Chicago has plenty of well-known restaurants - we seem to have more celebrity chefs here than Bravo and The Food Network combined, not to mention our Alineas and Au Chevals. These places are famous for a reason, but when we’re asked to suggest our all-time favorites, we usually think of neighborhood spots. These are the restaurants that are part of our everyday lives - the cafe we always rely on to grab breakfast before work, or our favorite local spot to have dinner on our way home. They may not be glitzy, but they have the kind of magic you can’t fake - as their regulars will tell you, if you promise not to tell too many other people.
Here’s our guide to some of the best neighborhood restaurants in Chicago, presented in partnership with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Go try these spots, both in your own neighborhood and beyond (and if you pay with a Premier Rewards Gold Card, you’ll earn 2X Membership Rewards points at US Restaurants). Terms Apply.
We like this Wicker Park spot more each time we eat here. The Asian fusion dishes (with some Mexican thrown in) are perfect for sharing, and the communal seating and large outdoor patio make it a great place to come with a group. Make sure you get the kimchi-stuffed empanada, and if you sit at the bar or come for brunch, order the Mott’s burger - it’s amazing, and those are your only opportunities to eat it.
If this restaurant were downtown, it would always be slammed. But because it’s hiding on a side street up in Andersonville, Vincent flies under the radar, managing to be a perfect date night spot that isn’t ridiculously crowded. The menu is New American, and has a whole section dedicated to different preparations of mussels - so one of those clearly needs to be on your table.
This cafe in Humboldt Park is a cross between an American diner and a French bistro, and its cool-kid ambience will make you want to be here as often as possible, for as long as possible. At Cafe Marie-Jeanne you can get duck frites for breakfast, if you want (and they’re worth driving across town for) - or calf brains on toast, if you’re over avocados. Watching the chef run in and out of the kitchen, joking with the staff and chatting with the regulars, may even make you consider moving neighborhoods just to be here more often.
Spacca Napoli is one of our favorite pizza places in all of Chicago. Located on a quiet corner in Ravenswood, it has the most authentic Neapolitan pizza in the city. It’s the kind of spot that’s incredibly popular but still makes people feel like they’ve discovered a hidden gem, because it stays comfortable and relaxed no matter how busy it gets.
Parachute is kind of famous, but it’s actually a neighborhood spot, owned by a husband and wife who’ve kept it low-key even as it’s gained recognition for serving consistently amazing food. Parachute is on a pretty much deserted street in Avondale, with only a “P” above the door to let you know it’s there. The inside is understated, too - nice, but not fancy. The Korean/American food here is always excellent, and while it’s great for a weeknight dinner that’s just a step above casual, it’s also a good bet for impressing out-of-towners. When you go, get a full order of the Baked Potato Bing Bread, with extra sour cream butter.
This Logan Square spot is also well-known, but has managed to stay true to its neighborhood roots, just doing its own thing (and do it very well) year after year. The food here is Macanese, a combination of Portuguese and Chinese flavors, and the must order is the “arroz gordo” (fat rice), a delicious dish full of too many things to list. (Just go there and try it yourself - you’ll see why they named the whole restaurant after it.) This place has limited seating, but the low-key space and friendly crowd make for an OK wait. Their attached bakery, with sweet and savory breads and pastries that have the same Macanese influence, is also worth a visit.
Before the West Loop was the Disney World of restaurants, Randolph Row had JP Graziano, a family-run Italian sandwich shop and grocery store. This place’s industrial-looking exterior hasn’t changed since the neighborhood was full of meatpacking warehouses, so you feel like you’re getting a little glimpse into the past, and best of all, inside you can find some of the most delicious Italian subs and sandwiches in the city. You can order at the counter and eat there, but we like to take it to go - JP’s muffaletta is one of our favorite road trip/beach sandwiches of all time.
If Ina Garten owned a bakery in Chicago, we imagine it would look like this. The dishes here are pretty, but also taste really good - and the fact that Baker Miller does stuff like make their own butter, and literally mill their own flour, makes it more special than your average morning spot. It’s the kind of place where they remember their regulars’ orders - so if you live in Lincoln Square, you should absolutely become a regular.
If you’re eating here, you’ve hit the brunch jackpot. And if it’s the weekend, you’ve just spent two hours wandering around the neighborhood waiting for a table. That’s because this spot has one of the best brunches in the city, and just about everyone knows it. Thankfully, it’s open seven days a week, so if you find yourself in Lakeview on a weekday, you can come here without needing to compete with half of Chicago for a table. If you do end up waiting in line, you’ll realize it was totally worth it as soon as you start eating their bread pudding pancakes.
Riccardo Trattoria in Lincoln Park is the kind of cozy neighborhood restaurant that you decide to make “your” place after just one meal. They do classic Italian food that’s very well prepared, and your server is guaranteed to be one of the friendliest people you talk to all day. It manages to be just casual enough for a weeknight dinner, but also plenty nice if you decide to come for a special occasion.
Income Tax in Edgewater, serves fancy fine-dining food and interesting wines in a casual neighborhood space. Both the wines and the small plates are from different European countries, and they’re designed for you to mix and match. This spot is ideal for a weeknight dinner with friends, but our favorite way to eat here is after work, by ourselves, at the bar. You may forget you’re in Edgewater at all, since the food would also fit in at a restaurant downtown, but you’ll appreciate the reasonable prices.
To the uninitiated, Kimski’s might sound about as convoluted as the plot of Inception: It’s a bar in Bridgeport, serving Korean and Polish fusion food in a modern, industrial environment, attached to another bar - Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar, a divey local spot. And if you want, you can get food from Kimski’s and eat it at Maria’s. Again, sounds confusing, but it works. Go to Kimski’s for food that’s inexpensive and interesting, like the Maria’s Standard - a Polish sausage topped with “kraut-chi” (sauerkraut and kimchi) - and when you’re done hanging out there, go over to Maria’s and live that neighborhood-bar life.
A few years ago, a ton of fried chicken shops opened up in Chicago, and they all started to feel the same. Honey Butter in Avondale has managed to stand out - partly because its deboned fried chicken makes for a fantastic sandwich, but mainly because of the honey butter. It may sound like a Paula Deen-inspired plot to kill us all, but it turns out that adding honey butter to fried chicken is delicious and takes it to another level. This neighborhood place - where you can get takeout but also sit and eat, either in the main space or in the garden out back - has friendly service that will make you feel like you’re at a family picnic you actually want to be at.
A place doesn’t need to be a dive with sticky floors to feel like it’s been around forever. Case in point: Forbidden Root. This West Town brewpub in a remodeled old theater has enough historical touches to fit in with the neighborhood, but still seems modern - the space is open and airy, with cool steampunk light fixtures and brewing vats visible in the back of the restaurant. The food and beer are both excellent, so come for a post-work drink with friends and don’t worry about finding another spot for dinner.
Athenian Room in Lincoln Park has been around for a long time, and continues to be one of our favorite neighborhood spots, no matter how many new places pop up. It’s very casual, and service is brusque, but the huge portions of reasonably-priced, solid Greek food will make you forget all about that. You need to get the Kalamata chicken, which is roasted and served with chicken jus-soaked fries that are like crack. They don’t serve alcohol (just crack fries), but you can bring it over from the bar next door.