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Eat List Ken Kee Restaurant
Photograph: DLM Photography Design

The 39 best restaurants in Chicago you have to try

There's no shortage of fantastic food in this city, but these Chicago restaurants make our short list of top eats

By Morgan Olsen and Zach Long
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July 2021: Chicago fully reopened last month and majority of restaurants throughout the city have reopened to guests at full capacity, just in time for the arrival of summer festival season. This month, we've added some new and old favorites to the EAT List, including Joe Flamm's popular Rose Mary in Fulton Market, HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen in Pilsen and the revamped Giant in Logan Square. We're also including some summertime standbys like Costa Rican fare from Irazú and cheesy pan pizzas from Pequod's (yes, pizza is appropriate during all seasons in Chicago). Take a look at what's new or rediscover an old favorite when you order from the best restaurants in Chicago this month.

The best restaurants in Chicago come in all shapes and sizes, from pizza joints and Michelin-starred heavyweights to some of the best cheap eats Chicago has to offer. The cuisines are just as varied, with every corner of the globe represented through Korean, Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean and Indian fare. Whether you're a lifelong resident or simply visiting for the weekend, stuffing your face at one of these restaurants is easily among the best things to do in Chicago. This belt-busting food scene shows no signs of slowing down, so we cut to the chase and ranked our essentials—the absolute best restaurants in Chicago. We call it the Time Out EAT List.

Our editors scour the city for great dishes, excellent value and insider info. They pay their way and sometimes, like the rest of us, their delivery driver gets lost. The EAT List is a unique, authentic snapshot of Chicago's ever-evolving dining experience right now: We update it constantly with the best new restaurants in Chicago as well as decades-old stalwarts that keep us coming back for more. It could be a mega-hyped destination restaurant or a remarkable food truck: If it’s on the list, we think it’s terrific, and we bet you will too.

If you've tried something you love on this list, share it under the hashtag #TimeOutEatList to show your appreciation. Plus, find out more about how we eat through Chicago to make the list.

The best of the city under one roof

Time Out Market Chicago
Photograph: Gosia Matuszewska

Time Out Market Chicago

Restaurants West Loop

We've rounded up the best chefs in the city to join us at Time Out Market Chicago, a culinary and cultural destination in the heart of Fulton Market. The 50,000-square-foot space houses 18 kitchens, three bars and one drop-dead gorgeous rooftop terrace—all spread across three floors. Our mission is simple: Bring the pages of Time Out Chicago to life with the help of our favorite chefs, the ones who wow us again and again. You'll find delicious barbecue from chef D’Andre Carter at Soul & Smoke, Mini Mott's delicious burgers, fried chicken from Cleo's Southern Cuisine, creative ice cream from Shawn Michelle's and much, much more.

Best restaurants in Chicago

galit, sandy noto, hummus, food, restaurant
Photograph: Sandy Noto

1. Galit

Restaurants Israeli Sheffield & DePaul

What is it? New Orleans chef Zachary Engel's (Shaya) raved-about entry to Chicago's dining scene: a Middle Eastern eatery in the heart of Lincoln Park

Why we love it: When we heard that Engel was packing up his bags and moving to Chicago, the anticipation was palpable. And so far, the James Beard Award winner hasn't let us down. Whether you're dining in or ordering takeout, the kitchen orchestrates a parade of hummus, fire-roasted veggies and proteins, balloon-shaped pita and addictive sides. Better yet? A selection of the restaurant's next-level wine list is available to go, with excellent bottles from Israel, Palestine and beyond.

Superdawg1.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Erica Gannett

2. Superdawg Drive-In

Restaurants Hot dogs Norwood Park

What is it? An old-fashioned drive-in where uniformed servers ferry hot dogs, fries and malts straight to your car window.

Why we love it: Besides the nostalgia factor? Nearly everything on the menu (including the delicious namesake all-beef frank loaded with Chicago-style toppings) comes nestled amid crispy crinkle-cut "Superfries" in a colorful, cartoon-covered box. If you're not craving a hot dog, you'll also find double-decker "Whooperburgers" and creamy "Supershakes."

Time Out tip: Don't have a car? You can walk up and place an order at the window or get Superdawg delivered.

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tzuco
Photograph: Neil Burger

3. Tzuco

Restaurants River North

What is it? Chef Carlos Gaytán's splashy Chicago comeback: a breathtakingly beautiful River North restaurant that pays homage to his hometown of Huitzuco, Mexico.

Why we love it: Though it's a relative newcomer, Tzuco has already cemented its place among the city's best restaurants, thanks in no small part to Gaytán's French-inspired Mexican cooking. The French onion soup, for instance, is imbued with meaty poblano peppers, and the steak tartare is remixed with pickled jalapeños, cilantro, and guacamole.

Time Out tip: A heated, all-season patio makes it possible to dine outdoors no matter the forecast, but you must check out the otherworldly dining room, too.

VitoandNicks.pizzerias.jpg
Photograph: Martha Williams

4. Vito and Nick’s Pizzeria

Restaurants Pizza Ashburn

What is it? The king of thin-crust pizza done Chicago-style.

Why we love it: Serving pies since 1949 (although this location opened in ’65), Vito and Nick’s is a Chicago tradition. The cracker-thin, tavern-style crust is loaded up with rich red sauce, gooey mozzarella and fennel-flecked sausage chunks; test the limits with a few more toppings—we like mushroom, pepper, onion and black olives on ours. For the complete experience, stop by to sip an ice-cold Old Style in the dining room while catching a glimpse of the Bears or Sox game on TV.

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Taqueria Chingón al pastor taco
Photograph: Courtesy Taqueria Chingón

5. Taqueria Chingón

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

What is it? A tasty homage to the streetside eateries of Mexico City, Taqueria Chingón brings pozole, ceviche and tortilla-wrapped meats to Bucktown.

Why we love it: The tacos al pastor are a must, with tender bits of pork finding their match in creamy avocado salsa, sweet pineapple and flecks of cilantro. Vegetarians aren't left out of the fun: There's a veg-based version of the dish that subs in portobello mushrooms and celery root to create a spot-on rendition that's anything but boring. And if you're feeling extra hungry, the zesty octopus and shrimp ceviche is absolutely delicious.

J.P.GrazianoGrocery.Venue.jpg
Photo: Martha Williams

6. J.P. Graziano Grocery

Restaurants Italian West Loop

What is it? An iconic family-owned sandwich shop that deals in Italian stackers as big as your bicep that are layered with the best cold cuts in town.

Why we love it: None of the sandwiches will set you back more than $12, but the Italian is our favorite: a bunch of meats—hot capicola, Volpi Genoa salami, hard salami and mortadella—plus provolone, tomato, lettuce, red wine vinegar and oregano on a long roll from D'amato's Bakery.

Time Out tip: Toss in a bottle of giardiniera or muffuletta to recreate the magic at home.

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Ken Kee Restaurant
Photograph: DLM Photography Design

7. Ken Kee Restaurant

Restaurants Chinese Armour Square

What is it? The revival of a longrunning Chinatown favorite, overseen by Kenny Yang of Strings Ramen Shops.

Why we love it: With decor and neon accents inspired by he streets and markets of 1950s Hong Kong, Ken Kee is like two restaurants in one. Order crab rangoon, assorted congee and beef brisket caasarole from the all-day menu, or opt for the Noodle Cart offerings (served from a dedicated kitchen). You can customize your noodle bowl to your liking, picking the broth, the noodles and all of the delicious toppings from a long list of options.

Rose Mary
Photograph: Courtesy Rose Mary

8. Rose Mary

Restaurants Italian West Loop

What is it? The long-awaited Fulton Market restaurant helmed by Top Chef winner Joe Flamm, combining his passions for Italian and Croatian cooking.

Why we love it: Flamm describes the offerings at Rose Mary as "Adriatic drinking food," and we agree with this assessment. Dishes like Gnocchi with beef cheek, pork ribs and tuna crudo pair perfectly with the glasses of organic wine and cocktails that incorporate Eastern European spirits. It's possible to have a light dinner here, but you're better off arriving very hungry.

Time Out tip: Reservations are (understandably) hard to come by at the moment, but you might be able to snag an unclaimed table on the sidewalk patio if you show up early enough.

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virtue, catfish, erick williams
Photograph: Gary Adcock / Studio37

9. Virtue

Restaurants Soul and southern American Hyde Park

What is it? Chef Erick Williams's love letter to the Southern experience of cooking through passed-down recipes and reimagined expressions.

Why we love it: You can practically feel the soul oozing from the menu at this Hyde Park restaurant. It's because Williams cooks with his heart, whether he's plating fried green tomatoes with tender shrimp and creamy rémoulade or he's fixing his famous collards, which arrive studded with hunks of smoked turkey meat. Second only to the food is the ambiance, which is sexy without trying too hard—perfect for a cozy date night when indoor dining resumes.

Jeff & Judes reuben
Photograph: Courtesy Jeff & Judes

10. Jeff & Judes

Restaurants Jewish Ukrainian Village

What is it? A self-described "Jew-ish" deli named after Chef Ursula Siker’s parents and inspired by the kind of places where she ate growing up in Los Angeles.

Why we love it: Nearly everything on the menu is made in-house, including various breads, the corned beef and the lox. The generous portions mean that it's easy to fill up quickly, though it's difficult to resist ordering a stacked reuben, a cup of matzo ball soup and latkes. You can even snag beautiful loaves of challah and marble rye bread to take home.

Time Out tip: Get your order in well in advance of weekend brunch hours—Jeff & Judes is a popular spot for take out on Saturdays and Sundays.

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daisies
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

11. Daisies

Restaurants Logan Square

What is it? The noodle palace turned sandwich shop that Joe Frillman built in Logan Square.

Why we love it: There's something about tucking into a bowl of handmade pasta that feels like a big, warm hug. That's why we ring Daisies when we've had a long day. The menu is built around a roster of rotating pasta dishes that change with the season to highlight super-fresh ingredients like lentils, stinging nettle and green garlic. Each bite tastes a bit more special when you hear about Frillman Farms, which is owned and operated by Frillman's younger brother, Tim, and provides produce to the kitchen (as well as many other top eateries across the country).

Time Out tip: Stop by during the day to order a divine sandwich and shop the backroom market, which is stocked with fresh produce and elevated pantry treats.

Plates of food pov
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

12. HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen

Restaurants Vietnamese Lower West Side

What is it? Chef Thai and Danielle Dang's love letter to Vietnamese cooking, showcasing rich flavors and overlooked dishes.

Why we love it: No matter how familiar you may be with Vietnamese cuisine, there's a good chance that something on HaiSous's menu will surprise you. Stick to standards like crispy wings covered in caramelized fish sauce and peanut rice noodles, or branch out by trying an octopus salad or bamboo sauteed in chili sauce. If you prefer a guided dining experience, order one of the tasting menus served family-style.

Time Out tip: Looking for a more casual meal? You'll find a menu of wings and egg custard coffees being served next door at Cà Phê Dá.

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Shrimp and Grits
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

13. Luella’s Southern Kitchen

Restaurants Soul and southern American Lincoln Square

What is it? A living, breathing ode to chef-owner Darnell Reed's great grandmother and culinary inspiration, Luella Funches, who settled in Chicago in the '40s.

Why we love it: It's the ultimate taste of the south in Chicago, with exemplary takes on classic dishes. The burger is upgraded with pimento cheese and Nashville-hot bacon, while the collard greens are stuffed with bits of ham and roasted garlic. But Reed's chicken gumbo is a work of art in and of itself—the dark roux is scented with Creole seasoning and jam-packed with andouille sausage and Delta rice.

Time Out tip: Schedule a return visit to pick up goodies from Reed's newest venture, Baye's Little Bakery, which specializes in sweet treats like brown butter sticky buns and pecan pralines.

Giant
Photograph: Eugene Galdones

14. Giant

Restaurants American creative Logan Square

What is it? A teeny-tiny mammoth of a restaurant that nails simple, unpretentious Midwestern fare. 

Why we love it: Coming out of the pandemic, Chef Jason Vincent overhauled Giant's entire menu, allowing a few classics (like the delicious onion rings) to stick around. Get cozy in the tightly-packed 44-seat dining room and explore the varied offerings, including extremely solid pastas, a tri-tip steak, fried prawns and a microwaved chocolate cake that you probably couldn't replicate at home.

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Birrieria Zaragoza
Photograph: Brendan Lekan

15. Birrieria Zaragoza

Restaurants Mexican Archer Heights

What is it? A family-owned Mexican spot in Archer Heights that's the G.O.A.T. when it comes to goat meat.

Why we love it: Thick handmade tortillas, salsas made to order, bright-pink agua fresca—you can get all of that to go. Their only purpose, however, is to accompany the restaurant’s signature platters of chopped goat meat. Unlike other birrierias, this goat doesn’t touch a consommé until it’s plated, when some of the tomato-based broth is spooned over it. At that point, a good dousing of hot sauce, and maybe a squeeze of lime and some onions, is all you need for the city’s best tacos.

Photograph: Jason Little

16. avec

Restaurants Mediterranean West Loop

What is it? A Randolph Street stalwart that dishes out Midwestern-influenced Mediterranean fare with a killer wine list to match.

Why we love it: We have to believe that there are very few restaurants in the world that are as consistently special as avec. It's the kind of spot that makes us swell with pride for our dining scene, the kind of place we can't help but flock to even though there are plenty of newcomers to try. The chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates are as good as everyone says, and an order of the "deluxe" focaccia stuffed with taleggio and ricotta cheeses is an absolute must for the table.

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Lem's Bar B Q sign
Photograph: Courtesy Lem's Bar B Q

17. Lem’s Bar-B-Q

Restaurants Barbecue Greater Grand Crossing

What is it? A rite of passage for local and visiting chowhounds alike, Lem's is an institution-status barbecue house that deals in meaty things and fried chicken.

Why we love it: Chicago may not be known as a barbecue destination in its own right, but Lem's single-handedly puts the South Side on the map with its unique aquarium-style smoker, which weighs in at 64 square feet. Regulars love the rib tips and hot links—and luckily, the combo meal gets you a taste of both. It's takeout only at Lem's, so plan on dining in your car or taking this saucy feast home.

lawerence fish market
Photograph: Nick Murway

18. Lawrence Fish Market

Restaurants Seafood Albany Park

What is it? One of the city's best-kept secrets, Lawrence Fish Market is a cash-only, counter-service seafood purveyor that specializes in unbelievably cheap sushi.

Why we love it: You might walk right past this takeout-only spot in Albany Park if you don't catch the small neon sign in the window that reads "sushi" with a fish jumping out of the water. That'd be a mistake. Part fish market, part sushi shop, the unassuming storefront has a long list of classic and inventive rolls, sashimi and nigiri, but you're here for the party trays—even if you're only ordering for two. Tray B, for instance, is loaded up with three rolls and 24 pieces of assorted sushi, priced at a cool $31.50.

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ever, michael muser, curtis duffy, fine dining, food, west loop
Photograph: Michael Muser

19. Ever

Restaurants West Loop

What is it? Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser return to Chicago's dining scene with a fine-dining beacon that offers a prix-fixe menu with eight to 10 courses.

Why we love it: Getting a reservation at the latest concept from the team behind Grace isn't cheap, but the ambitious (and beautifully plated) dishes based around proteins and seasonal vegetables are a must for fine-dining enthusiasts. And sitting in the dimly lit, seriously sexy dining room is nearly as thrilling as the cusine that's served to you over the course of your two-hour meal. 

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

20. Mi Tocaya Antojería

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

What is it? Translating to "my namesake" in Spanish, Mi Tocaya is a term of endearment that chef Diana Dávila has bestowed upon her neighborhood Mexican restaurant in Logan Square.

Why we love it: Dávila recreates childhood memories through her food, offering guests a lineup of soul-warming familiares like duck carnitas, wild boar barbacoa and elote-style spaghetti squash. The guac, which is dusted with chile ash, is still on the menu, and a new slate of cocktails rounds out the mix (the Ancestral Corn Old Fashioned is brilliantly balanced and truly unique).

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irazu
Photograph: Allison Williams

21. Irazú

Restaurants Latin American Bucktown

What is it? A Costa Rican restaurant in Bucktown with a beautiful patio that's perfect for gatherings with friends or a low-key date.

Why we love it: There's something for everyone on the menu at Irazú, whether you're looking for a vegetarian burrito and some empanadas or are ready to dig into the signature chifrijo (fried pork layered with black beans, white rice and pico de gallo) and a pepito stacked with steak, grilled onions and spicy Lizano sauce. Just make sure to save room for an oatmeal milkshake.

Time Out tip: Irazú is BYOB and there's a great wine shop (Red & White Wines) right across the street if you need a bottle.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

22. Kimski

Restaurants Fusion Bridgeport

What is it? Attached to the beloved Maria's Packaged Goods in Bridgeport, this restaurant serves street food-inspired dishes that meld the flavors and ingredients of Polish and Korean fare.

Why we love it: Kimski is possibly the only place in the city where you'll find fries covered in chili crisp oil, poutine made with kimchi beer gravy and a Polish sausage topped with kimchi sauerkraut. This is fusion cuisine that's unafraid of combining seemingly disparate flavors—and there's no shortage of beverage options from Maria's to complement your meal.

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Pequod's serves pan pizza.
Photograph: Martha Williams

23. Pequod’s Pizza

Restaurants Pizza Lincoln Park

What is it? An unassuming neighborhood bar in Lincoln Park that serves a Chicago-style pizza that somewhere between pan pizza and deep dish.

Why we love it: A trip to Pequod's typically involves some waiting; first for a table and then for your pie to come out of the oven. But with a beer in your hand and a game on the TV, you'll be biting into the crispy, caramelized cheese that lines the crusts of these pizzas before you know it. Top your 'za however you link—nearly everything tastes good when it's immersed in Pequod's mouthwatering tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.

Time Out tip: You can score a 7-inch personal pizza for just $6 Monday through Friday from 11am-3pm. It's a hell of a lunch special.

JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop Beans & Greens
Photograph: Courtesy JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop

24. JT’s Genuine Sandwich Shop

Restaurants Sandwich shops Irving Park

What is it? A family-owned and operated sandwich shop in Irving Park that serves excellent subs, grinders, melts, burgers, hot dogs and more.

Why we love it: If you're looking for protein served between bread or on a bun, the menu at JT’s Genuine Sandwich Shop contains enough options for everyone in your group to get what they want. First-timers should try the Grinder stacked with tasty cuts from Paulina Meat Market or the vegetarian-friendly Beans & Greens Melt are solid options. And if you'd rather have dessert, you'll find ice cream in the form of scoops, floats and sandwiches (naturally).

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fiya, patio
Photograph: Courtesy Fiya

25. Fiya

Restaurants Israeli Andersonville

What is it? An Andersonville restaurant with a bright facade and a beautiful patio that is inspired by small neighborhood eateries in Israel.

Why we love it: Offering what it calls "soul food of the Levant," Fiya's kitchen makes use of a massive wood-burning oven and a wood smoker to churn out roasted seafood, whole chickens and steak. The lighter fare is equally delicious—an order of fresh hummus and a quartet of salatim (small dishes like roasted eggplant and cauliflower) is a perfect lunch.

CalumetFisheries1.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Brendan Lekan

26. Calumet Fisheries

Restaurants Seafood South Deering

What is it? Chicago’s quintessential cash-only seafood smokehouse, located just north of the Indiana border.

Why we love it: Remember the bridge-jumping scene in Blues Brothers? It happened right next to Calumet Fisheries. The best way to get there is to drive—mostly because your car will double as your table when you leave with your bounty. One of the state's few remaining smokehouses, Calumet smokes all of its own seafood in-house using only natural wood. You can taste the difference when you sample the salmon, catfish and sturgeon—all of which are available by the pound. That shouldn't stop you from tacking on an order of crispy shrimp and cocktail sauce, the perfect grab-and-dunk appetizer for eating on the go.

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Kasama
Photograph: Tim Flores

27. Kasama

Restaurants Ukrainian Village

What is it? A modern Filipino-American bakery and restaurant from husband-and-wife team Tim Flores and Genie Kwon (Oriole), Kasama boasts a menu that'll have you saying "I'll take one of each."

Why we love it: Besides the fact that Flores and Kwon opened a restaurant in 2020? Kasama is a breath of fresh air in a year of pizza, sandwiches and fried chicken (not that there's anything wrong with any of those things). Start with the pastries, if only so you don't fill up too fast; the ham and cheese danish with raclette fondue is an early favorite, and the chocolate-salted caramel tart is easily split between two diners. And then there's the Filipino Breakfast, which comes loaded up with longanisa or tocino, a fried egg and pickled papaya—all served atop a mound of fragrant garlic fried rice. Good luck not returning back on a weekly basis to try something new.

Photograph: Matthew Gilson

28. Alinea

Restaurants Contemporary American Lincoln Park

What is it? Chicago's lone three-Michelin-starred restaurant, helmed by the great chef Grant Achatz.

Why we love it: Arguably Chicago's finest fine dining restaurant, Alinea is as focused on the experience of having a meal as it is about what you consume. Settle in for an evening of deconstructed dishes, billowing dry ice and edible balloons filled with helium. Every ingredient is hand-selected and each presentation is oozing with creativity—just be prepared to pay as much as $400 for your multi-course meal.

Time Out tip: You can still order Alinea To Go meals from Roister in Fulton Market, offering a much more affordable way to experience Achatz's worldclass cooking.

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Osteria Langhe
Photograph: Martha Williams

29. Osteria Langhe

Restaurants Italian Logan Square

What is it? An intro course to regional Piedmontese cuisine through truffles, cream and eggy pastas.

Why we love it: Allow us to count the ways. The plin, miniature agnolotti filled with cheese, are beautiful and light; the beef tartare is impeccably seasoned; and the vitello tonnato tops tender slices of beef with a vibrant tuna citrus caper aioli. In case you needed further proof that Osteria Langhe has elevated Chicago's Italian restaurant scene, order the creamy panna cotta to finish the evening.

Red Hot Ranch's special burger. Two thin burger patties with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and their special sauce. Get it at their new location in Lakeview: 3055 N Ashland Ave.
Photograph: Hannah Bourne

30. Red Hot Ranch

Restaurants Hot dogs Lake View

What is it? A no-fuss, late-night siren song that slings some of the tastiest burgers in town.

Why we love it: What Chicagoan hasn't found themselves at Red Hot Ranch in the wee hours of the morning in search of sustenance? For less than $5, one of the city's best cheeseburgers is yours—with thick-cut fries to boot! Thin, griddled patties shine with a little help from melty cheddar, LTO and special sauce. It's simple but undeniably decadent. Still hungry? Toss in a half-order of fried shrimp, which arrive golden in hue and accompanied by cocktail sauce for dipping. Then, sit back and let the food comma commence.

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Duck Inn Dogs
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

31. The Duck Inn

Restaurants American Bridgeport

What is it? A carnivore's paradise laden with duck fat hot dogs, prime rib sandwiches and duck wings, located on the border between Bridgeport and Pilsen. 

Why we love it: Armed with a beautiful patio and a menu filled with rich dishes that pair well with a drink, chef-owner Kevin Hickey's Duck Inn is like the fanciest backyard barbecue you've ever been to. Relax under the sun with creative cocktail while you nibble on cheese curds and duck fat fries, or dig into decadent specialties like the rotisserie duck and elote corn dog. It's Chicago-style food done with gusto.

Demera ethiopian
Photograph: Courtesy Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

32. Demera Ethiopian

Restaurants Ethiopian Uptown

What is it? A crown jewel of the city's culinary scene and a must-visit for anyone who's craving traditional Ethopian eats.

Why we love it: With more than a decade of experience under its belt, most Chicagoans know Demera on a first-name basis. Owner Tigist Reda is backed by years of watching and helping the women in her family cook. If it's your first time, do like the regulars and order a shareable messob, which is loaded up with your choice of meat and veggie dishes to sample with a friend.

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Photograph: Nick Murway

33. Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings

Restaurants Chinese Armour Square

What is it? Known to many as QXY, this Chinatown mainstay is the dumpling authority of Chicago.

Why we love it: When it comes to dumplings, we're of the mindset that more is always better. It's why we flock to QXY for the seemingly endless menu that details dozens of fillings that are sorted by protein—from pork and pickled cabbage to scallop and lotus root. If you can dream it, they probably have it. Place your order with the whole household in mind—that way, you can try a few different flavors in one sitting.

ina mae, jaclyn rivas
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

34. Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods

Restaurants Wicker Park

What is it? Named after chef-owner Brian Jupiter's great-grandmother, Ina Mae Tavern brings the Big Easy to Bucktown.

Why we love it: Don't get us wrong—we love Jupiter's O.G. West Town spot, Frontier, but there's something about Ina Mae that feels deeply personal. A tribute to New Orleans cuisine, the menu revolves around a roster of po' boys and fried chicken. Try both with the Nashville fried chicken po' boy, which is dressed in a tongue-tingling hot sauce and served on freshly baked French bread.

Time Out tip: The walk-up window is always stocked with liquid courage, whether it's frozen daiquiris in the summertime or boozy hot buttered rum come winter.

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Photograph: Nick Murway

35. Carnitas Uruapan

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

What is it? An ode to pork that dates back to 1975, when Inocencio Carbajal brought his famed recipe to Chicago from Michoacan, Mexico.

Why we love it: What's not to love about a storefront that sells carnitas by the half-pound? Customers even get to select their meat, with choices ranging from ribs and shoulder to skin and belly. Go with the surtida, a sampler platter of all the cuts served with salsa, tortillas and all the fixings. If you've got a long car ride home, an order of chicharron should tide you over.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

36. Vajra

Restaurants River West/West Town

What is it? Named for a mythical weapon used by the Hindu God of Thunder, Vajra illuminates the diminutive yet diverse country of Nepal.

Why we love it: Though we'll never be able to plate our food as precisely as executive chef Min Thapa, we're just elated that we can get Vajra's authentic Nepalese and Indian dishes at home. Do yourself a favor and spring for the dishes you may not recognize, like the dilliwala aalu tikka, a duo of crispy mashed potato cakes that are stuffed with spiced lentils. Skip dessert in favor of a to-go cocktail or two from head bartender Juanjo Pulgarin, who incorporates ingredients like raw honey shrub, truffled maple syrup and star fruit syrup.

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Photograph: Jason Little

37. Smyth + The Loyalist

Restaurants American creative West Loop

What is it? John Shields and Karen Urie Shields’s two-for-one special in the West Loop: a fine-dining destination upstairs and the city's best burger in the sultry basement.

Why we love it: You can choose your own adventure at this double feature—and neither option will lead you astray. Cozy up on the couch with the Loyalist's famed Dirty Burger, a messy medley of cheesy, oniony goodness that's now available for takeout and delivery. Or pull out the placemats for Smyth's multi-course takeaway meals, which can be easily reheated at home and will surely win you household hero of the week.

RasDashen.venue.jpg
Photograph: Julia Stotz

38. Ras Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant

Restaurants Ethiopian Edgewater

What is it? A 20-year-old Edgewater stalwart that's named for the tallest mountain in Ethiopia.

Why we love it: Founder Zenash Beyene left Ethiopia as a refugee at 15 years old before landing in Chicago and working a series of odd jobs. Eventually, she saved up enough money to rent a space on Broadway and open Ras Dashen, where she cooks Ethiopian favorites, like fragrant yebeg dereq tibs—a dish that finds lamb pan-fried with onions, garlic, peppers and rosemary. Beyene's daughter, Maritu Tqkala, has recently taken the reins to ensure her mother's culinary legacy (and sambusas) endures.

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Smoque.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Donna Rickles

39. Smoque BBQ

Restaurants Barbecue Irving Park

What is it? An exemplary North Side barbecue joint devoted to the meatier things in life—from brisket and pulled pork to slabs of baby back ribs.

Why we love it: The crew here doesn't believe in taking shortcuts, meaning each rub, smoke, sauce and cut of meat has gone through a lengthy vetting process. The fruits of this painstaking labor include lip-smacking ribs, smoky brisket and juicy pulled pork—all of which can be savored via delivery, takeout and patio dining. Save room for house-made sides and desserts—we're particularly fond of the BBQ beans and melt-in-your-mouth peach cobbler.

Local chefs, restaurants and concepts we love so much that we welcomed them into Time Out Market

Arami

Restaurants Japanese River West/West Town

Serving some of the city's best sushi, this warm, cozy room in West Town seems to encourage you to stay for hours, sipping sake and Japanese whisky. Start with appetizers like the chrunchy chicken karaage or the decadent roasted bone marrow served with ribeye tarare before moving on to sashimi, nagiri and maki selections. You'll find everything from bluefin tuna to Alaskan king crab on the menu, along with speciality items that can be accompanited by optional caviar supplements. But sushi at Arami doesn't just benefit seafood lovers—yasai (vegetables) are available as maki or nigiri and include a slice of tender eggplant squiggled with miso-peanut dressing.

Bad Bach Chocolate
Photograph: Jared Bacheller

Bad Bach Chocolate

Restaurants West Loop

A Michelin-starred pastry chef who has worked in the kitchens of Acadia, Sixteen and Entente, Jared Bacheller’s latest project was born from a desire to craft delicious, picture-perfect chocolate with ethically sourced ingredients. All of Bad Bach's bars, bonbons and truffles are made in small batches using single-origin chocolate that’s purchased from farmers at a fair price via transparent trade. Take a moment to ogle Bacheller's confections and select a few of the vibrantly colored bonbons—they’re just as scrumptious as they are beautiful.

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ramen, ramenfest, bill kim, urbanbelly
Photograph: urbanbelly

Bill Kim Ramen Bar

Restaurants West Loop

Steaming bowls of noodles have been a fixture of chef Bill Kim’s menus ever since he opened his first restaurant, and diners have always been eager to slurp his latest creations. Originally launched as a delivery-only concept, Bill Kim Ramen Bar specializes in broths that draw on Korean, Vietnamese and Mexican flavors, garnished with a creative array of toppings. Whether you’re looking for a conventional bowl or ramen or something a bit more adventurous, Kim has something you can enjoy by the spoonful. 

Photograph: Courtesy Bittersweet Pastry Shop

Bittersweet Pastry Shop

Restaurants Cafés Lake View

Stop by midday for chef Judy Contino’s acclaimed pastries and desserts, and chances are you’ll pull up a chair in the tiny, charming bakery café for lunch. You won’t go wrong with any of the handful of rotating daily menu options, such as carrot jalapeño soup, spinach ricotta quiche or tuna-salad sandwich. But make no mistake—it’s all just a precursor to that beautiful meringue tart and a long list of French-inspired pastries and baked goods.

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Candlelite pizza
Photograph: David Lee

Candlelite Chicago

Restaurants Pizza West Ridge

Marked by an iconic flashing marquee that displays anniversary announcements, Little League MVPs and birthday greetings, Candlelite Chicago is a Rogers Park staple that's worth the trek to the Far North Side. This 70-year-old gem offers a stacked list of local (and regional) beers, cracker-thin tavern-style pizza and herb-flecked garlic fries that have quite a loyal local following. It's the perfect spot for a family gathering or buying a few rounds of beers with a group of old friends.

Cleo's Southern Cuisine
Photograph: Kristen Harper

Cleo’s Southern Cuisine

Restaurants Soul and southern American Grand Boulevard

Named for chef-owner Kristen Harper's late grandmother, Cleo's puts a modern Creole twist on classic Southern eats in the heart of Bronzeville. Some of Harper's stand-out dishes include garlic herbed salmon, fried chicken and waffles and classic baked mac and cheese. But the talented chef is always adding exciting new options to her menu, like the Flyover, a smorgasbord of Creole fried catfish, lump crab, remoulade sauce, wings and a honey butter corn muffin. There's no way you're leaving Cleo's hungry.

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Mini Mott, Mott, Burger, Wings, logan square
Photograph: Morgan Olsen

Mini Mott

Restaurants Logan Square

Only in Chicago could a restaurant’s burger be so popular that it deserves its own dedicated storefront—and thank God for that. The story of Mini Mott’s signature dish started in 2016, when the burger at its parent restaurant, Mott St, was recognized as one of the best in the nation. At the time, the patty was only available at the Asian restaurant’s tiny bar, making it a hot-ticket item for guests and a pain in the ass for management. These days, you can still order the fabled burger at the original Noble Square location, but you’re much better off heading north to Logan Square, where Mini Mott’s fast-casual menu revolves around the creation.

Pisolino pasta
Photograph: Rachel De Marte

Pisolino

Restaurants Italian Avondale

After a decade spent in kitchens throughout Italy, chef James De Marte returned to his hometown of Chicago to open a small restaurant in Avondale, with the help of event planned Rachel De Marte. Devised as a sit-down concept serving handmade pasta dishes and pizza, Pisolino pivoted during the pandemic, transforming its dining room into a market stocked with Italian groceries and wine, while offering its entire menu for pickup and deliverly. Whether you're searching for a hearty Italian meal or the specialty ingredients needed to create one at home, you'll find what you're looking for here.

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Polombia emparogi
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Polombia

Restaurants West Loop

A chance meeting at a dinner party (and an Instagram DM) brought Phillipe Sobon and Cynthia Orobio together in 2019, eventually resulting in a restaurant concept that combines their respective Polish and Colombian heritages. Mashing up empanadas and pierogi into “emparogi” and topping a Polish sausage with pickles and a pineapple glaze, Polombia’s menu takes the contrasts and commonalities of the two cuisines in stride, offering dishes that take your taste buds on a globe-trotting adventure.

 

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream

Restaurants Ice cream parlors Grand Boulevard

The cold case at Yahya and Nataki Muhammad's cheerful Bronzeville scoop shop is packed with hand-churned homemade ice cream in flavors like Jamaican rum raisin, honey cinnamon graham cracker and strawberry supreme. But it won't take long to spot someone devouring the creamery's crown jewel: a generous serving of peach cobbler crowned with melty vanilla ice cream. Once you try this summertime delicacy, prepare to crave it for the rest of your life.

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Soul & Smoke brisket
Photograph: Neil Burger

Soul & Smoke

Restaurants Barbecue Evanston

Veterans of Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant Moto, chef D’Andre Carter and Heather Bublick founded Soul & Smoke as part of their catering company—but the concept has since taken on a life of its own. Based out of Evanston (with takeout locations in Avondale and the South Loop, as well as a klitchen at Time Out Market Chicago), Soul & Smoke's menu is built around barbecue meats and homestyle sides, including delicate smoked brisket and a supremely creamy mac and cheese. Snag meats by the pound or between two buns—and keep an eye out for the Soul & Smoke food truck, which stops by farmers markets and festivals throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

ramen, ramenfest, bill kim, urbanbelly
Photograph: urbanbelly

Urbanbelly

Restaurants Pan-Asian Wicker Park

Chef Bill Kim keeps our bellies happy with his playful menu of Asian staples at this sunshine-filled restaurant in Wicker Park. Start with an assortment of dumplings, which are available by the piece in flavors like pork and cilantro and chicken red curry. You'll want to save room for hearty entrees like ramen with braised pork belly, creamy coconut curry pho, fried rice bowls and Thai fried chicken. The youngsters won't feel left out: The kids' menu offers fan-favorites like belly-warming noodle soup and PB&J soft serve.

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