Health-focused options shift Evanston’s food scene

The past few years have brought quite a bit of change to Evanston, so it’s no surprise that its restaurants are undergoing a drastic transformation as well. More and more chain restaurants have begun shutting down—and in their place, modern, healthy food has begun to take over.

“It does feel like more stores are closing down,” junior Daniel Jung said. “There was a Five Guys downtown a while ago [which has since shut down], and it does feel like unhealthy food is going away.” 

Restaurants such as Sweetgreen and Blended, which offer salad bowls and smoothies, have gained remarkable popularity in the last few months. Both are praised for their accessible and environmentally conscious menus, and Blended in particular has garnered attention for its inclusive allergy accommodations. But the shift could also prompt some to shy away from the evolving downtown area, especially because these new healthy-centered restaurants are consistently much more expensive.

“For at least a little bit, the population of people eating downtown will definitely decrease,” Jung said. “There are learning curves to every change. But at some point, people are going to come back [downtown] anyway.”

Some, however, have seen no change at all. Carly Seef, an ETHS senior and staff member at Blended, said that high schoolers are among the most common age groups she sees buying smoothies. 

“[I also see] college students, [especially] when Northwestern is in school,” she added. “A lot of families come in [as well]. I think it’s going to get busier.”

For junior Becca Sanderson, it has been easier to find vegetarian and vegan options now that Evanston has made the health shift. 

“I was [vegetarian] for a while, and I remember it being hard to find stuff. Now I go to restaurants with a lot of friends who are vegan, and it seems like there are more options for them.”

Both Jung and Sanderson believe these changes would bring more flow to Evanston’s downtown area. 

“Any new restaurants coming here, in general, will help make downtown Evanston more lively. I think that with Panera shut down, Barnes and Noble gone, and a lot of stuff closed, anything coming to downtown Evanston will help open it up a little more,” Sanderson said.

Now that the pandemic is over, these newer restaurants are trying to reach the same levels of publicity that restaurants downtown used to have—especially since many students, like Sanderson, haven’t been going downtown as much as they did before COVID. 

“After the pandemic, there haven’t been a lot of [restaurants] opening in downtown Evanston, so I haven’t been going down there a lot,” Sanderson said.

Hopefully, the shift towards accessible, healthy food will prompt renewed interest in the downtown scene. And for those uninterested in a salad bowl or a smoothie, there are still some pretty good options. Jung recommends 10Q, a fried chicken and sandwich place. As for Sanderson? 

“Taco Diablo,” she said. “That’s one of my favorites.”