It’s been said that Chicago is “the city of neighborhoods,” and most locals would agree. The 77 community areas that make up the third-largest city in the nation often feel like little worlds of their own, boasting their own commercial thoroughfares, distinctive heritage, and unique local restaurants.
At a time when small businesses are hurting and the restaurant industry continues to weather the uncertainty brought by a global pandemic, it has never been more important to support your local haunts. Thankfully, Chicago has always had a thriving array of neighborhood restaurants that offer exceptional quality at affordable prices.
From jibaritos to roasted duck, injeras to pizza (of course), this list highlights the independent restaurants and mom-and-pop shops that make us feel at home. Let’s face it: true Chicagoans know that the best dishes the city has to offer don’t require a trip downtown, but a trip around the corner. Read on to make a reservation at a Chicago local favorite.
Miki’s Park (River North)
This Korean-inspired bar concept opened just days before the pandemic forced Chicago restaurants to close indoor dining service. Despite the unfortunate timing of its opening, the vibrant atmosphere, creative menu, and distinctive cocktails have made this a neighborhood favorite and late night hangout. Don’t leave without ordering the K-popcorn sticky chicken, the kalbi short rib barbecue bowl, and the nutella beignets.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations are available for dining in the sleek, clubby dining room, where it tends to get busy on nights and weekends.
Takeout: Delivery and takeout are available on the restaurant’s website. On weekdays, check out the “Miki’s on the Run” lunch to-go window, which allows for walkup ordering and pickup at a dedicated takeout window.
Kumiko (West Loop)
One of the reasons Chicago is a great drinking town is because of bars like Kumiko — an intimate and elegant space that still feels like a neighborhood favorite. Taking inspiration from mixologist’s Julia Momose’s Japanese background, Japanese whiskeys, gins, and shochus are plentiful and deployed for new interpretations on daiquiris, gimlets, and old fashioneds. The bar’s food selection revolves around Japanese favorites such as soba bowls, crunchy tempura bites, and an unfussy breaded pork katsu sandwich.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining at tables and the bar is available, with service from a fully vaccinated and masked staff.
Takeout: The restaurant’s superb beverages and food are available for takeout and delivery via third-party apps.
Noon O Kabab (Albany Park)
This family-run Persian restaurant made a name for itself as a place for filling lunch specials, big group celebrations, and welcoming atmosphere. Though the vibe here is cozy and casual, the service is always excellent. This approach also translates to the restaurant’s food, where diners can find standbys such as juicy beef kababs alongside traditional dishes like adass polo (a hearty aromatic rice dish topped with lentils and raisins) or ghormeh sabzi (a comforting spinach and lamb stew).
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant offers indoor dining.
Takeout: Delivery and takeout are available, with much of the menu remaining unchanged. The combination platters are an excellent deal, such as the family platter that serves four and includes an assortment of the restaurant’s signature kababs.
Demera Ethiopian Restaurant (Andersonville)
Since 2009, Demera has been serving up the vibrant and exciting flavors of chef Tigist Reda’s native Ethiopia. The restaurant has become an introduction to the cuisine for many, as well a source of comfort for those well acquainted with the hints of berbere spice and pillowy injeras (sour fermented flatbreads) that define Ethiopian cooking. Hungry Chicagoans flock to Demera for family-style servings of traditional dishes such as doro wot (tender chicken stew) and the many slow-cooked vegetarian options.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is taking reservations for its indoor dining room.
Takeout: The restaurant offers the entire menu for both delivery and takeout, including the popular combination platters that can groups of anywhere from two to eight, allowing diners to recreate the restaurant’s communal dining style at home.
Mirabella (Avondale/Irving Park)
Arturo Aucaquizpi may have his roots in Ecuador, but one might never guess based on the chef’s precise renditions of Italian steakhouse classics. Despite following a long tradition of Chicago steakhouses, Mirabella’s nod to old-school Italian fare and big, fat ribeyes manages to feel fresh. A dinner here consists of heaping peppery plates of fried calamari, rustic rigatoni, and precisely executed broiled New York strips that stand in staunch opposition to the small plates trend that has dominated restaurants for the last decade.
Dining at the restaurant: In addition to the indoor dining room, Mirabella has outdoor seating; reservations are required.
Takeout: For those nights when nothing but a steaming bowl of spaghetti diavolo will do, Mirabella offers takeout by calling the restaurant directly.
Amaru (Bucktown/Wicker Park)
Though it’s a recent newcomer, Amaru has quickly become a neighborhood favorite in the trendy Wicker Park area with its inventive twists on Latin American fare. With a focus on small plates, diners can easily graze through some of the region’s greatest hits while finding new, unexpected favorites. A Peruvian solterito salad of tomatoes, corn, and queso fresco gets a refreshing addition of edamame, while the octopus boasts hints of smoke from both its char and grilled poblano peppers.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations for indoor dining are currently limited to 90 minutes to accommodate for socially distanced seating
Takeout: Amaru offers its regular menu for carryout and delivery.
The Duck Inn (Bridgeport)
The success of the much-lauded Duck Inn is a Chicago story, through and through. Chef and owner Kevin Hickey has roots in the South Side neighborhood, currently lives a block away from the restaurant, and opened his gastropub as a nod to his great-grandmother’s own Depression-era restaurant. Though The Duck Inn gained attention for its succulent signature rotisserie duck, what really endears locals is the restaurant’s equally serious approach to Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, cheese curds, and other regional delicacies.
Dining at the restaurant: The Duck Inn offers dining inside its 100-year-old pre-prohibition tavern, in addition to outdoor patio seating with heaters. Reservations are required.
Takeout: The Duck Inn’s entire menu is available for delivery and takeout. Though the menu changes with the seasons, the whole rotisserie duck is always available.
India House (River North)
With more than 250 items on its menu, India House offers a dizzying array of dishes from across its namesake country. With a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian options, in addition to tandoori and biryanis, India House has long been a go-to for groups and locals with a craving for a certain Indian dish. The much-loved lunch buffet offers diners a chance to sample the menu at their leisure. Samosas, garlic naan, and the vaunted chicken reshimi kebab, simmered in buttercream and cashew nut paste, are must-tries.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available, but parties are currently limited to no more than six at a table.
Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available.
Lizzy J Café (Ravenswood)
Lizzy J Café could very well be Ravenswood’s best kept brunch secret. Seasonal, made-from-scratch Southern breakfast items like shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, and crab benedict beg to be chased down with Lizzy J’s very own brand of sweet tea. Everything about the spot, including the hospitality of the owner and chef Jamie Gilmore, is like being enveloped in a warm hug by a favorite auntie.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations are available for indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available on the restaurant’s website for breakfast and brunch specialties, which also include a kid’s menu. The café also offers grab-and-go homestyle lunches for busy weekdays, such as chicken marsala with green beans and mashed potatoes.
El Berrinches (Pilsen)
Taking inspiration from the regional dishes of Mexico City and Oaxaca, El Berrinches brings gourmet-style Mexican cuisine to Pilsen. Chef Carlos Garcia leans on family recipes passed down from generations, while finding a way to put his personal stamp on them. Typical examples of the cuisines such as carne asada and al pastor tacos are available, but it’s creations such as the michelada tacos — ribeye marinated in michelada mix — that truly set El Berrinches apart.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining and is currently accepting reservations.
Takeout: Delivery and takeout is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Bloom (Bucktown/Wicker Park)
This new-to-the-neighborhood restaurant may have opened during the pandemic, but it’s already become a go-to spot for its vegan and vegetarian fare. Chef Rodolfo Cuadros originally came up with the idea for a meat-free, globally inspired menu at his restaurant Amaru, where he tested Bloom’s menu — it became such a hit that it warranted its own brick-and mortar-space. Diners have an eclectic mix of flavorful options to choose from, such as hand-pulled kelp noodles, beet dumplings, and roasted Japanese eggplant with coconut miso and tahini.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations are available for indoor seating in the bright and colorful dining room. Don’t miss the two-hour, eight-course chef’s experience at the chef’s counter.
Takeout: Call the restaurant directly for takeout options.
Jibaritos y Más (Logan Square)
This popular, casual Puerto Rican joint was a fixture in Logan Square way before anyone even spoke of the neighborhood’s dining scene. Owner Yelitza Rivera, originally from Venezuela, gained her culinary cred and the respect of the neighborhood’s Boricuas after years of working in the area’s Puerto Rican restaurants. Today, she uses her expertise to prepare island-sized portions of succulent lechón (roast pork), garlicky mofongo (fried and mashed plantains with various toppings), and a perfectly crisp jibarito, a plantain sandwich that actually originated in Chicago.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant does not have outdoor seating and is currently not accepting reservations.
Takeout: Jibaritos y Más offers delivery and takeout in all three locations, including the original in Logan Square. The restaurant’s menu has remained the same during the pandemic, with weekend specials like mondongo (tripe) continuing to be a big draw.
Le Bouchon (Bucktown/Wicker Park)
For those missing the charm and sophistication of France, Le Bouchon might help quell that wanderlust — eating here is like taking a mini vacation to a quaint Parisian nook. This charming, family-owned bistro has been serving up French classics such as decadent French onion soup and a lip-smacking beef bourguignon since 1993 and is beloved by critics and neighbors alike for the restaurant’s commitment to timeless techniques and tried-and-true favorites.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is taking reservations for tables in its charming, French-inspired dining room.
Takeout: Le Bouchon is currently offering a pared-down a la carte menu for takeout and delivery, highlighting some of the restaurant’s most celebrated fare such as cassoulet, a hearty duck, sausage, and white bean stew.
Gallucci (Old Town)
Eponymous chef/owner Gianni Gallucci is an award-winning pizza chef, taking top prize in the U.S. Pizza Cup in 2018. After years of consulting, he has brought his talents to Old Town, offering 15 specialty Neapolitan-style pizzas divided by red or white styles. Gallucci’s pies showcase the chef’s impressive attention to ingredients, including toppings such as smoked provolone, fried eggplant, and the black truffle-laden Tartufa. A bonus? Dough can be made gluten-free.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is currently accepting reservations for indoor dining and seating on the outdoor patio.
Takeout: Diners can also order pizzas and an assortment of antipasti, salads, and pastas for delivery or takeout.
Tac Quick (Lakeview)
Owned by Thai chef Itti Damprapa, Tac Quick serves an excellent menu of well-known Thai dishes, alongside a not-so-secret menu for those seeking an expansive experience of Thai food. Stop by for dishes such as pad see ew with crispy tofu, or more intriguing choices like the pad pong karee talay (karee curry with shrimp and squid) or prikking crispy pork (stir-fried with string beans and jalapeño in red curry paste and lime leaf).
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant offers indoor seating. Call the restaurant directly for reservations.
Takeout: Tac Quick now offers the restaurant’s full menu for takeout and delivery, as well as to-go beer and wine.
Ines Bellina is a Chicago-based freelance writer, storyteller, and bon vivant. Follow her on Twitter: @ibwrites.
Lauren McDowell contributed reporting to this guide.