Wicker Park has something for everyone these days, which is particularly true when it comes to restaurants. From fancy fine dining, to ethnic eats, to a particular taco restaurant you most likely have strong opinions about, there’s a lot going on.
The hardest part about breaking down the Wicker Park dining scene is deciding where exactly the neighborhood begins and ends. There’s no perfect answer, so for clarity’s sake, we’re considering the square area between Ashland and Western, and Division and the Bloomingdale Trail (thanks Google Maps).
Schwa is not only one of the best restaurants in Wicker Park, it’s one of the best and most interesting restaurants anywhere. Jump on a reservation if you manage to get them to pick up the phone, which they don’t like to do. Schwa serves a fine dining caliber tasting menu except for the rap and rock music is loud and the crazy *ss staff has been known to light off a firework or two with customers out back. It’s also BYOB, and nothing goes together better than fireworks and booze.
If you’re a fan of shellfish, this Mexican spot is where you should be eating in Wicker Park. The space is ultra casual, with rickety chairs and dirty floors, but all that will disappear the moment the seafood hits your table. Prawns and lobster are the move here: the prawns come in a delicious spicy broth, and the lobster has a seafood stuffing, which kind of reminds us of a shellfish turducken. Feel free to get messy here - it’s the best way to enjoy the food, and will make you immediately glad that you are in a no-frills environment.
At some point Publican offshoots started popping up all over Chicago, and now there’s even a location at O’Hare. Publican Anker is Wicker Park’s spinoff, and it has a similar menu, but goes heavier on vegetable and seafood dishes. Also, if you ever wished that the Publican served a burger, they have one here and it’s fantastic. Anker is more casual, feels more like a bar than a restaurant, but still has excellent food like the original. It’s ideal for grabbing dinner after work, or for oysters and a beer.
Irazu will make you feel good the moment you walk in. It’s welcoming, BYOB, and serves delicious Costa Rican food. Their menu is large, with lots of sandwiches, empanadas, and entrees like casado, a Costa Rican specialty with skirt steak, an over-easy egg, plantains and cabbage salad. Whatever you order, you can count on it coming with gallo pinto (rice with black beans) and an order of plantains. It’s cash only, so plan accordingly. There’s a big covered patio that’s great for large groups.
Veggie-centric restaurants have been infiltrating Chicago lately, but none of them seem to be having as much fun as Clever Rabbit. The overall feeling is energetic, and the menu gives you the impression that the chef just really, really likes vegetables. There’s an insanely huge crudité platter that’s like a garden on the table, and the salads have the same absurd level of abundance. Meat options are on the menu, but you’re better off sticking with dishes like the carrot dumplings, or any of the vegetable small plates. There’s a large outdoor patio, and the casual space makes it a likeable spot to hang out, even if you’re not a vegetarian.
A pizza party for adults is the short way to sum up Piece. Their specialty is New Haven style pizza, which means a lot of red sauce with extra olive oil and parmesan, but no mozzarella cheese. That’s what you should order. Gather your crew and head to Piece for pizza and beer.
Here’s the problem with sushi: you want great sushi, but you don’t want to pay great sushi prices. We know this because we experience it all of the time. That’s where Mirai comes in. We’re not saying you’ll find cheap eats here, but you won’t have to break the bank for a quality raw fish product.
We love Greek food, but we don’t always want to eat mediocre heaping portions of it. Taxim serves traditional Greek food in an upscale and interesting way, and that’s what makes it good. Come for a date night or even a big group dinner knowing you’ll still be able to hit the town when you leave.
We’re basically the leaders of the Furious Spoon fan club at this point, and we’re not ashamed. Both the ramen and space have their own flare, with thick broth and loud music respectively. It’s a cool place, but still approachable, which is everything we want a ramen restaurant to be.
Mindy’s is no doubt a staple in the neighborhood, and for good reason. The space is cool and the food is good, plus the specialty hot chocolates and desserts put it over the edge. Mindy has now gotten into the weed edibles game, which sounds like a brilliant marketing plan for the continued success of everything she does.
Haters gonna hate, but there’s no denying the power that is Big Star. We here at The Infatuation Chicago are divided on the matter, but the pro-Big Star team is all about tacos and margaritas on a nice summer day. This is arguably the best patio in town, but don’t sleep the bar in the winter isn’t a bad move either.
If you’re looking for a neighborhood one-size-fits-all spot, Presidio has you covered. Nothing here is exceptional, but everything is solid, with tasty pasta dishes, and main courses that cover all the bases: roasted chicken, pork ribs, and a burger. It’s a comfortable, casual restaurant, and has a nice bar area with a decent wine list. Think of it as a better version of a hotel restaurant. Go here to catch up with a friend over dinner and drinks.
If Furious Spoon is the cigarette-smoking punk rock kid you don’t want your daughter to date, then Oiistar is the preppy dude in khakis and a collared shirt. Both make good ramen, but Oiistar plays it a bit safe with the space. It’s pleasant enough though, and in addition to ramen, they also do great shared dishes like buns or togarashi mussels.
Antique Taco’s options are definitely not the most authentic in town. But that’s OK, because they’re still doing great things. The “Antique” in the name is a nod to the style and decor of the space, and the taco part of the name is for tacos. You’re welcome for that explanation. Fish tacos are a good move here, and save room for abuelita’s pop tart for dessert, which is marshmallow and chocolate in a homemade pastry.
Dove’s is a great spot if you want to dine solo, or with one other person. It’s almost all counter seating, and the place overall is a Tex-Mex Food + Old School Soda Shop Lunch Counter + Chicago Blues Music combination. It’s definitely one of a kind.
We all know the Au Cheval burger is the best out there. But as good as it is, that’s how big of a pain in the *ss it is to get a table. That’s why Small Cheval is so great. It’s not quite as good as Au Cheval because you can’t get the bacon, but it’s pretty damn close and you can always get in.
Handlebar is a mostly vegetarian restaurant that has a real locals-only feel to it. It’s the kind of place you want to sit, eat, drink, and hang. And that’s especially true in the summer, when you can do it all on their patio out back. Just don’t plan on coming with a big group, because you can only get tables for up to six max. While Handlebar is mostly vegetarian, it’s not just for vegetarians. Items like catfish or fried avocado tacos are good as well, and it’s also a nice place to drink.
You might be sick of hearing the term “Asian fusion,” but Mott Street does things differently, with excellent dishes like Kimchi and Oaxaca Empanadas or General Tso’s Veal Sweetbreads. Or just stick with the everything wings and you’ll be good to go.
Pub Royal does a pub food take on Indian food, and there’s a lot to like here. You can keep things light with items like a curry dressing salad and cucumber raita, or go for the comforting stuff like palak paneer and an order of India hot chicken. Just know that seating is a bit of a free-for-all.
Cumin is a combination Nepalese and Indian spot, and it’s seriously good. The menu is massive, with everything from goat stew to samosas to chicken tikka masala to a bunch of Indian staples ideal for vegetarians. There’s a lunch buffet if you want to go big during the day, or go for dinner where you’ll find a nice environment to sit and have a Nepalese-Indian meal.
Sultan’s Market is home of the best cheap eats around - come large quantities of all sorts of Middle Eastern cuisine for virtually nothing. We like to keep it simple with the falafel and shawarma sandwiches on the go, but the platters are a good choice as well. If you really want to take advantage of Sultan’s, grab dinner on the small patio in the summer where it’s also BYOB.
Hash feels like eating breakfast in your living room, if your living room were a friendly hipster commune. The mugs are mismatched, the alcohol is BYO, and the music actually adds to the atmosphere. Everything about this place gives you the sense that Hash isn’t interested in conforming to the brunch scene. Think of Hash as the beatnik genius who shows up stoned to Math class, and that’s why it’s ideal for breakfast and lunch any day of the week.
Is a donut shop actually a restaurant? Yes, because we make the rules. Eat all of the donuts at Stan’s.