The 38 Essential Restaurants in Chicago, Winter 2021

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A smattering of Chinese-American food with tropical drinks on a table.
Jade Court brings tropical drinks together with amazing Chinese food.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

The latest update includes a Lincoln Square brunch favorite and a Chinese-American revelation in Hyde Park

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Jade Court brings tropical drinks together with amazing Chinese food.
| Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

January is a typically a slow restaurant month in Chicago, but the cold winter doesn’t mean the city’s dining scene lacks heat. The latest edition of the Eater 38 proves that with the addition of two new entries.

This collection of Chicago’s best restaurants provides answers for the classic question: “Where would you dine if you had one night in the city?” The list recognizes some all-time greats and restaurants who have pushed culinary boundaries. The winter 2022 update adds Luella’s Southern Kitchen and Jade Court and bids farewell to Galit, and to Rye Deli & Drink, which has temporarily closed.

As of January 3, the city has mandated that those ages 5 and up be fully vaccinated and masked at public places indoors while not actively eating or drinking. For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

Have tips or suggestions for the Eater 38? Send them to the Chicago tipline. And head here for a guide to Chicago’s newer restaurants. For all the latest Chicago dining intel, subscribe to Eater Chicago’s newsletter.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

6363 N Milwaukee Ave

Chicago, IL 60646

Avatars of Superdawg founders Maurie and Flaurie Berman stand guard over this venerable Chicago drive-in at the intersection of Devon, Nagle, and Milwaukee; customers can spot those giant hot dog statues bearing the Bermans’ likenesses from blocks away. Superdawg is a throwback dining experience where customers park their cars and talk to staff through crackling drive-in speakers and carhops bring out trays of food. Superdawg’s offering isn’t a traditional Chicago-style dog. Rather than a Vienna Beef frank, Superdawg uses a thick, proprietary all-beef sausage that comes with mustard, pickled green tomato, and chopped Spanish onions. This is all cradled in a box of crinkle fries. There’s a second suburban location in Wheeling.

A blue cardboard rectangle food container with a hot dog inside. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

5318 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60640

When Lost Larson debuted in Andersonville in 2018, the beloved neighborhood institution Swedish Bakery had just closed. There were bound to be comparisons between the defunct bakery and the ambitious upstart. Since then, chef and owner Bobby Schaffer has shattered all expectations, keeping true to his fine dining roots at Grace and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where he led the pastry programs. Though the breads and pastries have Scandinavian influences, Lost Larson isn’t locked on a single theme. The bakery and cafe doles out whole wheat ham-and-cheese croissants, scones, quiche, and the fabled cardamom bun. Be sure to order online early because stock sells out, but the Andersonville and the new Wicker Park locations both reserve inventory for walk-in customers.

Two almond croissants Jessica Dawson/Lost Larson

4609 N Lincoln Ave

Chicago, IL 60625

While chef Darnell Reed toiled in hotel kitchens in downtown Chicago, he imagined opening a restaurant that honored his great-grandmother Luella, who arrived in Chicago from Mississippi in 1943. Now, his tiny Lincoln Square restaurant serves some of the city’s best Southern food, including cream shrimp and grits, chicken gumbo, and a mighty platter of fried chicken and waffles. This Black-owned restaurant on the North Side is also a popular brunch destination. It’s a casual spot with counter ordering, but it brings a serious menu where everyone can find something hearty and delectable.

3800 N Pulaski Rd

Chicago, IL 60641

With two smokers to prep meaty St. Louis-style and baby-back ribs, tender brisket, apple-and-oak-smoked pulled pork, and more, this destination on the Northwest Side neighborhood of Irving Park delivers barbecue in the style of Kansas City and Memphis. During the pandemic, owner Barry Sorkin expanded takeout and outdoor dining options, including a patio in the former parking lot.

A brown wooden fence separates a low, dark-looking building from the sidewalk. Red awning hangs off the building.
This Irving Park barbecue spot serves some of the most sought-after meats in the city.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

3361 N Elston Ave

Chicago, IL 60618

A perennial North Side favorite, Honey Butter Fried Chicken grew from a series underground dinner parties thrown by a pair of talented chefs. These crisp and skinless pieces of meat come with the restaurant’s signature honey butter. But beyond the food, Christine Cikowksi and Josh Kulp are committed to improving restaurant working conditions and have championed a business model where employees receive health care benefits. That explains why prices that are higher than the average counter service joint, but HBFC reports strong worker retention, which is a rarity in the industry.

A small tray contains two pieces of fried chicken, a bowl of mac and cheese, and a bowl of salad.
Lines at Honey Butter can be long but usually move quickly.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken [Official Photo]

2679 N Lincoln Ave

Chicago, IL 60614

Chicago thin-crust pizza is having a moment, with the city’s pizza makers eager to defy the notion that this is only a deep-dish town. (Settle down, deep-dish fans. The thick slices are still awesome.) Pat’s Pizza in Lakeview has a storied history of popularizing tavern-style pies. This family-owned spot sports some of the crispiest, thinnest pizzas around. Pat’s uses its own sausage blend for the pizza, which also helps set this place apart. Pies are available for carryout, delivery, patio, and indoor dining.

A Chicago tavern-style pizza with a few pieces missing. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

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2800 W Logan Blvd

Chicago, IL 60647

Few chefs share the talent and drive that Diana Dávila exhibits while showcasing a dazzling display of small Mexican dishes in Logan Square. Dávila isn’t shy about taking risks: she isn’t pandering to the typical American diner. This isn’t a place to fill up on chips and salsa with a pitcher of margaritas; Dávila left her previous job after owners tried to force those expectations on her. That’s not to say there’s not a taste of the familiar — the guacamole, steak burrito, and fried oyster tacos are all stellar. But customers should dive into unique items like peanut butter lengua and tlacoyo de nopalitos, the latter of which represents Dávila’s obsession with pre-Hispanic Mexico.

2537 N Kedzie Blvd

Chicago, IL 60647

Chef and owner Jason Hammel continue to keep community at the forefront of the operations at Lula Cafe, which has, since 1999, endeared itself to many in Logan Square as a welcoming space for New American cuisine. This is an all-day cafe with fresh-baked pastries and a stellar breakfast burrito. At night, the wine list goes deep to accompany dishes like roast chicken, beet bruschetta, and summer squash with Santa Rosa plums, tropea onions, and basil. Find a seat at the bar and enjoy oysters and snacks like chicken liver mousse.

lula cafe Marc Much/Eater Chicago

3400 W Fullerton Ave

Chicago, IL 60647

Chicago’s Puerto Rican community begot the jibarito: a sandwich made with shredded beef, lettuce, tomato, mayo, all served between two slices of fried plantain. The sandwich is available in many places in Humboldt Park, but Jibaritos y Más has one of the best. This isn’t a one-trick pony, either. The jibaritos are stellar, but the other items — like the shrimp soup with noodles — are flavorful and thoughtfully prepared. There’s also a Lincoln Park location.

A halved jibarito and pile of Puerto Rican rice on a white plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

2207 N Clybourn Ave

Chicago, IL 60614

Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is a polarizing topic for locals that has bred resentment in recent years, as national media consistently uses it in its ongoing struggle to understand Chicago. It’s not that deep dish pizza isn’t delicious; it’s just that Chicagoans don’t want the city to be defined by the dish alone. Though Pequod’s version isn’t exactly the deep dish that tourists expect — it’s thinner than the stuffed pizza many travel magazines feature — it’s still the premier take on the style. The crust features a chewy rim of caramelized cheese that may appear burnt, but that chew adds a special texture that sets it apart. There are locations in Lincoln Park and suburban Morton Grove. Be prepared to wait on weekends.

2449 W Armitage Ave

Chicago, IL 60647

It’s hard for hot dog stands to differentiate themselves from the pack in Chicago as all of them, for the most part, use the same product: dependable Vienna Beef. But Red Hot Ranch has managed. First, the stand uses sausage with natural casings. This provides the dogs with a unique bite, snappier than the Oscar Mayers that many Americans grew up eating. The stand also serves Depression Dogs, the Chicago variant that comes with french fries in the bun. The griddle burgers are also of note. There are few meals that as satisfying late at night. Red Hot Ranch has locations in Lakeview and Bucktown. Additionally, 35th Street Red Hots, near Sox Park in Bridgeport, is from the same owners and has an identical menu.

4356 W Armitage Ave

Chicago, IL 60639

Hermosa may look similar to a neighborhood hot dog or beef stand that many Chicagoans grew up with, but chef and owner Ethan Lim, who had a stint at Alinea Group’s Next Restaurant and Aviary, uses his culinary talent to take Chicago classics to the next evolutionary level, incorporating Asian flavors to create a Cambodian fried chicken sandwich and an Italian beef banh mi. But for those who want a composed meal more sophisticated than a fast-casual sandwich, Lim also offers a popular “Family Meal,” essentially a chance to buy out the entire room for dinner. The chef acts as a one-man show, loading the table up with delicious pan-Asian plates (noodles, Cambodian beef dishes) meant to be shared. Chicago lacks a dedicated Cambodian restaurant, but Hermosa fills part of that niche, and does more.

1723 N Halsted St

Chicago, IL 60614

Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s three-Michelin-starred, fine dining institution is not only the city’s only restaurant to have three Michelin stars, it’s also considered one of the world’s best. Inside the luxurious Lincoln Park dining room, expect a sensory overload. Achatz uses heavily scented citrus, smoke, and other smells to provide diners with a theatrical experience: servers present dishes as though they were works of art. As dinner for two can run close to $1,000 for two, including wine pairings, Alinea is the restaurant that appears most frequently on Chicagoans’ bucket lists.

Alinea 2.0
Alinea remodeled in 2016.
Matthew Gilson/Alinea Group

7500 W North Ave

Elmwood Park, IL 60707

The best example of Chicago’s iconic Italian beef sandwiches exists outside of the city at the two suburban locations of Johnnie’s Beef. The original space in Elmwood Park is a relic that first opened in 1961 (there’s also a second location in Arlington Heights). The menu is simple: beefs (the monosyllabic term locals use for Italian beef sandwiches), charcoal-grilled Italian sausages, and hot dogs. The thin-cut beef is moist and perfectly seasoned with hints of oregano. The hot peppers deliver plenty of heat but don’t overwhelm the meat. Don’t sleep on the beef-sausage sandwich, which combines tender slices of Italian beef with a robust sausage. Pepper-and-egg sandwiches are also available daily; they’re mostly aimed at Catholic customers who need a meat-free option on Lent Fridays. For dessert, there’s a stellar lemon Italian ice. While the city has plenty of beef options, Johnnie’s is worth the drive to the ‘burbs.

1001 N Winchester Ave

Chicago, IL 60622

2020 was a challenging time to open a restaurant, but the pandemic couldn’t stop the husband-and-wife team of Tim Flores and Genie Kwon. Kasama was one of the year’s true bright spots: it was named one of Eater’s 11 Best New Restaurants in America. Kwon handles the amazing pastries, like an eclair-shaped croissant topped with Serrano ham or salmon, while Flores prepares Filipino dishes for breakfast and brunch, including spins on lumpia and rice plates with tocino (roasted char siu-like pork) and longaniza (charred sausage). This past fall, Kasama introduced a fine-dining dinner tasting menu, one of the few Filipino tasting menus in the country, that immediately became one of the hottest tickets in town.

1600 W Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL 60622

One of the most exciting restaurants to open in Chicago in years, this West Town spot brings the tastes, atmosphere, and smells of the Spanish and Portuguese coasts to the Midwest. The design is both cozy and modern, but be sure to snag a table at the bar to watch the chefs prepare delicious conservas and other seafood specialties and slice jamon Ibérico from the bone. Chef Marcos Campos makes magic with tinned and fresh seafood, introducing Chicagoans to the wonders of Galicia. It’s a different experience each visit, and can be as simple or as fancy as the customer wants.

Porto is magic in Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

1460 W Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL 60642

Chef Dave Park is a master of what he does. At Jeong, his modern Korean restaurant in West Town, he showcases Asian flavors in a fine dining setting. He’s precise with the tasting menu, which features mandu stuffed with kimchi, pork, and cucumber, and his signature dish, a pile of cured salmon served with a dollop of creme fraiche and adorned with crispy rice pearls. Park and partner Jennifer Tran got their start in a stall at a suburban shopping center, but they elevated the experience when they moved to West Town. This is a unique Korean restaurant that deserves to be savored.

A bright sashimi dish that’s shaped like a disc. Jeong/Hahm Visuals

1931 W Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL 60622

Soulé amps up soul food classics like nourishing shrimp and grits, jerk chicken wings, and blackened catfish. The attention to small details in the food has made the restaurant a favorite in the neighborhood and has also drawn many visiting celebrities, particularly musicians and athletes, including former Chicago Bull Bobby Portis, and NBA legend Scottie Pippen.

720 N State St

Chicago, IL 60654

Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican chef to run a Michelin-starred restaurant (Mexique), has returned to Chicago. He brings the same affection for his heritage to River North with Tzuco, the next evolution in his ongoing project of fusing Mexican food with classic European cooking techniques. The space is beautifully designed, featuring glass boxes filled with trinkets from his hometown, Huitzuco, Guerrero, Mexico, as well as local shrubs and plants. It’s a welcome reprieve from the forgettable cookie-cutter layouts of so many dining rooms around town. But Gaytan’s adventurous cooking continues to be the main draw. The spicy roasted octopus, cochinita pibil made with pork shank, and a Mexican-style steak tartare are highlights. The restaurant has a heated and covered patio.

445 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60654

Rick Bayless is the Oklahoma-born chef who obsessed over Mexican cuisine, appearing on TV and creating his own grocery food empire, and his restaurants still remain landmarks in River North for their inventive Mexican cuisine. Flagship Frontera, which opened in 1987, provides a more casual dining experience, while sibling Topolobampo, which opened two years later, was one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to present Mexican food in a fine dining atmosphere. Bar Sótano is the baby of the group, a basement tavern that serves as an experimental space with pop-ups and creative cocktails. Bayless’s name often prompts emotional responses when it comes to discussion about cultural appropriation, but there’s no question that he’s raised appreciation for Mexican food in America. (Fast-casual Xoco, which has been spun out into the Tortazo chain, is in the same building.)

Bar Sotano is among four restaurants from Rick Bayless in River North.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

1340 W Fulton St

Chicago, IL 60607

Chef Curtis Duffy became a superstar when he opened his first award-winning restaurant, Grace, on Randolph Street, and he’s brought that energy a few blocks west to Fulton Market, where Ever opened in 2020. Duffy is offering only one tasting menu (vegetarians will be accommodated). But the heavy metal-listening chef remains committed to showing off precise techniques with playful execution. Case in point: artfully cut ribbons of freeze-dried hamachi. Fine dining tends to be polarizing, especially during a pandemic. But for folks who want a meal with a dash of theatrics, Ever fulfills that niche better than any Chicago restaurant. Reservations are available via Tock. But note that this is one of the most expensive meals in Chicago.

661 W Walnut St

Chicago, IL 60661

Oriole could have sat on its laurels when it reopened last July for the first time since March 2020. The Michelin-star recipient was already known for pushing the boundaries of fine dining without pretension. But instead, management gutted the space and gave chef Noah Sandoval a new kitchen to play with. The chef doesn’t disappoint in his new workplace and has created a fantastic tasting menu. The foie gras course — with pink pepper corn and anise hyssop — is one of the best in memory. This is one of the best places to celebrate in Chicago.

731 W Lake St

Chicago, IL 60661

Mako was an expansion for chef B.K. Park, who served loyal customers for years at his Lincoln Park restaurant, Juno. Focusing on omakase, Park cuts loose inside his West Loop sushi den, providing the sort of superb sushi experience that few Chicago restaurants have ever offered. The comfortable and modern dining room and the service also set this sushi spot apart from others in Chicago.

177 N Ada St #101

Chicago, IL 60607

Before the pandemic, the Smyth was poised to improve on its two-Michelin-star status. The husband-and-wife head chef and pastry chef team of John and Karen Shields successfully brought the farm to the big city. Their tasting menu combined creativity, skill, and deliciousness. The basement bar the Loyalist serves one of Chicago’s best burgers. This is the one of the hottest tables in Chicago.

736 W Randolph St

Chicago, IL 60661

Chicagoans have few choices for upscale Indian food downtown. Rooh’s 2019 arrival is noteworthy not only because it fills that void, but because it also gives the West Loop some sorely needed variety. Patrons will be more than impressed with familiar classics such as butter chicken, but jackfruit kofta, scallops dusted with gunpowder pepper, and achari monkfish give diners a taste of modern Indian cooking. The restaurant has a heated and tented patio.

Rooh takes a more composed and modern look at Indian food.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

1020 W Madison St

Chicago, IL 60607

The first restaurant from former Top Chef and Spiaggia chef Sarah Grueneberg has quickly cemented itself as one of Chicago’s top Italian destinations. The pastas are the stars at this West Loop hotspot, and customers can see cooks hard at work behind the counter rolling out dough and creating the delectable noodles they will soon consume. The restaurant’s takeout menu from the pandemic remains, but the dining room offers lively options like whole-bird chicken parm. There’s also a notable gluten-free menu.

1141 S Jefferson St

Chicago, IL 60607

The torchbearer for a dying breed of Jewish delis and diners in Chicago, Manny’s has endured for more than half a century in the South Loop, thanks to its massive and delicious pastrami sandwiches, an array of hot homestyle dishes on steam tables, and a family-friendly atmosphere cultivated over generations. The cafeteria-style setting is plastered with decades-old newspaper clippings and letters from Chicago luminaries. The space also now houses a new wing for bagels, sweets, coffee, and food to go. In its heyday, Manny’s was where Chicago politicians were often seen brokering deals.

1800 S Carpenter St

Chicago, IL 60608

HaiSous in Pilsen is a remarkable comeback story for Thai and Danielle Dang after they survived financial fraud at their previous restaurant, Embeya. Now, without worrying about working with a criminal, they’re free to focus on food and hospitality. Thai Dang, a native of Vietnam, uses a number of techniques from back home, including claypot cooking, to create a menu that’s as ambitious as it is unpretentious with dishes like grilled wild boar with lemongrass. Danielle Dang’s expertise with cocktails should be better recognized, as she pairs drink to compliment her husband’s two tasting menus. Customers can also order a la carte.

A small metal pan holds a colorful monkfish dish topped with green dill, pickled shallots, and fresno.
Turmeric-laced monkfish with dill, pickled shallots and fresno served with rice noodles topped with scallion confit and roasted peanuts at HaiSous.
Mistey Nguyen

1239 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Star chef Stephen Gillanders, after searching for years for a spot to start up a new restaurant, finally opened S.K.Y. in Pilsen in 2017. It’s fine dining with good value (a six-course meal is $49) and without pretension: diners can enjoy a tasting menu at the chef’s counter without being crushed by debt. Menu items include black truffle salmon, lobster dumplings, and more.

1725 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Chicago’s Mexican community and food enthusiasts worldwide flock to this longtime family-owned, counter-service institution in Pilsen that celebrates all parts of the pig. Order carnitas by the pound at the front counter and settle into a table — if one is available — to craft your own individual tacos with a mix of salsas, tortillas, and beans; or order tacos, soup, and cactus salad ready-made. Prepare for lines and waits during peak weekend hours.

A platter of meat, a bowl of salsa, a paper container of chicharron, and a red Jarritos soda sit on a green tablecloth.
A carnitas platter with the fixings at Carnitas Uruapan.
Carnitas Uruapan [Official Photo]

2222 S Archer Ave

Chicago, IL 60616

Chinatown Cantonese favorite Dolo specializes in made-to-order dim sum, so diners won’t find carts. The food is fresh and inventive with dishes like a beef shank appetizer and lamb chops that can be ordered in a few different styles, including fried and spicy, and served like lollipops. Seafood also stars with Cajun-style boils and a can’t-miss lobster. The restaurant is perfect for families, dates, and weekend hangs with friends. Paying with cash instead of credit will merit a 10-percent discount. Reservations are recommended, as the waiting area near the bar can get crowded. Dim sum dishes hover around $4, while pricier entrees like the lobster are still under $20.

2500 S Whipple St #4138

Chicago, IL 60623

Chicago doesn’t get enough love for its tacos, but this charming little grocery store in Little Village produces some of the finest in the city. From carne asada to crispy tripe, these tacos fit delicately in customer’s hands, and are best enjoyed with tiny bites to savor the mix of textures and flavors. This restaurant, on a quiet residential street, is a true Chicago original. Carryout only.

964 W 31st St

Chicago, IL 60608

Three businesses in one space make up a love letter to Chicago. The term “tavern-style pizza” is a marketing term that’s only gained steam in recent memory, a reference to the thin-crust, square-cut pizza that’s found all over the city; the slices are convenient to snack on while holding a beer in the other hand. Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream’s razor-thin version, preferably topped with Makowski sausage, is the real deal and worth reheating in your home oven if you live far from Bridgeport. PFIC also serves bars from Pretty Cool Ice Cream and ace fried chicken and mushrooms from Kimski chef Won Kim. Kimski, meanwhile, is the city’s only Korean-Polish restaurant, where Kim gets to make chicken wings and stuff pierogi with Korean ingredients. They’re all owned by the same family behind Maria’s Community Bar, one of the city’s most beloved packaged good stores (also known as a “slashie”), a bar and liquor store hybrid.

4852 S Pulaski Rd

Chicago, IL 60632

Feeling the quesabirria mania? Head to the Southwest Side near Midway International Airport for goat that isn’t labeled as the latest food trend. There’s a simple menu packed with deep flavors here. The handmade tortillas and accoutrements form the foundation of a signature Chicago meal. This family-run restaurant is takeout-only. Get there early, as it often closes by early evening.

A server ladles juices over a plate of goat meat.
A large birrieria plate at Birrieria Zaragoza.
Birrieria Zaragoza [Official Photo]

1516 E Harper Ct

Chicago, IL 60615

Family is at the heart of Jade Court, a unique Cantonese restaurant in the University of Chicago’s Harper Court development. Carol Cheung has taken the torch from her father, the late Eddy Cheung, who originally opened the restaurant in University Village. The Cheungs push boundaries with their renditions of Cantonese classics. No dish or memory is too trivial. For example, elitists might laugh at the sight of egg foo young, a staple at Chinese-American fast food restaurants, but Jade Court cooks treats the dish as ambrosia, pumping out the best version of the dish they can. Customers would be wise to trust Carol Cheung’s recommendations: she has an uncanny understanding of which dishes to suggest to customers, running the gamut from seafood to beef. The bar program is also noteworthy, with unique collaborations and tropical-style drinks. It’s tiki without the baggage through a Chinese-American lens. The University of Chicago has found the perfect partner with Jade Court, a restaurant that creates a destination-worth venue with options that appeal to the locals in their community.

A steel lade spooning food out of a wok onto.a plate.
Jade Court’s food is amazing.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

1462 E 53rd St

Chicago, IL 60615

Chicago restaurant veteran Erick Williams has finally launched the restaurant he’s been dreaming of opening. In his new space, Williams is intent on smashing all expectations for Southern food and hopes to give diners a new perspective on Black cuisine. If customers want lighter fare, there are dishes like the cauliflower with cashew dukkah and root cellar vegetables. For richer appetites, the beef short ribs with creamed spinach and crushed potatoes work. The Hyde Park restaurant was one of Eater’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2019.

A colorful cauliflower dish sits inside a grey bowl on a light wood table.
Virtue’s cauliflower with cashew dukkah, root cellar vegetables, and rice
Nick Fochtman/Eater

311 E 75th St

Chicago, IL 60619

Chicago’s legendary aquarium-style smokers are on display at Lem’s, underneath a giant lighted sign off 75th Street. This small shack specializes in sauced baby-back ribs and giant hot links. Chicago is credited with creating the practice of serving rib tips slathered with sauce, and this is the place to give newbies an introduction. Biting into the chunky cartilage smothered with a tomato-based sauce is a Chicago institution.

Lem’s ribs Nick Murway/Eater Chicago

12700 S Halsted St

Chicago, IL 60628

Not all Harold’s Chicken Shacks are created equal, as a few writers have found. This isn’t news for any Chicagoan, but it bears repeating, as Harold’s has become a nationally-known brand thanks to celebrity fans like Chance the Rapper. This particular Harold’s, on the corner of 127th and Halsted, is known not for customer service, but for its crisp chicken (fried in beef fat) and its own take on mild sauce, the must-have condiment that’s become a cult favorite. Still, not everyone will agree: Harold’s fans are passionate and really enjoy arguing about which location is best.

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A blue cardboard rectangle food container with a hot dog inside. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Avatars of Superdawg founders Maurie and Flaurie Berman stand guard over this venerable Chicago drive-in at the intersection of Devon, Nagle, and Milwaukee; customers can spot those giant hot dog statues bearing the Bermans’ likenesses from blocks away. Superdawg is a throwback dining experience where customers park their cars and talk to staff through crackling drive-in speakers and carhops bring out trays of food. Superdawg’s offering isn’t a traditional Chicago-style dog. Rather than a Vienna Beef frank, Superdawg uses a thick, proprietary all-beef sausage that comes with mustard, pickled green tomato, and chopped Spanish onions. This is all cradled in a box of crinkle fries. There’s a second suburban location in Wheeling.

6363 N Milwaukee Ave

Chicago, IL 60646

Two almond croissants Jessica Dawson/Lost Larson

When Lost Larson debuted in Andersonville in 2018, the beloved neighborhood institution Swedish Bakery had just closed. There were bound to be comparisons between the defunct bakery and the ambitious upstart. Since then, chef and owner Bobby Schaffer has shattered all expectations, keeping true to his fine dining roots at Grace and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where he led the pastry programs. Though the breads and pastries have Scandinavian influences, Lost Larson isn’t locked on a single theme. The bakery and cafe doles out whole wheat ham-and-cheese croissants, scones, quiche, and the fabled cardamom bun. Be sure to order online early because stock sells out, but the Andersonville and the new Wicker Park locations both reserve inventory for walk-in customers.

5318 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60640

While chef Darnell Reed toiled in hotel kitchens in downtown Chicago, he imagined opening a restaurant that honored his great-grandmother Luella, who arrived in Chicago from Mississippi in 1943. Now, his tiny Lincoln Square restaurant serves some of the city’s best Southern food, including cream shrimp and grits, chicken gumbo, and a mighty platter of fried chicken and waffles. This Black-owned restaurant on the North Side is also a popular brunch destination. It’s a casual spot with counter ordering, but it brings a serious menu where everyone can find something hearty and delectable.

4609 N Lincoln Ave

Chicago, IL 60625

A brown wooden fence separates a low, dark-looking building from the sidewalk. Red awning hangs off the building.
This Irving Park barbecue spot serves some of the most sought-after meats in the city.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

With two smokers to prep meaty St. Louis-style and baby-back ribs, tender brisket, apple-and-oak-smoked pulled pork, and more, this destination on the Northwest Side neighborhood of Irving Park delivers barbecue in the style of Kansas City and Memphis. During the pandemic, owner Barry Sorkin expanded takeout and outdoor dining options, including a patio in the former parking lot.

3800 N Pulaski Rd

Chicago, IL 60641

A small tray contains two pieces of fried chicken, a bowl of mac and cheese, and a bowl of salad.
Lines at Honey Butter can be long but usually move quickly.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken [Official Photo]

A perennial North Side favorite, Honey Butter Fried Chicken grew from a series underground dinner parties thrown by a pair of talented chefs. These crisp and skinless pieces of meat come with the restaurant’s signature honey butter. But beyond the food, Christine Cikowksi and Josh Kulp are committed to improving restaurant working conditions and have championed a business model where employees receive health care benefits. That explains why prices that are higher than the average counter service joint, but HBFC reports strong worker retention, which is a rarity in the industry.

3361 N Elston Ave

Chicago, IL 60618

A Chicago tavern-style pizza with a few pieces missing. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Chicago thin-crust pizza is having a moment, with the city’s pizza makers eager to defy the notion that this is only a deep-dish town. (Settle down, deep-dish fans. The thick slices are still awesome.) Pat’s Pizza in Lakeview has a storied history of popularizing tavern-style pies. This family-owned spot sports some of the crispiest, thinnest pizzas around. Pat’s uses its own sausage blend for the pizza, which also helps set this place apart. Pies are available for carryout, delivery, patio, and indoor dining.

2679 N Lincoln Ave

Chicago, IL 60614

Few chefs share the talent and drive that Diana Dávila exhibits while showcasing a dazzling display of small Mexican dishes in Logan Square. Dávila isn’t shy about taking risks: she isn’t pandering to the typical American diner. This isn’t a place to fill up on chips and salsa with a pitcher of margaritas; Dávila left her previous job after owners tried to force those expectations on her. That’s not to say there’s not a taste of the familiar — the guacamole, steak burrito, and fried oyster tacos are all stellar. But customers should dive into unique items like peanut butter lengua and tlacoyo de nopalitos, the latter of which represents Dávila’s obsession with pre-Hispanic Mexico.

2800 W Logan Blvd

Chicago, IL 60647

lula cafe Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Chef and owner Jason Hammel continue to keep community at the forefront of the operations at Lula Cafe, which has, since 1999, endeared itself to many in Logan Square as a welcoming space for New American cuisine. This is an all-day cafe with fresh-baked pastries and a stellar breakfast burrito. At night, the wine list goes deep to accompany dishes like roast chicken, beet bruschetta, and summer squash with Santa Rosa plums, tropea onions, and basil. Find a seat at the bar and enjoy oysters and snacks like chicken liver mousse.

2537 N Kedzie Blvd

Chicago, IL 60647

A halved jibarito and pile of Puerto Rican rice on a white plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicago’s Puerto Rican community begot the jibarito: a sandwich made with shredded beef, lettuce, tomato, mayo, all served between two slices of fried plantain. The sandwich is available in many places in Humboldt Park, but Jibaritos y Más has one of the best. This isn’t a one-trick pony, either. The jibaritos are stellar, but the other items — like the shrimp soup with noodles — are flavorful and thoughtfully prepared. There’s also a Lincoln Park location.

3400 W Fullerton Ave

Chicago, IL 60647

Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is a polarizing topic for locals that has bred resentment in recent years, as national media consistently uses it in its ongoing struggle to understand Chicago. It’s not that deep dish pizza isn’t delicious; it’s just that Chicagoans don’t want the city to be defined by the dish alone. Though Pequod’s version isn’t exactly the deep dish that tourists expect — it’s thinner than the stuffed pizza many travel magazines feature — it’s still the premier take on the style. The crust features a chewy rim of caramelized cheese that may appear burnt, but that chew adds a special texture that sets it apart. There are locations in Lincoln Park and suburban Morton Grove. Be prepared to wait on weekends.

2207 N Clybourn Ave

Chicago, IL 60614

It’s hard for hot dog stands to differentiate themselves from the pack in Chicago as all of them, for the most part, use the same product: dependable Vienna Beef. But Red Hot Ranch has managed. First, the stand uses sausage with natural casings. This provides the dogs with a unique bite, snappier than the Oscar Mayers that many Americans grew up eating. The stand also serves Depression Dogs, the Chicago variant that comes with french fries in the bun. The griddle burgers are also of note. There are few meals that as satisfying late at night. Red Hot Ranch has locations in Lakeview and Bucktown. Additionally, 35th Street Red Hots, near Sox Park in Bridgeport, is from the same owners and has an identical menu.

2449 W Armitage Ave

Chicago, IL 60647

Hermosa may look similar to a neighborhood hot dog or beef stand that many Chicagoans grew up with, but chef and owner Ethan Lim, who had a stint at Alinea Group’s Next Restaurant and Aviary, uses his culinary talent to take Chicago classics to the next evolutionary level, incorporating Asian flavors to create a Cambodian fried chicken sandwich and an Italian beef banh mi. But for those who want a composed meal more sophisticated than a fast-casual sandwich, Lim also offers a popular “Family Meal,” essentially a chance to buy out the entire room for dinner. The chef acts as a one-man show, loading the table up with delicious pan-Asian plates (noodles, Cambodian beef dishes) meant to be shared. Chicago lacks a dedicated Cambodian restaurant, but Hermosa fills part of that niche, and does more.

4356 W Armitage Ave

Chicago, IL 60639

Alinea 2.0
Alinea remodeled in 2016.
Matthew Gilson/Alinea Group

Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s three-Michelin-starred, fine dining institution is not only the city’s only restaurant to have three Michelin stars, it’s also considered one of the world’s best. Inside the luxurious Lincoln Park dining room, expect a sensory overload. Achatz uses heavily scented citrus, smoke, and other smells to provide diners with a theatrical experience: servers present dishes as though they were works of art. As dinner for two can run close to $1,000 for two, including wine pairings, Alinea is the restaurant that appears most frequently on Chicagoans’ bucket lists.

1723 N Halsted St

Chicago, IL 60614

The best example of Chicago’s iconic Italian beef sandwiches exists outside of the city at the two suburban locations of Johnnie’s Beef. The original space in Elmwood Park is a relic that first opened in 1961 (there’s also a second location in Arlington Heights). The menu is simple: beefs (the monosyllabic term locals use for Italian beef sandwiches), charcoal-grilled Italian sausages, and hot dogs. The thin-cut beef is moist and perfectly seasoned with hints of oregano. The hot peppers deliver plenty of heat but don’t overwhelm the meat. Don’t sleep on the beef-sausage sandwich, which combines tender slices of Italian beef with a robust sausage. Pepper-and-egg sandwiches are also available daily; they’re mostly aimed at Catholic customers who need a meat-free option on Lent Fridays. For dessert, there’s a stellar lemon Italian ice. While the city has plenty of beef options, Johnnie’s is worth the drive to the ‘burbs.

7500 W North Ave

Elmwood Park, IL 60707

2020 was a challenging time to open a restaurant, but the pandemic couldn’t stop the husband-and-wife team of Tim Flores and Genie Kwon. Kasama was one of the year’s true bright spots: it was named one of Eater’s 11 Best New Restaurants in America. Kwon handles the amazing pastries, like an eclair-shaped croissant topped with Serrano ham or salmon, while Flores prepares Filipino dishes for breakfast and brunch, including spins on lumpia and rice plates with tocino (roasted char siu-like pork) and longaniza (charred sausage). This past fall, Kasama introduced a fine-dining dinner tasting menu, one of the few Filipino tasting menus in the country, that immediately became one of the hottest tickets in town.

1001 N Winchester Ave

Chicago, IL 60622

Porto is magic in Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

One of the most exciting restaurants to open in Chicago in years, this West Town spot brings the tastes, atmosphere, and smells of the Spanish and Portuguese coasts to the Midwest. The design is both cozy and modern, but be sure to snag a table at the bar to watch the chefs prepare delicious conservas and other seafood specialties and slice jamon Ibérico from the bone. Chef Marcos Campos makes magic with tinned and fresh seafood, introducing Chicagoans to the wonders of Galicia. It’s a different experience each visit, and can be as simple or as fancy as the customer wants.

1600 W Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL 60622

A bright sashimi dish that’s shaped like a disc. Jeong/Hahm Visuals

Chef Dave Park is a master of what he does. At Jeong, his modern Korean restaurant in West Town, he showcases Asian flavors in a fine dining setting. He’s precise with the tasting menu, which features mandu stuffed with kimchi, pork, and cucumber, and his signature dish, a pile of cured salmon served with a dollop of creme fraiche and adorned with crispy rice pearls. Park and partner Jennifer Tran got their start in a stall at a suburban shopping center, but they elevated the experience when they moved to West Town. This is a unique Korean restaurant that deserves to be savored.

1460 W Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL 60642

Soulé amps up soul food classics like nourishing shrimp and grits, jerk chicken wings, and blackened catfish. The attention to small details in the food has made the restaurant a favorite in the neighborhood and has also drawn many visiting celebrities, particularly musicians and athletes, including former Chicago Bull Bobby Portis, and NBA legend Scottie Pippen.

1931 W Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL 60622

Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican chef to run a Michelin-starred restaurant (Mexique), has returned to Chicago. He brings the same affection for his heritage to River North with Tzuco, the next evolution in his ongoing project of fusing Mexican food with classic European cooking techniques. The space is beautifully designed, featuring glass boxes filled with trinkets from his hometown, Huitzuco, Guerrero, Mexico, as well as local shrubs and plants. It’s a welcome reprieve from the forgettable cookie-cutter layouts of so many dining rooms around town. But Gaytan’s adventurous cooking continues to be the main draw. The spicy roasted octopus, cochinita pibil made with pork shank, and a Mexican-style steak tartare are highlights. The restaurant has a heated and covered patio.

720 N State St

Chicago, IL 60654

Bar Sotano is among four restaurants from Rick Bayless in River North.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Rick Bayless is the Oklahoma-born chef who obsessed over Mexican cuisine, appearing on TV and creating his own grocery food empire, and his restaurants still remain landmarks in River North for their inventive Mexican cuisine. Flagship Frontera, which opened in 1987, provides a more casual dining experience, while sibling Topolobampo, which opened two years later, was one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to present Mexican food in a fine dining atmosphere. Bar Sótano is the baby of the group, a basement tavern that serves as an experimental space with pop-ups and creative cocktails. Bayless’s name often prompts emotional responses when it comes to discussion about cultural appropriation, but there’s no question that he’s raised appreciation for Mexican food in America. (Fast-casual Xoco, which has been spun out into the Tortazo chain, is in the same building.)

445 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60654

Chef Curtis Duffy became a superstar when he opened his first award-winning restaurant, Grace, on Randolph Street, and he’s brought that energy a few blocks west to Fulton Market, where Ever opened in 2020. Duffy is offering only one tasting menu (vegetarians will be accommodated). But the heavy metal-listening chef remains committed to showing off precise techniques with playful execution. Case in point: artfully cut ribbons of freeze-dried hamachi. Fine dining tends to be polarizing, especially during a pandemic. But for folks who want a meal with a dash of theatrics, Ever fulfills that niche better than any Chicago restaurant. Reservations are available via Tock. But note that this is one of the most expensive meals in Chicago.

1340 W Fulton St

Chicago, IL 60607

Oriole could have sat on its laurels when it reopened last July for the first time since March 2020. The Michelin-star recipient was already known for pushing the boundaries of fine dining without pretension. But instead, management gutted the space and gave chef Noah Sandoval a new kitchen to play with. The chef doesn’t disappoint in his new workplace and has created a fantastic tasting menu. The foie gras course — with pink pepper corn and anise hyssop — is one of the best in memory. This is one of the best places to celebrate in Chicago.

661 W Walnut St

Chicago, IL 60661

Mako was an expansion for chef B.K. Park, who served loyal customers for years at his Lincoln Park restaurant, Juno. Focusing on omakase, Park cuts loose inside his West Loop sushi den, providing the sort of superb sushi experience that few Chicago restaurants have ever offered. The comfortable and modern dining room and the service also set this sushi spot apart from others in Chicago.

731 W Lake St

Chicago, IL 60661

Before the pandemic, the Smyth was poised to improve on its two-Michelin-star status. The husband-and-wife head chef and pastry chef team of John and Karen Shields successfully brought the farm to the big city. Their tasting menu combined creativity, skill, and deliciousness. The basement bar the Loyalist serves one of Chicago’s best burgers. This is the one of the hottest tables in Chicago.

177 N Ada St #101

Chicago, IL 60607

Rooh takes a more composed and modern look at Indian food.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicagoans have few choices for upscale Indian food downtown. Rooh’s 2019 arrival is noteworthy not only because it fills that void, but because it also gives the West Loop some sorely needed variety. Patrons will be more than impressed with familiar classics such as butter chicken, but jackfruit kofta, scallops dusted with gunpowder pepper, and achari monkfish give diners a taste of modern Indian cooking. The restaurant has a heated and tented patio.

736 W Randolph St

Chicago, IL 60661

The first restaurant from former Top Chef and Spiaggia chef Sarah Grueneberg has quickly cemented itself as one of Chicago’s top Italian destinations. The pastas are the stars at this West Loop hotspot, and customers can see cooks hard at work behind the counter rolling out dough and creating the delectable noodles they will soon consume. The restaurant’s takeout menu from the pandemic remains, but the dining room offers lively options like whole-bird chicken parm. There’s also a notable gluten-free menu.

1020 W Madison St

Chicago, IL 60607

The torchbearer for a dying breed of Jewish delis and diners in Chicago, Manny’s has endured for more than half a century in the South Loop, thanks to its massive and delicious pastrami sandwiches, an array of hot homestyle dishes on steam tables, and a family-friendly atmosphere cultivated over generations. The cafeteria-style setting is plastered with decades-old newspaper clippings and letters from Chicago luminaries. The space also now houses a new wing for bagels, sweets, coffee, and food to go. In its heyday, Manny’s was where Chicago politicians were often seen brokering deals.

1141 S Jefferson St

Chicago, IL 60607

A small metal pan holds a colorful monkfish dish topped with green dill, pickled shallots, and fresno.
Turmeric-laced monkfish with dill, pickled shallots and fresno served with rice noodles topped with scallion confit and roasted peanuts at HaiSous.
Mistey Nguyen

HaiSous in Pilsen is a remarkable comeback story for Thai and Danielle Dang after they survived financial fraud at their previous restaurant, Embeya. Now, without worrying about working with a criminal, they’re free to focus on food and hospitality. Thai Dang, a native of Vietnam, uses a number of techniques from back home, including claypot cooking, to create a menu that’s as ambitious as it is unpretentious with dishes like grilled wild boar with lemongrass. Danielle Dang’s expertise with cocktails should be better recognized, as she pairs drink to compliment her husband’s two tasting menus. Customers can also order a la carte.

1800 S Carpenter St

Chicago, IL 60608

Star chef Stephen Gillanders, after searching for years for a spot to start up a new restaurant, finally opened S.K.Y. in Pilsen in 2017. It’s fine dining with good value (a six-course meal is $49) and without pretension: diners can enjoy a tasting menu at the chef’s counter without being crushed by debt. Menu items include black truffle salmon, lobster dumplings, and more.

1239 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

A platter of meat, a bowl of salsa, a paper container of chicharron, and a red Jarritos soda sit on a green tablecloth.
A carnitas platter with the fixings at Carnitas Uruapan.
Carnitas Uruapan [Official Photo]

Chicago’s Mexican community and food enthusiasts worldwide flock to this longtime family-owned, counter-service institution in Pilsen that celebrates all parts of the pig. Order carnitas by the pound at the front counter and settle into a table — if one is available — to craft your own individual tacos with a mix of salsas, tortillas, and beans; or order tacos, soup, and cactus salad ready-made. Prepare for lines and waits during peak weekend hours.

1725 W 18th St

Chicago, IL 60608

Chinatown Cantonese favorite Dolo specializes in made-to-order dim sum, so diners won’t find carts. The food is fresh and inventive with dishes like a beef shank appetizer and lamb chops that can be ordered in a few different styles, including fried and spicy, and served like lollipops. Seafood also stars with Cajun-style boils and a can’t-miss lobster. The restaurant is perfect for families, dates, and weekend hangs with friends. Paying with cash instead of credit will merit a 10-percent discount. Reservations are recommended, as the waiting area near the bar can get crowded. Dim sum dishes hover around $4, while pricier entrees like the lobster are still under $20.

2222 S Archer Ave

Chicago, IL 60616

Chicago doesn’t get enough love for its tacos, but this charming little grocery store in Little Village produces some of the finest in the city. From carne asada to crispy tripe, these tacos fit delicately in customer’s hands, and are best enjoyed with tiny bites to savor the mix of textures and flavors. This restaurant, on a quiet residential street, is a true Chicago original. Carryout only.

2500 S Whipple St #4138

Chicago, IL 60623

Three businesses in one space make up a love letter to Chicago. The term “tavern-style pizza” is a marketing term that’s only gained steam in recent memory, a reference to the thin-crust, square-cut pizza that’s found all over the city; the slices are convenient to snack on while holding a beer in the other hand. Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream’s razor-thin version, preferably topped with Makowski sausage, is the real deal and worth reheating in your home oven if you live far from Bridgeport. PFIC also serves bars from Pretty Cool Ice Cream and ace fried chicken and mushrooms from Kimski chef Won Kim. Kimski, meanwhile, is the city’s only Korean-Polish restaurant, where Kim gets to make chicken wings and stuff pierogi with Korean ingredients. They’re all owned by the same family behind Maria’s Community Bar, one of the city’s most beloved packaged good stores (also known as a “slashie”), a bar and liquor store hybrid.

964 W 31st St

Chicago, IL 60608

A server ladles juices over a plate of goat meat.
A large birrieria plate at Birrieria Zaragoza.
Birrieria Zaragoza [Official Photo]

Feeling the quesabirria mania? Head to the Southwest Side near Midway International Airport for goat that isn’t labeled as the latest food trend. There’s a simple menu packed with deep flavors here. The handmade tortillas and accoutrements form the foundation of a signature Chicago meal. This family-run restaurant is takeout-only. Get there early, as it often closes by early evening.

4852 S Pulaski Rd

Chicago, IL 60632

A steel lade spooning food out of a wok onto.a plate.
Jade Court’s food is amazing.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Family is at the heart of Jade Court, a unique Cantonese restaurant in the University of Chicago’s Harper Court development. Carol Cheung has taken the torch from her father, the late Eddy Cheung, who originally opened the restaurant in University Village. The Cheungs push boundaries with their renditions of Cantonese classics. No dish or memory is too trivial. For example, elitists might laugh at the sight of egg foo young, a staple at Chinese-American fast food restaurants, but Jade Court cooks treats the dish as ambrosia, pumping out the best version of the dish they can. Customers would be wise to trust Carol Cheung’s recommendations: she has an uncanny understanding of which dishes to suggest to customers, running the gamut from seafood to beef. The bar program is also noteworthy, with unique collaborations and tropical-style drinks. It’s tiki without the baggage through a Chinese-American lens. The University of Chicago has found the perfect partner with Jade Court, a restaurant that creates a destination-worth venue with options that appeal to the locals in their community.

1516 E Harper Ct

Chicago, IL 60615

A colorful cauliflower dish sits inside a grey bowl on a light wood table.
Virtue’s cauliflower with cashew dukkah, root cellar vegetables, and rice
Nick Fochtman/Eater

Chicago restaurant veteran Erick Williams has finally launched the restaurant he’s been dreaming of opening. In his new space, Williams is intent on smashing all expectations for Southern food and hopes to give diners a new perspective on Black cuisine. If customers want lighter fare, there are dishes like the cauliflower with cashew dukkah and root cellar vegetables. For richer appetites, the beef short ribs with creamed spinach and crushed potatoes work. The Hyde Park restaurant was one of Eater’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2019.

1462 E 53rd St

Chicago, IL 60615

Lem’s ribs Nick Murway/Eater Chicago

Chicago’s legendary aquarium-style smokers are on display at Lem’s, underneath a giant lighted sign off 75th Street. This small shack specializes in sauced baby-back ribs and giant hot links. Chicago is credited with creating the practice of serving rib tips slathered with sauce, and this is the place to give newbies an introduction. Biting into the chunky cartilage smothered with a tomato-based sauce is a Chicago institution.

311 E 75th St

Chicago, IL 60619

Not all Harold’s Chicken Shacks are created equal, as a few writers have found. This isn’t news for any Chicagoan, but it bears repeating, as Harold’s has become a nationally-known brand thanks to celebrity fans like Chance the Rapper. This particular Harold’s, on the corner of 127th and Halsted, is known not for customer service, but for its crisp chicken (fried in beef fat) and its own take on mild sauce, the must-have condiment that’s become a cult favorite. Still, not everyone will agree: Harold’s fans are passionate and really enjoy arguing about which location is best.

12700 S Halsted St

Chicago, IL 60628

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