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 $6 jibaritos and $130 caviar within blocks of each other. There’s a wine bar, a pizza tavern, and a throwback soda fountain all sitting at the same intersection. Do you feel like eating outside? Take your pick from quaint streetside patios, secluded backyards, or ordering your meal for pickup and heading to the beautiful, picnic-ready park the neighborhood is named after.
With all of that going on, we wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know where to get started. Here are the best places to eat in Humboldt Park, no matter what you’re looking for.
If you haven’t had a jibarito before—a Puerto Rican sandwich made with fried plantains instead of bread–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.
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.
Rootstock is a casual wine bar where you can walk in, ask the bartender for a glass of their favorite zinfandel, and then order a whipped burrata and pesto bucatini - at 10pm. Dinner’s served until 11pm here, which, along with the mismatched chairs and modest streetside patio, makes 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.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Aztec Dave's Cantina
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.
Good luck walking away with less than six sandwiches per person from Tribecca’s. This takeout-only sandwich spot has nine to choose from, and each one we’ve tried has been unique and delicious. Their flavorful version of a Cubano is made with mojo pork, ham, chipotle aioli and mustard butter on pressed ciabatta. The horseshoe—an open-faced sandwich on Pullman bread topped with two beef patties, cheese sauce, and fries—will obliterate any hangover. And they have a sloppy and perfect “Maidwrong” made with steak sauce aioli. The sandwiches are all filling enough to qualify as a three-course meal on their own, but don’t ignore the excellent sides. Particularly the creamy mac and cheese and loaded baked potato-nut, which is a Tubers donut fried in clarified butter and topped with sour cream, bacon, cotija, and chives. You know, a light snack.
Flexible enough for a fancy date night or after-work drinks, Heritage is the type of place whose Happy Hour deal combines $1 oysters and Bud Light. If you dream of eating chicken liver mousse 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 need an excuse to eat more plantains, they offer a ton of different preparations: alcapurrias, maduras, tostones, and mofongo. 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.
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.
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 soda fountain that makes milkshakes, pastries, and excellent sandwiches, like a roasted beet reuben. It’s BYOB, and you can use their housemade sodas as mixers, so grab a seat at the vintage ice cream counter and take your flask of vodka out of your bag - because unlike the Slurpee station at 7-11, you don’t have to hide it when you’re here.
With a chalkboard menu, green lunch trays, and plastic tablecloths, Feed feels like a down-home Southern cafeteria - with cafeteria prices. For under $10, 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.
The space at Split Rail is light and airy - two words we’d never use to describe their food. Fried chicken is the main reason to come here, but there are also options for people who might not usually get to enjoy fried chicken, like gluten-free breading and a vegan seitan version. Make sure to start the meal with a buttermilk biscuit and chile-maple butter.
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 $75, 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.