing, always a gamble!) but we got our kitchen cabinets there a few years ago! They needed a lot of modification, but they were in excellent condition, and it was nice to repurpose them and keep them out of a landfill. People are always shocked to hear they are “used cabinets” as they don’t look it!

    The other week we drove through Elgin and did discover the Country Donuts. Although a bit hard to get into (we were headed west, so we had to go down a bit and turn around), we were treated to apple cider & pumpkin donuts. I love the clean, white & red, slightly retro dinner look. Good thing I don’t live too close to here, it could be dangerous!

    Thanks for posting this list. Next time I’m in Elgin I’ll be sure to check out a few of the places instead of just driving by.

    • Thanks, Beth! I love ReStore, too, though the timing has never been right to get anything big. But it’s always fun to look.

      Country Donuts is doubly nice for me because their original location is in Crystal Lake, and it was one of the few places open relatively late, so I spent a lot of time there in high school. But the retro-diner look in Elgin is unique, and I love it. I just wish it was walking distance and easier to get into from 20.

  7. Don’t forget about all the great playgrounds that are there for those with children or grandchildren.

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