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Kitsune
Photograph: Jaclyn RivasKitsune

The best restaurants in North Center

From killer burgers to Asian cuisine and barbecue, these are the places we like to be when we're in North Center

Written by
Elizabeth Atkinson
&
Time Out Chicago editors
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When we're hanging out in North Center, it's a given we'll be stopping by a few of our favorite breweries. But when it comes time to grab a bite to eat, the neighborhood is filled with good options, like burgers and Korean spots worth waiting in line for. Plus, a few of these spots have spot-on craft beer menus to boot, which is always a plus in our book.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to North Center

The best restaurants in North Center

Kitsune
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • North Center

Iliana Regan’s (Elizabeth) fox-themed Japanese Kitsune plays to all of her strengths, serving up comforting food with local flair in an intimate space. Start with the wild rice and koji porridge bread with pickles—it’s served with a pat of butter shaped like a fox and pickles, including daikon-fermented burdock, salt-fermented purple carrot and beer-pickled eggs. A smoky and citrusy dashi with winter vegetables is filled with “tofu,” made from a dairy and vegetable rillettes that feels firm when you scoop it with a spoon, only to burst in your mouth. It’s top-notch Japanese with homegrown Midwestern execution, and the ever-changing menu will give you an excuse to return again and again. 

  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

Focusing on the cuisine of Northern Thailand, Sticky Rice serves up some of our favorite dishes, like house-made spicy fermented pork sausage, gang hung lay (pork in sweet, garlicky, ginger-laden curry) and kua kae, a stir-fry of chicken, baby corn, eggplant, shredded lime leaves and roasted rice powder. Our recommendation? Grab the Northern Thai Combo Set to try a selection of their signature dishes. Vegetarians are welcome here too—there's a large selection of dishes to choose from.

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  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

The intoxicating aromas of soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar and garlic tell you this place is good before you walk in the door. Talk the server into letting you cook your own sliced beef (as is customary at Korean-barbecue restaurants) because the salty-sweet marinated meats we cooked tableside were more tender than the kitchen’s version. Of the giant wave of little side dishes that accompany the barbecue, don’t pass up the moist fish cake, perfect with a bottle of Korean beer.

  • Restaurants
  • Peruvian
  • North Center

If you didn't manage a winter escape this year, get a taste of bright Peruvian flavors at the lively North Center restaurant. The menu focuses on Peruvian classics like causitas, whipped potatoes topped with crabmeat; a variety of lively ceviches; and several takes on traditional pisco sours, like a habanero pepper-laced version. Try the rocoto relleno, sliced potatoes topped with a fiery pepper stuffed with beef, raisins and veggies, and smothered with melted Havarti.

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  • Restaurants
  • Hamburgers
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

Dishing out outlandish burgers—like Elvis's Last Supper with bacon and peanut butter and the Little Champion topped with chili mac—the Bad Apple is two things. It's the perfect place to nurse your hangover as the burgers are delicious. And it's a solid spot to bring your vegetarian friends (yes, there's a seitan and wild mushroom burger that's just right) for a burger and a craft beer. The solid selection has brought us gifts of Founder's KBS weeks after it should have disappeared and always-changing taps to keep us interested. Pro tip: upgrade your fries for $.75, it's worth every penny.

  • Restaurants
  • Bistros
  • North Center
  • price 2 of 4

Soda bread? Black-and-white pudding? Not so much. This Irish bistro serves food you’d find in modern-day Dublin, which means Guinness isn’t just on the epic beer list, but also in a rich onion and white cheddar stout soup. You’ll also find it in the beef stew, along with chunks of parsnips and carrots. It’s even in the mac and cheese served alongside barbecue ribs. Not hungry? Stop by for a great selection of Irish whiskey at the gorgeous bar.

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  • Restaurants
  • Ice cream parlors
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

This chocolate-shop/ice-cream parlor extraordinaire opened its first store in 1921 and its second in 2005 in a tiny former Fannie May candy shop under the Brown Line. Outpost two has the same small quarters as the Bucktown store, the same menu and the same ambience—making it just right for nostalgia's sake. Here, instead of the ice cream, it’s all about the perfect hot fudge (served in a separate dish) and the multiple menu pages of indulgent, old-fashioned ice-cream sundaes.

  • Restaurants
  • Diners
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

There's a bevy of 24-hour greasy-spoon diners in this city, but none of them offer anything as curious as Jeri’s "jailhouse special," a plate of fried bologna, eggs, hash browns and toast. Kind of makes you wonder what Jeri was up to before the grill, doesn’t it? Get there before 2pm for the biscuits and gravy; the rest of the cheap eats are served all day and include fries and patty melts.

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Volo Restaurant Wine Bar
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

Owner Jon Young of Kitsch’n on Roscoe has teamed up with chef Stephen Dunne (formerly mk’s chef de cuisine) at this small-plates wine bar. Dunne’s best dishes are the rich ones, like his intense duck confit leg with truffled white beans. Luckily the eclectic wine list is well thought-out and stocked with plenty of food-friendly quaffs to cut through it all.

John’s Place Roscoe Village
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • North Center
  • price 2 of 4

The Roscoe Village spin-off of the wildly popular Lincoln Park original, John’s Place dishes up a similar polyglot mix of comfort-food basics: hummus and veggies, carne asada with chorizo rice, fried cheese curds. Desserts like a gooey toffee blondie and warm, solicitous servers go a long way. Note to stroller-pushers: Your dominance of this territory means no stink-eye from romancing tables of two.

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Blue Sky Bakery & Café
  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

By employing homeless and otherwise at-risk youth and training them to enter the hospitality workforce, this nonprofit café doubles as a social venture. But to be honest, the only thing you'll think about once you've had one of its chocolate-chunk cookies, cheddar-chive scones or mocha-banana-chocolate-chip muffins is how well this cute café is serving you.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

What puts the Big in Big Bricks, the sibling of Lincoln Park’s subterranean pizza institution? First, a spacious upstairs. Second, an expanded menu, which tacks barbecue (baby backs, pulled pork, etc.) onto the pizza offerings. Aside from the juicy chicken tinged pink with smoke, the ’cue’s merely a distraction from the signature offering: thin, square-cut pies like the Painful, which is topped with spicy pepperoni and jalapeño. (Tip: Order it “extra crispy.”) The last way this place went big: the commendable craft-beer selection.

Find more of the best restaurants in Chicago

  • Restaurants

Chicago is a town that cares as much about Grant Achatz's newest concept as where to find the best burgers. Hence it's with an equal passion for worthwhile splurges and cheap eats that we present our picks for the best restaurants in Chicago. (Tip: Begin or end your culinary adventures at one of Chicago's best cocktail bars.)

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