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September 22, 2008

The Gadabout

Chicago's dining scene stands its ground beside Navy Pier and the Sears Tower as one of the city's top attractions. From skirt-steak tacos for less than $2 to culinary masterpieces surpassing $200, the city provides delicious marvels from all kinds of cuisine at any price. Mastering the city, however, requires mastering Hyde Park.

We have put together, for the gastronomically daring, a local tasting menu spanning the gamut between breakfast and late-night "drunchies." In an infamous bet, economics professor Allen Sanderson and Biological Sciences Master José Quintans supposedly dared one another to eat all the items in one day. Quintans may have won by a slight margin, a French fry dangling from his illustrious and triumphant mustache, but surely you, as hungry, young first-years, can do better.

Hike to East 51st Street and South Lake Park Avenue in the morning to whet your appetite with the pumpkin pancakes at the Original House of Pancakes. OHP is often acclaimed for its Dutch Baby, an enormous cinnamon pancake whose lack of baby would disappoint any reasonable Swift fan. The soft pumpkin and spice flavor, however, make the seasonal pancakes a delectable October treat. Saunter two blocks down South Lake Park Avenue and just up East 53rd Street to Valois Cafeteria for a satisfyingly greasy $2 bacon-and-egg sandwich (ideally paired with a $4 Starbucks Frappucino). The Hyde Park institution has provided superior hangover food with Soup Nazi flair to generations of bleary-eyed undergrads. Mark the mural of Hull Gate, but avoid the plastic-like Kraft singles. Instead, follow the smell of saganaki to Salonica at East 57th Street and South Blackstone Avenue. In the quiet, comfortable booths at this Greek diner, savor some French toast and black coffee as you take a break and realize that you're only on breakfast.

Begin the lunch amble down East 57th Street with a mozzarella sub from the half-hidden deli counter at the back of University Market. Wrongly considered the last-ditch solution when Bart Mart fails, U-Mart showcases its access to quality through the subs' fresh mozzarella slabs, crusty baguette slices, and rich balsamic vinaigrette. Grab a specialty cola you've never heard of from the nearby cooler for the perfect accompaniment to a mini-picnic on the quad. Chicago bylaws mandate a pizza pit stop; do so at Edwardo's next door, and take advantage of the U of C student discount. Go against the grain, though, and pass on the deep dish in favor of its slender thin-crust counterpart topped with a savory blend of pesto and onions. Weaker U of C students might call it a day, but you can handle more, albeit groaningly. You can handle Harold's Chicken Shack. Order half a juicy chicken doused in sopping barbecue sauce with fries and white bread, pick up some PBR from Kimbark Liquors next door, and scarf down poultry legendary enough to merit the "Bizcuse Me?" Facebook groups.

As dinner hour approaches, waddle your way to Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop in Harper Court. If you're lucky, you might even encounter Senator Barack Obama—it's rumored to be one of his favorite restaurants. Get in some seafood by chomping down on a Louisiana-style shrimp po'boy. Tons of shrimp, a hearty side of Johnnycakes, and a peach iced tea (or a Cajun martini, if you're brave enough) will have you raging like James Carville and heavin' like Gustav. The levees of your stomach lining must hold firm for Thai food, one of Hyde Park's universally acknowledged specialties. Debate swirls around the best of the "Thai Row" restaurants on East 55th Street, but we find the filling portion of Pad Se-eu at Noodles, Etc. on East 57th Street to be cheap and consistently good. Given that you probably require an emergency SafeRide at this point, we'll make it easy. Just trudge your way over to the Medici for a round of onion rings and a Mexicana milkshake. Munch your crisply fried rings and sip the sweet taste of Mexican chocolate alongside your victory over Hyde Park cuisine. Tomorrow, you'll take on the rest of Chicago.