Food & Drink

Chicago's ultimate South Side eating guide

Published On 02/10/2014 Published On 02/10/2014

If you’re one of those people who view anything South of the Stevenson Expressway as "nope!", we're probably not gonna change your mind when it comes to visiting the South Side. Not even if we got two veteran South Side food writers -- like, say, Mike Gebert of Sky Full of Bacon and Titus Ruscitti of Chi BBQ King -- to handpick the absolute best South Side Chicago eats. That said... we did it anyway, because, well, you're not the boss of us. Here's your ultimate South Side eating guide, Chicago.

Titus Ruscitti

Mini Hut (click here for address and deets)
Garfield Ridge, Ashburn
“This little grease shack off Archer out by Midway was a popular stop long before fried chicken became fashionable. The star of the show is the chicken boat, which comes with their famous butter-crust fried chicken, a boatload of crinkle cut fries, and a roll. Locals love it so much they've ventured out to a second location and have plans to franchise more.” -Titus

Pizza Castle (click here for address and deets)
Gage Park
“Everybody always brings up Vito & Nick’s for old-school, South Side, thin-crust pizza, so I’m throwing in this one instead; straight East of Midway and an excellent first stop back in town. They make everything from the dough to their sausage in-house (and by 'house' I mean 'strip mall'), baking it to a crispy crust in a Faulds oven -- the official badass oven of old-time Chicago pizza joints.” -Mike

Mike Gebert

Lem’s BBQ (click here for address and deets)
Greater Grand Crossing
“Lem’s is the oldest barbecue joint in town, circa 1946, and still presided over by James Lemons, last survivor of Three Barbecuing Brothers. It packs them in every night for ribs, rib tips and chicken wings. Quality can vary depending on who’s working the pit, but when the ribs and tips are good, they’re ‘thank you Jesus’ good.” -Mike

Titus Ruscitti

Pop's Italian Beef (click here for address and deets)
Mount Greenwood, Multiple Locations
“Ask [any] South Sider their favorite Italian beef spot, and Pop's will be mentioned more than anywhere else. They've been serving up their thinly-sliced, well-spiced beef and signature hot peppers to a few generations of families. Great gravy breads, too.” -Titus

Mike Gebert

Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles (click here for address and deets)
Grand Boulevard, Multiple Locations
“I love the old church-supper combination of chicken and waffles; hearty enough to be fortifying late-night food, yet dignified. It’s caught on around town, but you have to go to a soul food Sunday breakfast place like this to get the full fashion show effect of South Siders eating while duded up for church in all the colors of the rainbow. It's like a Cosby sweater explosion.” -Mike

Peter Engler

Calabria Imports (click here for address and deets)
“Formerly of Blue Island but now in Beverly, this is the second home of the Freddy Sandwich. Not nearly as well-known as its cousin, the Italian Beef, the Freddy is an Italian sausage patty on a French roll with marinara, sautéed green peppers, and melted mozzarella cheese. Folks also shop here for Italian groceries and deli meats and cheeses.” -Titus

Mike Gebert

Calumet Fisheries (click here for address and deets)
East Side
“If you’ve seen The Blues Brothers, you’ve seen this shrimp shack that’s also one of the last surviving slices of steel-mill Chicago. Fried shrimp and smelts are good, but the smoked chubs from the on-site smokehouse are fantastic. Buy a bag, eat off the hood of your car while watching the barges go by, and enjoy food like a blue collar man for once.” – Mike

Titus Ruscitti

Jimmy Jamm's Sweet Potato Pies (click here for address and deets)
“Namesake Jimmy Ferguson has been making sweet potato pies almost since she was a baby. Taught by her daddy, she and her husband (along with their nephew) decided to open a pie shop with the recipe in her Grandfather's honor. But that's not all they do here. The menu features everything from baked-and-loaded sweet potatoes, to dessert favorites like cobbler and bread pudding. Everything on [the menu] has some sweet potato in the ingredients.” -Titus

Mike Gebert

Al-Bawadi (click here for address and deets)
Bridgeview, IL
“The best Middle Eastern food in the city isn’t even in the city, it’s just over the border in Southwest suburban Bridgeview, where at least three Palestinian restaurants grill kebabs over burning charcoal in specially-built grills like they have in Jerusalem. Hit this place for fantastic grilled chicken and lamb, then swing by Village Pita & Bakery next door and stock up on great, cheap potato and spinach pies.” -Mike

Mike Gebert

Zacataco’s (click here for address and deets)
West Lawn, Multiple Locations
“You can’t smell the stockyards on the South Side any more, thank God, but you can smell steak sizzling a half-mile away at any location of this South Side taco chain. The menu is short, but everything they do, they do damn near perfectly: juicy greasy steak, tart al pastor, and crispy tacos stuffed with mashed potatoes. [It's] as insanely comfy as a TV dinner.” -Mike

Garifuna Flava (click here for address and deets)
Chicago Lawn
“The South Side spot has countless Caribbean eating options, but most of them tend to be Jamaican. Garifuna Flava is named after the food of the Garifuna people who are direct descendants of Carib, Arawak, and West African people who settled in Central America. Sample one of the world’s rarer cuisines -- the soups are where they really shine -- while enjoying a drink at the bar.” -Titus

Titus Ruscitti

Dons Drive Inn (click here for address and deets)
“Back in the '70s, if you were driving down Kedzie and saw a hot dog standing on a small building torturing himself by spraying ketchup all over his body, you learned that building was Dons Drive Inn! This prototypical Chicago-style hot dog stand is a favorite of workers at the Nabisco Factory down the block. One of their menu favorites is the Fire Polish: a deep-fried Vienna Beef Polish sausage dressed like their popular hot dogs. The sliced cucumber on top makes for a nice palate cleanser.” -Titus

Mike Gebert

Birriera Zaragoza (click here for address and deets)
Archer Heights
“The nicest Mexican family in town makes some of the best soul-filling food in the city: spicy yet comfy birria -- aka slow-roasted goat stew -- which you pile onto tender, house-made tortillas hot off the grill and spice to center-of-a-volcano levels with house-made salsa or straight-up crumpled chiles.” -Mike

Sean Cooley is Thrillist's Chicago Editor, and wishes Pizza Hut would keep giving him free pizza for reading as an adult. Follow him @SeanCooley.

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1. 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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2. Zacatacos 3949 W 71st St, Chicago, IL 60629 (South Chicago)

This West Lawn spot has authentic Mexican grub, with an old-school vibe.

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3. Chicago's Home Of Chicken & Waffles 3947 S King Dr, Chicago, IL 60653 (South Chicago)

The South Side locale of this Chicago hotspot is doling out just-as-delicious Southern breakfast foods at all hours -- head here on a drive home and get the mac and cheese.

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4. Lem's BBQ House 311 E 75th St, Chicago, IL 60619 (South Chicago)

Lem's has racked up throngs of fans since it opened in 1954 thanks to its juicy BBQ ribs, which are served out of a retro roadside stand complete with a tall, neon-lit sign. This South Side institution still tops its meats -- from hot links and rib tips to chicken and shrimp -- with the original spicy BBQ sauce that late owner Myles Lemons created back in the 1940s. Prepare for large portions at small prices, and to take your order with you -- this tiny counter doesn't have seating.

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5. Pizza Castle 3256 W 55th St, Chicago, IL 60632 (South Chicago)

This South Side 'za joint's got it all -- from thin crust to house-made sausage toppings, one can't go wrong at all.

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6. Al-Bawadi 7216 W 87th St, Bridgeview, IL 60455 (South Chicago)

This Middle Eastern spot's got insanely rich and deliciously homemade hummus, countless other dips, and juicy shawarma.

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7. Don's Drive Inn Restaurant 7748 S Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60652 (South Chicago)

What's better than a fast food burger and hot dot joint on the side of the road in the middle of the Summer in South Side Chicago? Nothing?? That's what we thought, too.

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8. Garifuna Flava 2516 W 63rd St, Chicago, IL 60629 (South Chicago)

This "taste of Belize" joint is exactly that. With delicious things like conch fritters, jerk chicken soups, and authentic desserts (pound cake!!), nothing bad can happen here.

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9. Pop's Italian Beef & Sausage 10337 S Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60655 (South Chicago)

This roadside Italian hub is doling out some out-of-this-world sandwiches, fries, and shakes.

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10. Calabria Imports 1905 W 103rd St, Chicago, IL 60643 (South Chicago)

This Italian deli/restaurant/sandwich shop has got it goin' ON. Seriously. Get any assortment of meats on their fresh bread, take home some made-right-there lasagna, and rejoice.

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11. Jimmy Jamm's Sweet Potato Pies 1844 W 95th St, Chicago, IL 60643 (South Chicago)

You like ice cream, right? You like baked goods, right? RIGHT?? Good thing -- you're in luck. This bakery/frozen yogurt spot is delicious, with an innovative concoction like sweet potato ice cream bringing ALL the people to the yard.

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12. Mini Hut 6659 W Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60638

Hidden on a one-way side street past Midway in a location that would make a pool hall feel classy, this is the Southwest side’s antidote to everything trendy about fried chicken: just perfect bird, extendedly marinated and slow-fried for 20 minutes, with a famously rich, buttery breading. The frill-less décor -- a tiny weather-beaten canopy outside, stark walls and low ceilings inside -- proves to be the ultimate Chicago restaurant bluff.

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13. Calumet Fisheries 3259 E 95th St, Chicago, IL 60617 (Calumet Heights)

It's no wonder Calumet Fisheries, on the far south side of Chicago, was featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Open since the 1940s, the family-owned seafood shack is one of the only smokehouses left in Chicago that smokes fish naturally over a wood fire. It offers an endless variety of smoked fish -- from salmon, sturgeon, and white fish to trout, catfish, and shrimp. Not to mention, its fried stuff is pretty good too.



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