CHIGuide

The Best Restaurants In Humboldt Park

The 20 best places to eat in Humboldt Park.
A full spread of food at Gaoku with grilled prawns, ramen, raw scallops, and drinks,

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Looking for a place to eat in Humboldt Park is like going to a market where vintage Grateful Dead patches, immersion blenders, and Sopranos DVD box sets are all being sold side-by-side. You can get $10 jibaritos and $130 caviar within blocks of each other. There’s a wine bar and a throwback soda fountain sitting at the same intersection. Do you feel like eating outside? Take your pick from quaint streetside patios, secluded backyards, or head to the beautiful, picnic-ready park the neighborhood is named after.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Italian

Humboldt Park

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerDate Night
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The food at this casual Italian restaurant stands out in Chicago’s pasta and chicken parmesan landscape, because every dish has some kind of creative twist. The meatballs are filled with melted scamorza, offering the benefits of a Juicy Lucy without the risk of third-degree burns. The deconstructed lasagna is a pile of handmade garlic mafaldine, whipped ricotta, and a mushroom bolognese that would win in a steel cage death match against any meat version. The restaurant has the relaxed vibe of a European cafe, and is busy with couples on dates, small groups catching up, and people at the bar drinking wine and having oysters—all of whom are probably pretending they’re on vacation.


Back before the Great Chicago Omakase Restaurant Influx of 2018, there was Kai Zan. This BYOB sushi spot has been around since 2012 and continues to have one of the best omakase options in the city—and also one of the most affordable. For $90 you get 10 courses of delicious sushi and Japanese small plates, including dishes like scallop shooters that you probably won’t see on other menus. If you’re someone who prefers controlling their own destiny, you can order from a separate a la carte menu of sashimi and nigiri instead.


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Nellie’s is a breakfast lover’s paradise where corn-flake-battered french toast coexists peacefully alongside breakfast jibaritos on the same menu. On weekends they serve breakfast buffet-style, but their weekday special is an omelet with salchichon and maduros, which is a great way to thread the sweet-savory needle if you’re the type of person who can never choose. The special also comes with a cup of their coconut oatmeal, which is so popular that they sell it to go—by the gallon.


Spinning J is a throwback bakery and soda fountain full of vintage flair like recycled church pews and light fixtures plus artfully mismatched dishware. The sodas are exceptional, with interesting housemade syrups like Thai tea egg cream or strawberry rhubarb—and they all can (and should) be upgraded to a float. Make sure to grab one of their excellent sandwiches, like the roasted beet reuben, and definitely consider taking home a slice of pie (if not a whole one).


The arepas at Arepa George check all the boxes on the arepa spreadsheet we have hanging on our wall: thin, charred corn cakes with a nice texture, tender shredded meat, gooey cheese, and both aji and salsa rosada for dipping. In short, they’re delicious and you should go order one ASAP. They also serve other traditional Colombian plates like bandeja paisa, along with soup and empanadas.


Pozoleria San Juan has a long Mexican menu, but their namesake soup—pozole—is the reason we can’t stay away. They have three types, but the rojo is our favorite. It’s richly flavored with guajillo chiles, full of pork and fluffy hominy, and becomes even more robust when dressed up with red onion, avocado, and crispy chicharon. After the first bite, the shiny tiled walls, checkered tablecloths, and kitchen noises all disappear. For a moment, pozole is all that matters, and we forget that we’re in a small restaurant that feels like someone’s dining room. The only downside is that this spot closes at 7pm, but at least they open early at 9am.


photo credit: Kim Kovacik

With exposed brick walls and a large wooden bar, Gaoku looks like a typical local watering hole. But unlike the usual temples of Old Style and Malört, this bar has fantastic Japanese-Thai dishes and drinks. The menu is full of hits like fragrant tom kha-inspired scallops with coconut dashi, spicy khao soi ramen, and buttery grilled tiger prawns with a creamy motoyaki sauce. Throw in some refreshing cocktails like a shiso-tinged margarita or fruity wakamomo splash, plus a summer patio, and you have a great spot for a weekend lunch, dinner, or drinks before a show at the California Clipper across the street.

With abstract paintings spotlighted by ceiling lamps, this quiet Mexican sit-down restaurant could pretty easily transition into an art gallery (with a fully stocked bar). Their food also deserves some of that spotlight—it’s the reason for this nearly twenty-year-old spot’s longevity. La Encantada’s tacos and burritos are good, but focus on specialties like cheesy chiles rellenos or any of their eight different enchilada dinners. Just a heads up: this is a credit card-free zone. But if you forgot to hit up an ATM, you can also Venmo them.


1492 Cuban Fusion Cafe has no shortage of personality—from colorful knick knacks to friendly servers giving TED talks about everything in the massive appetizer sample. And while scaling that fried food mountain with friends is great, so is the rest of their Cuban and Latin food. The menu is long and reads like a short novel. Don’t feel like reading small novels? Here are the Sparknotes: go for a guava-cheese pastelito and coffee in the morning, a Cubano for lunch, or ropa vieja for dinner. Plus, you can even bring your favorite bottle of wine or six-pack since they’re BYOB.


The inside of this bright Dominican spot has a massive flag mural and some digital slot machines by the counter. While their swirling rainbow lights and the prospect of winning a jackpot might be enticing, don’t let that distract you from Tropical Taste’s delicious food. Fluffy yellow rice pairs perfectly with peppery oxtail guisado, and their roast chicken is juicy. It’s also worth setting a calendar reminder for daily specials like the creamy pescado con coco (a Friday exclusive). Tropical Taste is only open until 7pm, but the friendly staff will encourage you to stay and finish your moro de guandules even if it’s past closing.


If you haven’t had a jibarito before, this is the place to start. Papa’s jibaritos are garlicky and delicious, served with a side of Spanish rice you can use as a base for when the contents of your sandwich inevitably fall onto your plate. The dining room is small, but there’s a covered patio out front where you and a friend can split a BYOB six-pack.


Rootstock is a casual wine bar where the food is as much of a draw as the wine. They have delicious seasonal dishes like bay scallops with green lentil remoulade or an asparagus and taleggio tart, but their burger (a permanent fixture of the menu) is also great. The inside is welcoming and relaxed, while the mismatched chairs and modest streetside patio make you feel like you’re eating at an artist’s loft instead of a sit-down restaurant. If you’re not coming for a full meal, split one of their rotating charcuterie and cheese boards.


Dave’s began as a food truck in Pilsen, and now has a brick and mortar location in Humboldt Park. And not only is the Mexican food here delicious, but Dave’s is also a low-key bar great for hanging out with friends, watching a game, or dining solo. Like the original, the menu is mainly tacos, burritos, and tortas, with a variety of filling options. Our favorite dishes are the spicy guajillo shrimp taco, carne asada burrito (perfectly constructed with an ideal ratio of meat to beans and cheese) and the mole de pollo dinner—which is rich, sweet, and comes with creamy refried black beans, rice, and tortillas so you can make your own tacos.


This small walk-in spot near the corner of Chicago and Grand serves Detroit-style coney dogs. For anyone who’s never been east of Indiana, that means pork-and-beef sausage covered in chili. The dogs here have a great snap, and the chili is a fun change of pace from the typical Chicago fixings (although they offer those, too). If you wake up in the middle of the night craving cake shakes, but get stressed thinking about the lines at Portillo’s, Lola’s makes their own outstanding version with Sanders Bumpy Cake—a Detroit delicacy involving devil’s food cake, buttercream frosting, and fudge icing.


Across the way from Lola’s is another small counter-service restaurant serving quick and delicious food. The tacos here are solid, with plenty of choices from al pastor to lengua, but the reason you’ll want to stop in is the fresh guacamole, which comes in two sizes. Get the large.


Flexible enough for a fancy date night or after-work drinks, Heritage is the type of place whose Happy Hour deal combines $2 oysters and Bud Light. If you dream of beer-battered cheese curds and $140 caviar while wearing jean shorts and a baseball cap, this is the spot you’ve been looking for. And may we just say, you have very strange and specific desires.


Diana’s, an affordable diner with awesome Puerto Rican sandwiches, is another great place to order a jibarito, or an excellent cubano with crisp bread and juicy pulled pork. And if you want more fried snacks other than tostones, they also have adobo fries, pastelillos, and relleno de papa. This place closes in the early evening, so it’s best to come in for breakfast or lunch. Or breakfast and lunch.


Head here for some of the most satisfying deli sandwiches in the city, made on fresh bread with hearty portions of meat and cheese and finished with extras like creamy garlic mayo and Haus dressing. It’s directly across from the park, and it’s the absolute best stop for all your picnicking needs. The fact that it’s connected to a liquor store means it has a better beer selection than your favorite sports bar, so dining in at Humboldt Haus is a great option, too.


With a chalkboard menu, green lunch trays, and plastic tablecloths, Feed feels like a Southern cafeteria. And for just $12.50, you can get a juicy, well-seasoned quarter rotisserie chicken and pick two sides from a list that we can’t count on two hands. As a bonus, it’s BYOB, and there’s a hidden little patio perfect for family dinners in the summertime.


Cafe Colao has something we wish all coffee shops served: Puerto Rican pastries like flaky pastelillos de guayaba. In addition to their coffee and bakery menu they’ve also got a long list of breakfast and lunch sandwiches, from steak and eggs to medianoches. There’s no WiFi, but there is sidewalk seating perfect for that coffee date you’ve been putting off, or you can take your iced latte for a walk around the park a block away.


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