Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
Mike Gebert
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1. Salam Restaurant 4636 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Albany Park)

The most reliable spot on a strip of Middle Eastern restaurants, Salam does a steady business in tender chicken taouk, smoky house-made baba ghanoush, shawarma, falafel, and other standards -- accompanied by service that might best be described as slouchy but friendly.

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2. Sunshine Cafe 5449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 (Andersonville)

A homey, '60s-era Japanese cafe run by an older lady and her middle-aged son, Sunshine Cafe does simple, beautifully made Japanese comfort food like char-grilled mackerel or udon soup.

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3. Birrieria Zaragoza 4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60632 (South Chicago)

This cozy South Side counter-serve is owned by a friendly family that's bringing Chicago a beloved regional specialty from Jalisco, Mexico: spicy, braised goat, or "birria." The grass-fed, locally sourced goat is the one and only meat you'll find in this unfussy, orange-accented space, where it's served in tacos, quesadillas, and by-the-pound. The move is to order a large plate of birria, swimming in a tomato-based consomme and served with freshly made tortillas and hot fire-roasted salsa on the side.

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4. Pleasant House Pub 2119 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

Pilsen’s Pleasant House Pub serves up pints and pies in an English pub setting. The menu is divided into pub snacks, pub plates, sides, salads, and flaky, savory “Royal” pies, which you can “crown” with mashed potatoes and gravy. Choose to eat this decidedly British fare in either the indoor or outdoor area, and if you have any room left, jump on the sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Stocked with a full bar of cocktails and craft beers, Pleasant House Pub will have you gabbing in your foolish English accent after one too many.

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5. Sweet Station 2101 S China Pl, Chicago, IL 60616 (Chinatown)

Sweet Station combines contemporary and traditional Chinese cooking practices for the perfect modern Hong Kong style Chinese. They've got you covered for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks.

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6. Cookies & Carnitas 5759 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60660 (Edgewater)

Cookies & Carnitas serve exactly what you think they would... plus sandwiches, pizza, tacos, salads, and the Dirk Diggler: an obscenely long, specially made kosher dog served with Mexican-style relish.

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7. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria 439 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610

With more than 40 locations across the greater Chicago area, Lou Malnati's is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, not least because of its signature buttery and pie-like crust, exclusive sausage blend, and mozzarella that's been sourced from the same Wisconsin dairy farm for more than 40 years. According to pizza lore, Lou's dad probably invented deep-dish pizza and even if he didn't, the chain's reliable pan pies are pretty close to what the original deep-dish tasted like.

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8. Grandma Js Local Kitchen 1552 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60651 (Humboldt Park)

This funky brunch spot has an appropriately vintage feel, eclectic antiques, a ceiling tiled with old tablecloths, and some damn good food: shrimp and grits, monte cristo, and chicken and waffle fritters. Oh, did we mention you can BYOB? Lunch is also served.

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9. D'Candela 4053 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Irving Park)

There’s a long menu here, and some of the seafood items are quite good, but look around the room and you’ll see what draws everyone to this Peruvian restaurant -- crisp, juicy rotisserie chicken, served with spicy green aji for dipping.

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10. Smak-Tak 5961 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60646 (Jefferson Park)

At Smak Tak, a Polish kitchen in Jefferson Park, you get the feeling you’re in a cabin basement in the Polski hinterlands. In a good way. With only five tables and all wood plank everything, this restaurant excels in specialties like potato pancakes, pierogis, and breaded and broiled meats. Let’s be real, you’ll take full advantage of Smak Tak’s BYOB policy because, well, it’s pretty dark in there, and what else is there to do in your middle-of-nowhere village anyway?

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11. BIG & little's 1034 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Lakeview’s B&L is a cash-only, counter-serve American eatery that offers some of the best-bang-for-your-buck food. Its soft-shelled crab po’boy is unbelievably tender and covered in a crunchy batter. It’s served with a bed of lettuce, pickles, fried soft shelled crab, a squeeze of lime, and delicious chili aioli "special sauce.” Other notable menu items are the cajun fries (crispy with a pillow-y soft inside) and tacos (al pastor and Samurai fish). Service is fast, and you may even get a glimpse of co-owners “Big” and “Little” in the kitchen.

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12. Del Seoul 2568 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Inspired by the Korean taco craze that's become a food truck staple across the land, DS is bringing that street ethos to a takeout-focused brick 'n mortar joint covered in food cart-esque sheet metal and three flat-screens touting the menu, so finally TVs'll actually help you stuff your face in front of them.

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13. Aroy Thai 4656 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Logan Square)

Lincoln Square is Thai food central and this veteran restaurant remains one of the best examples. The best cold remedy in town is a bowl of their pungently hot and sour beef ball (no, not that kind) and tendon (yes, that kind) soup.

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14. 90 Miles Cuban Cafe 2540 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

There're plenty of reasons to love this easygoing Cuban cafe (with a sibling in Roscoe Village). You'll find tasty Cubano sandwiches and ropa vieja, hearty chicken and skirt steak, and really good seafood soups here. It's also BYO, and if you bring your own rum, you can get a pitcher of mojitos.

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15. BenjYehuda 10 S LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60602 (Loop)

Serving up killer falafel and chicken shawarma sandwiches with a crazy-wide array of add-ons like onions, hummus, Mediterranean pickles, and more, Benjyehuda delivers on its promise of bringing you "urban street food".

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16. The Butcher & Larder 1026 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (West Town)

From the man who used to run the meat-centric kitchen at Mado, B&L is a boutique whole-animal butcher procuring all of its product -- from T-bones & tenderloins to obscure cuts & offal -- from local farms, also using them in soups, charcuterie, and more.

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17. Cho Sun Ok 4200 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (North Center)

This North Center restaurant is a quality spot to chow down on tasty Korean BBQ made grill-top style. Pro tip: try the short ribs, beef dumplings, or kimchi fried rice. Service is quick and prices are more than reasonable. Oh, and they're BYOB, so don't forget your favorite booze!

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18. Del Toro 2133 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

Popular wisdom holds "liquor before beer and you're in the clear", but nobody's ever said "liquor before al pastor and you'll want some more"... until now thanks to Del Toro. From the family behind Pilsen staple F&R Liquors, DT's a laid-back adjacent tequila bar & grubbery with a mahogany hue, a U-shaped granite bar, and local abstract paintings, all punctuated by the sounds of Latin jazz and bossa nova, which is also how Brazilians describe their favorite PBS programming.

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19. Dough Bros 400 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

A celebrated, high-end chef tackles everyday street food and shows how it’s done. Check out Chef Roland Liccioni’s Dough Bros, which does an awesome New York-style slice even during late-night drinking hours in this area.

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20. Khan BBQ 2401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 (West Rogers Park)

Khan BBQ in West Rogers Park excels in sizzling Indian and Pakistani barbecued goods, particularly of the poultry variety. Dishes here, like chicken boti and tandoori fish are exceptional for their smoky flavor, the steamy evidence of which floats up to Khan’s tricked out chandelier that protrudes from the neon blue and green ceiling. To be frank, Khan’s is not a destination for atmosphere; staff scurry hurriedly and the experience is often frenetic. The good news is you’ll have too much naan, goat, rice, and chicken stuffed inside you to care.

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21. Fatso's Last Stand 2258 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Ukrainian Village)

This no frills, Ukrainian Village eatery pretty much has the perfect name, with a menu chock-full of items like fresh-cut fries, char dogs, and burgers. One of the staples here is the Double Fatso with cheese -- two perfectly grilled beef patties flanked by slices of American cheese, onion, and secret sauce -- a burger that can give In-N-Out a run for its money.

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22. Al's Italian Beef 1079 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL 60607

University Village’s Al’s Italian Beef is a strong believer in letting you choose how juicy you want it to be, it being their famous original Italian Beef sandwich, of course. The beef, which is thinly sliced and dry-roasted in a secret recipe blend of pure spices and natural juices, undergoes a hot-and-sweet-pepper-gravy transformation at increments ranging from “dry” and “dipped” to “regular” and “wet.” The counter-serve restaurant also offers fresh cut fries, char-grilled burgers, tamales, and chili. Sit down indoors or outdoors, or take out; Al’s isn’t picky.

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23. Nha Hang 1104 W Argyle St, Chicago, IL 60640 (Uptown)

You almost can’t go wrong looking for Vietnamese food on Argyle St -- almost -- but one of the best is this friendly (if nearly English-free) spot with good pho and plenty of other good dishes, like goi ga (chicken salad) and deep-fried crab.

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24. Publican Quality Meats 825 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Publican Quality Meats is something of a triple threat: equal parts butcher shop, café, and speciality grocery store, it features an awe-inspiring selection of sausages and cured charcuterie meats, served individually from the butcher case or in sandwiches made with house-baked bread. The lunch menu is often changing, but the Parm #2 features a beautifully crisp chicken cutlet nestled into a brioche bun, while the sausage plate lets you sample three of the house-made specialities with sauerkraut and breadcrumbs. A breakfast menu includes ham and egg biscuit sandwiches and a pork belly breakfast burrito, though if you're in the mood for something less savory, there are pastries and coffee, too.

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25. En Hakkore 1840 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Bucktown)

En Hakkore puts forward budget-friendly Korean cuisine with a twist: think tacos, paninis, and sushi. Their eclectic decor features communal tables, chandeliers made from repurposed materials, and antique books on the walls.