The Run Down

We've got a lazy Sunday in West Loop on the books. The day starts a local non-profit bookstore to dig through their collection of new and used books.  You'll then take that new novel you picked up and head a few blocks to a coffee house run in partnership with a world-renowned Japanese latte-artist. The day ends in the same place, because in addition to being a coffees house, it's also a bbq restaurant and ramen shop. Here are the highlights.

1. Books @ Open Books

2. Coffee @ Sawada

3. BBQ & Ramen - Green Street / High Five Ramen

1. Open Books

Our first stop takes us to Open Books, which is non-profit bookstore that made its start in 2007 in a basement in the South Loop. Today, they’ve grown to have two flag ship stores; one in West Loop (the one we’re going to) and the other in Pilsen.

They’ve got a huge selection of new and used books to choose from including a section dedicated to rare books. The main reason to support this place, however, is that their sales proceeds goes towards funding literacy programs all across Chicago.  By the way, if you have some old books collecting dust on your shelf, consider donating them to Open Books who will put it to good use.

On a final note, if you’re looking to get even more involved, there’s a wide range of volunteer opportunities ranging from helping sorts books in their warehouse to coaching 2nd and 3rd grade readers in a classroom setting.

2. Sawada Coffee

The next stops is a few blocks away to Sawada Coffee where you’ll post up for awhile to dig into that new book you just picked up. One of the first things you’ll notice is that Sawada shares its space with a huge BBQ dining hall and the smell of brisket and fresh coffee permeate the entire venue.

On Sawada’s side of the space, there’s a large communal table and a couple of spots alongside the windows where you can post up. Now onto the coffee. Sawada was named after, and started in partnership, with Hiroshi Sawada who is an award winning latte art barista that made a name for himself with a series of coffee houses in Japan.

This is his first foray in the states and he brings with him a line of matcha based lattes and drinks. There are also a few options for “boozy steamers” (i.e. coffee + alcohol) if you’re looking to kick up this lazy Sunday into full gear.

3. Green Street Smoked Meats / High Five Ramen

After you’re done reading or doing some work, you may be a bit hungry. You’re in luck because you don’t have to go anywhere else.  You’ve got two options.

Option 1 – Green Street Smoked Meats

Option 1 is Green Street Smoked Meats which is the bbq dining hall that shares its space with Sawada.  It’s very casual experience — just walk up to the counter, order, and then find a spot either at the bar or at one of the many picnic tables in the dining hall.

If you’re looking for a recommendation, a universally approved side item is their Frito Pie. It’s basically a Frito chip bag that’s torn open and filled with chili and cheese. 

Option 2 – High Five Ramen

Option 2 is in the basement of Green Street Smoked Meats where you’ll find High Five Ramen. If you’re a ramen aficionado, this place only does ramen and they do it well — they don’t do appetizers, they don’t do rice dishes, they just focus on the noodles and broth.

As far as the menu goes, they really only have 4 different styles of ramen:

– High Five Signature (Tonkotsu)
– Shoyu
– Shio
– Maitake

I found this handy link that does a nice job differentiating these styles of ramen.

If you need a recommendation, then the High Five Signature (i.e. Tonkotsu which is a pork based broth) was the most flavorful to us. For this bowl you can also pick the spiciness level (half-spice was just about right and I can take a bit of spice).   Lastly, here are some other notes to get you going.

– Only open for dinner
– They don’t take reservations.
– There are less than 20 seats so if you have a big party, then this might not be the best place to go.
– Waits can be long during prime dining hours. You can put your name down and just hang out at Sawada for awhile or do a bbq appetizer if you’re really hungry