Food & Drink

It's Time You Discover Chicago's Best Hidden-Gem Restaurants

Published On 05/06/2016 Published On 05/06/2016
Mike Gerbert/Thrillist

Uncle Remus

Humboldt Park

Authentic local flavor shares a roof with the world’s largest multinational big-box retailer at the Walmart outpost of Uncle Remus, located some three-and-a-half miles north of the fried-chicken favorite’s original South Austin location. There are no jarring juxtapositions on the plate, though, just well-proportioned breading, spicy-peppery seasoning, and buckets of the unique-to-Chicago “mild sauce” (from what we gather, a blend of barbecue sauce, ketchup, and hot sauce). As always, paired with a side of rancorous Remus vs. Harold’s debate.

Podhalanka

West Town

Flanked by evilOlive to the west and Chopin Theatre to the east, this homey Polish mainstay is the overlooked middle child of a busy West Town stretch of Division St. The ever-humble exterior and sun-faded sign do the bare minimum to greet you, but once inside, the decades-stewed aroma of cabbage, beef, and potatoes gives you a proper "hello." The defiantly traditional fare: borscht with kielbasa, garlic-and-beef stuffed cabbage, and crispy potato pancakes with liberal dollops of sour cream and applesauce.

Isla Pilipina

Isla Pilipina

Lincoln Square

A caveat: tucked inside a small corner plaza, Isla Pilipina only qualifies as a deceiving-appearances triumph if one subscribes to the blinkered notion that great restaurants are not found in strip malls. It’s a prejudice that needs to die -- which is pretty much what would happen to all of LA if Angelenos ate that way. So head here for arguably the most satisfying Filipino cuisine in Chicago (chicken and pork adobo, capped with halo-halo dessert is a favorite option); and take this recommendation as a fight against the bias.

Galdones Photography

EL Ideas

Douglas Park

In the case of EL Ideas, the aggressively modest facade -- an unmarked building at a literal dead end -- seems more a conceptual choice a la secret supper club than it does a “screw it, just focus on the food” allocation of resources. But the incongruity is so stark in comparison to Chef Phillip Foss’ upscale-on-the-inside post-Moto whimsy, we couldn’t resist. Signatures like mandatory plate-licking (for one course, at least) and liquid-nitrogen ice cream and fries are already attracting big crowds to the small space. So make reservations now for a table perhaps sometime in the second Hillary Clinton administration.

Huaraches Doña Chio

Edgewater

Slip down a quaint block of Elmdale Ave, just east of Clark St; find the ground-level tenant of a nondescript apartment building; step beyond the generic vertical blinds; and grab a seat at one of the padded banquet chairs. From there, so much utilitarianism goes flying out the window, because Huaraches Doña Chio is one of a miniscule few local eateries that hand-crafts corn tortillas in house with fresh masa. When having your huarache topped with poblano peppers or spicy chicken, the added time and attention to detail in the kitchen is palpable.

Flickr/Southernfoodwaysalliance

Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots

Marquette Park

Chicago suffers no shortage of hot dog shacks, but it’s rarer than a healthy Derrick Rose to spot one that’s an actual shack. This humble stand, built into a residential backyard near Marquette Park, actually boasts a local-legend reputation for the Mother-in-Law, which slaps propriety in the face by slapping a tamale with chili on a hot-dog bun. Other Frankenstein delights include the Super Sundae (tamale and chili in a bowl) and the Mighty Dog (essentially the Mother-in-Law with a tamale and hot dog sharing a bun).

Titus Ruscitti

Mini Hut

Garfield Ridge

So inconspicuous that its advertised address actually lands you at the chiropractor around the corner, Mini Hut kindly reminds patrons to enter at the side door, on Normandy Ave. When you do find it, the frill-less décor -- a tiny weather-beaten canopy outside, stark walls and low ceilings inside -- proves to be the ultimate Chicago restaurant bluff. The chicken is slap-your-grandma good, extendedly marinated, slow-fried for 20 minutes, with a famously rich, buttery breading.

Harvest Room

Harvest Room

Palos Heights

Another diamond in a strip-mall, this relative newcomer belies a second common Chicago food fear: don’t bother with the ‘burbs. Chef Jonathan Harootunian hits the sweet spot with acclaimed takes on the familiar (burgers, Scotch egg) and fresh (steak with patatas bravas). Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with local, farm-to-table, seasonal, vegetarian- and gluten-free-friendly on offer.

MR D’S SHISH-KABOBS

Mr D's Shish-Kabobs

Montclare

Mr D’s Shish Kabobs is a model of spartan functionalism: plain white stucco exterior; blank white walls, counters, and tabletops; a tiny, old-school changeable-letter menu that probably hasn’t changed since mammoths walked the region. Everything at this modest Montclare staple exists to support the true star, the steak sandwich. The sandwich itself is actually pretty simple, too -- a moist rib eye, served with tomato and onion on a French roll -- but it’s still one of the most crave-inducing in the land.

Da Rae Jung

Ravenswood

A few descriptors tend to repeat across reviews for this Korean joint: cramped, dingy, all the panache of a conversation about weather (OK, we made up that last one). But Da Rae Jung’s shruggingly presentational style really couldn’t be more at odds with the lively noodle dishes, the spicy goat soap, the juicy grilled marinated beef, the sharp homemade kimchi, the... well, you get the idea.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken - Walmart 4650 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60639 (Humboldt Park)

Authentic local flavor shares a roof with the world’s largest multinational big-box retailer at the Walmart outpost of Uncle Remus, located some three-and-a-half miles north of the fried-chicken favorite’s original South Austin location. This no frills fried chicken joint boasts a variety of (white, dark, mixed, gizzard) that are expertly seasoned and prepared daily. Equally important than the bird are all the Southern sides: fried okra, mashed potatoes, jalapeño poppers, etc.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Podhalanka 1549 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642 (West Town)

The overlooked middle child of a busy West Town stretch of Division St., this cozy, Polish mainstay offers authentic home-cooking and plenty of comfort food. Inside a decades-stewed aroma of cabbage, beef, and potatoes gives you a proper "hello." The defiantly traditional fare: borscht with kielbasa, garlic-and-beef stuffed cabbage, and crispy potato pancakes with liberal dollops of sour cream and applesauce.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. Isla Pilipina 2501 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Lincoln Square)

Isla Pilipina is the closest that any spot comes to being known outside of the Filipino community, and deservedly so for its brightly flavored comfort food and energetic second-generation staff. Pancit noodles, adobo chicken, lumpia (Pinoy eggrolls), lechon kawali (fried pork), and the inevitable garlic rice offer you a feast for a reasonable price.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. EL Ideas 2419 W 14th St, Chicago, IL 60618

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Douglas Park, even if you’ve lived in Chicago your whole life. EL Ideas is your excuse to scope out the Pilsen-adjacent neighborhood and to experience a different kind of Michelin-starred dining. EL's mission is to redefine fine dining, and that's obvious from its setting in an unmarked building down an alleyway. The tasting menu-only, 24-seat restaurant opens into the kitchen, encouraging guests to converse with the chefs as they prepare inventive, modern American dishes like French fries and ice cream -- a composed, liquid nitrogen-kissed dish of potato, leek, and vanilla -- and wagyu-beet pierogi with dill and sour cream.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Huaraches Doña Chio 1547 W Elmdale Ave, Chicago, IL 60660 (Edgewater)

Situated on the quaint Elmdale Ave (just east of Clark St) in an nondescript apartment building is Dona Chio Huaraches, a minuscule local eatery that hand-crafts corn tortillas in house with fresh masa. When having your huarache topped with poblano peppers or spicy chicken, the added time and attention to detail in the kitchen is palpable.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Fat Johnnie's 7242 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60629 (Marquette Park)

Fat Johnnie's in Marquette Park is a walk-up food stand looks like it's about to collapse, but it's got a loyal following for its David Berg kosher-style hotdogs. It's one of the few places you can still find the legendary Chicago sandwich Mother-in-Law, which is basically a Chicago-style dog with a chili and cheese-topped tamale in a bun instead of a hot dog, along with the traditional fixings, including cucumbers. With the success of his neighborhood staple for over 40 years, Johnnie isn't changing anything about his red hots anytime soon.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. 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.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Harvest Room 7164 W 127th St, Palos Heights, IL 60463

This quaint, Palos Height restaurant is headed by Chef Jonathan Harootunian, who hits the sweet spot with acclaimed takes on the familiar (burgers, Scotch egg) and fresh (steak with patatas bravas). Harvest Room is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with local, farm-to-table, seasonal, vegetarian- and gluten-free-friendly on offer.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Mr. D's Shish-Kabobs 6656 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60707

You really can't go wrong with anything on the menu at Chicago's most well-known, under-the-radar spot in Montclare. Everything at this modest Montclare staple exists to support the true star, the steak sandwich. The sandwich itself is actually pretty simple, too -- a moist rib eye, served with tomato and onion on a French roll -- but it’s still one of the most crave-inducing in the land.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Da Rae Jung 5220 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Ravenswood)

Although this unfussy, strip mall Korean joint is cramped and dingy, Da Rae Jung’s shruggingly presentational style really couldn’t be more at odds with its menu. Highlights include lively noodle dishes, spicy goat soap, juicy grilled marinated beef, and sharp homemade kimchi.

Clickbait

close

Learn More