As the third largest city in the United States, Chicago is known for its unique and diverse neighborhoods. From Little Puerto Rico to Old Warsaw, Chicago covers it all, with culinary delights representing each pocket of the world. Here are 10 neighborhoods in Chicago off the beaten trail that are worth exploring by way of belly!
Greektown in Chicago is iconic. If you’ve ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Chicago’s Greektown is where the the film is based off of and filmed at, not skimping on the Greek culinary tradition. Not to be missed are these highlights.
Flaming saganaki at Athena Restaurant is a must-try. Although flaming saganaki (a salty cheese similar to halloumi) originated at The Parthenon just down the street, Athena Restaurant also knows how to announce the lighting of this cheese with a cheerful “opa!”. I like it because of the outdoor patio, which does the job of transporting one to the Greek Islands. Flaming saganaki, on the hot appetizers menu, is 7 USD, and entrees average at about 15 USD for a generous serving. Athena Restaurant is open Sunday to Thursday from 11 am to 11 pm and Friday to Saturday from 11 am to 12 am. It is located at 212 Halsted Street.
Baklava from the Pan Hellenic Bakery is a sweet-tooth’s dream. Save space after your meal at Athena or pick up some pieces for later on. What I love about this bakery, beside it being delicious, is that it’s family run. Mom, Dad, Brother, and Sister all work the register with equal kindness as Greek tunes play in the background. Get your baklava daily, bright and early when it opens at 9 am, closing at 8 pm. Pan Hellenic is just down the street from Athena at 322 S Halsted St. Prices usually average from 2.5-3 USD for a piece of baklava.
Known for its German roots, Lincoln Square is a scenic shot north of downtown Chicago on the Brown Line. Though there are a few spots to hit up, I believe the most authentic German eats you’ll find in Lincoln Square is at Brauhaus. I always go for the traditional bratwurst (7.95 USD for lunch) with sauerkraut, of course! You can also find seven German beers on draft, as well as many others in bottles. Things do get busy around such times as the German-American Fest the weekend of September 9-11th, so plan accordingly. Brauhaus is open six days a week (including dancing!), from 11 am -10 pm on weeknights, and until midnight on the weekends. Brauhaus is located at 4732 N Lincoln Ave.
Albany Park is noted for being one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, with a prominent Middle Eastern presence. One should not miss out on authentic Persian food from Noon o Kabob at 4661 N Kedzie Ave, open daily at 11 am. They are known, yes, for their kabobs, but also for the incredible amount of dill rice that accompanies most meats. If you’re looking for more obscure options, try a dish like the highly recommended lamb shank and loobia polo, which features lamb shank slowly simmered in a tomato garlic sauce served with Persian white rice topped with fresh green beans, saffron, tomato and garlic. Prices usually average 14 USD per entree.
Devon Street, known as the “Little India” of Chicago, really has no shortage of amazing food. However, places to make a point of stopping at include Hema’s Kitchen, lovingly prepared by Hema herself. Specialties include samosas (2.99 USD for two), tikka masala (12.99 USD), and their varieties of naan (1.99 USD). Hema’s is located at 2439 N. Devon Street and is open daily at noon.
Additionally, if you’re looking for a lighter option of snacks and chai, check out Sukhadia’s Sweets and Snacks at 2559 Devon St., open daily at 10 am, closing at 9:30 pm, with the exception of Tuesdays when it closes at 8 pm. Whether you are looking for something savory like roasted nuts or chorafali (chips or puffs made from chickpea flour) or something sweet such as halwa, you’ve come to the right place. Prices for snacks generally range from 2.5 USD to 6 USD, per item. Sit, relax and enjoy your snacks, or take some home—sweets can be ordered by the pound for later enjoyment.
Ok, I put this neighborhood on the map for this sole reason: Korean BBQ at Cho Sun Ok. It’s a small, hole-in-the-wall spot that a Korean friend took us to this winter. Cho Sun Ok is the oldest Korean restaurant in Chicago, and is known for buckwheat noodles and “stone pan cooking.” For 40 USD, all four of us ate like kings as the waitresses brought out rounds and rounds of dishes, including meat to be barbequed at the table. Because it is BYOB (as many restaurants in Chicago are), the price was easy to keep low. It took us about twenty minutes of waiting outside in the cold to finally get in, but the line was a sure testament to the deliciousness of the food. Visit Cho Sun Ok at 4200 N. Lincoln Ave., open daily from 10:30 am to 10:30 pm.
Uptown is an excellent place to visit if you’re headed to the iconic Green Mill Jazz Club, where legends like Marilyn Monroe and Chicago mafia boss, Al Capone, were regularly seen. But before you head there to see the wide array of entertainment offered, be sure to taste traditional Ethiopian cuisine at Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, just across the street at 4801 N. Broadway. There, try the communal wat (usually spicy meat or vegetables) served on sour injera bread. The prices are per person and average at 16 USD. Ethiopian food is eaten using the hands, and is a great experience for shared food. Accompany your meal with buna, Ethiopian coffee, or shai, a blend of cardamom and black tea. Demera is open daily at 11:30 am, with the exception of an early opening at 10 am on Sundays, closing at 10 pm on weekdays, 11 pm on weekends.
Well, Pilsen, one of the largest Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago, has so much good food it’s hard to know where to start. Tamales, churros, tacos, and paletas (popsicles) can all be found at various parts of the neighborhood, and even in the street. Recently a friend and I went to a hidden gem, Mary’s Taqueria at 1901 S Canalport Ave. With an unpretentious exterior that makes you think you are headed to the corner store, Mary knows a thing or two about her tacos, guacamole, and homemade tortilla chips, to say the least. And her prices are more than reasonable such as tacos with rice and beans for 7.99 USD, which may tempt you into wanting more … until you realize how full you are! Mary’s is open at 9 am daily and closes at 8 pm.
Humboldt Park, the little Puerto Rico of Chicago, is clearly proud of it by the amount of Puerto Rican flags. In Humboldt Park you can get a lot of great food, but one thing that cannot be missed is the Chicago-invented jibarito. What is the jibarito? You might ask. It’s a sandwich made with flattened, fried plantains that replace the bread. Usually made with meat, lettuce, tomato, and garlic mayo., it’s a specialty that is worth going out of your way for. At 7.95 USD, it’s a steal. Check out the jibarito at La Palma Puerto Rican Restaurant at 1340 N. Homan, open at 11 am daily, excluding Mondays, closing at 7 pm weekdays, 8 pm on the weekends
Chicago cannot claim to be the originator of chicken and waffles, but they can claim their love for this dish. Though where the best chicken and waffles are served is a common source of discussion. Bronzeville is known for their take on c-and-w at Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles at 3947 S. King Drive (11.75 USD). You can also order other southern specialties such as catfish, fried chicken gizzards, or grits. Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles is open daily at 8 am, closing at 9 pm on the weekdays and 10 pm on weekends.
The historically Swedish neighborhood, Andersonville, in the northern part of the city, still serves up Swedish fare at Svea Restaurant at 5236 N. Clark Street. Namely a breakfast and lunch spot, such specialties as Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, limpa toast, Swedish pancakes, and Swedish fruit soup, can all be found on the menu. Prices average from 6-10 USD, and only cash is accepted. Svea is open daily at 7 am, closing at 2 pm on weekdays, 3 pm on weekends. Following your meal, take a stroll on Clark Street, and stop by the Swedish American Museum to get your fill.
Don’t leave hungry!
One thing that is not allowed when exiting Chicago is to be hungry! With these choices of neighborhoods and their unique foods, make sure you have traveled by way of your senses. Chicago loves to eat, and it’s easy to see why.
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