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A seafood tower and a bottle of Champagne
Obelix is rolling in Chicago.
Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

The 38 Essential Restaurants in Chicago

The restaurants worth adjusting busy schedules to check out

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Obelix is rolling in Chicago.
| Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

The snow is inevitable in Chicago, but there’s some time left and with that, it’s time to update the Eater Chicago 38.

This collection of Chicago’s best restaurants provides answers for the classic question: “Where would you dine if you had one night in the city?” The list recognizes some all-time greats and restaurants that have pushed culinary boundaries. This list is for locals who want to make the most out of their nights. It’s also for visitors unfamiliar with the city.

For the October update, four new members join, as fine dining powerhouses Kyoten and Smyth take a bow after long runs, while Adalina heads to the bench. The big shocker: Pequod’s, the legendary deep-dish favorite in Lincoln Park, joins them.

Have tips or suggestions for the Eater 38? Send them to the Chicago tipline. And head here for a guide to Chicago’s newer restaurants. For all the latest Chicago dining intel, subscribe to Eater Chicago’s newsletter.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Superdawg Drive-In

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Avatars of Superdawg founders Maurie and Flaurie Berman stand guard over this venerable Chicago drive-in at the intersection of Devon, Nagle, and Milwaukee; customers can spot those giant hot dog statues bearing the Bermans’ likenesses from blocks away. Superdawg is a throwback experience where customers park their cars and talk to staff through crackling speakers and carhops bring out trays of food. Superdawg’s offering isn’t a traditional Chicago-style dog. Rather than a Vienna Beef frank, Superdawg uses a thick, proprietary all-beef sausage that comes with mustard, pickled green tomato, and chopped Spanish onions. This is all cradled in a box of crinkle fries. There’s a second suburban location in Wheeling.

A blue cardboard rectangle food container with a hot dog inside. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Luella's Southern Kitchen

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While chef Darnell Reed toiled in hotel kitchens in downtown Chicago, he imagined opening a restaurant that honored his great-grandmother Luella, who arrived in Chicago from Mississippi in 1943. Now, his tiny Lincoln Square restaurant serves some of the city’s best Southern food, including shrimp and grits, chicken gumbo, and a mighty platter of fried chicken and waffles. This Black-owned restaurant on the North Side is also a popular brunch destination. It’s a casual spot with counter ordering, but it brings a serious menu where everyone can find something hearty and delectable.

Bayan Ko

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Bayan Ko is the only place in Chicago where diners can find lumpia, empanadas, and fried rice with shrimp and Cuban-style mojo pork. With Cuban and Filipino owners, the restaurant dips into both countries with impressive results. The focus isn’t fusion but taking dishes from both cultures that complement each other. The sandwiches, like the Pinoy burger (made with beef and longganisa), stand out. The Adobo wings create cravings and the pancit is worth a detour. The restaurant is BYO; reservations are recommended for the weekend.

Community Tavern

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Since Joey and Brenna Beato took over Community Tavern, the Portage Park restaurant has expanded its menu away from its origins as a neighborhood steakhouse. But, fortunately, the neighborhood aspect remains. The bar program is robust, and kids under 12 eat free on certain days. The menu defies cohesion, which isn’t a bad thing: There’s a section of Asian-style dumplings, including one stuffed with mushroom butter. A white prawn carbonara is as much Thai as Italian, and the bibimbap can be supercharged with skirt steak, in a nod to the old steakhouse.

Smoque BBQ

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With two smokers to prep meaty St. Louis-style and baby back ribs, tender brisket, and apple-and-oak-smoked pulled pork, this destination in the Northwest Side neighborhood of Irving Park delivers barbecue in the styles of Kansas City and Memphis. During the pandemic, owner Barry Sorkin expanded takeout and outdoor dining options, including a patio in the former parking lot.

A brown wooden fence separates a low, dark-looking building from the sidewalk. Red awning hangs off the building.
This Irving Park barbecue spot serves some of the most sought-after meats in the city.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Superkhana International

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Want to find a great burger and delicious pizza topped with the freshest veggies of the season? Superkhana International isn’t what diners expect. The restaurant’s backbone is Indian cooking, and diners will detect the familiar spices that make subcontinental cuisine unique. But this isn’t Tata’s Indian American restaurant. The pork vindaloo is sublime, almost a deconstructed version of the dish. The brunch might be the best in town with appam, the Indian griddle cakes, spiked with fresh produce such as spring peas. It’s a classic veggie option that can be brokered toward carnivores by adding bacon. The Hakka noodles are fresh — the best version of the Indian Chinese classic Chicagoans will be able to find. The chefs at Superkhana are just finding their groove. The novelties remain — butter chicken calzones are glorious. But the restaurant offers much more than shock and awe. Indian food is about more than heat.

Pat's Pizza and Ristorante

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Chicago thin-crust pizza is having a moment, with the city’s pizza-makers eager to defy the notion that this is only a deep-dish town. (Settle down, deep-dish fans. The thick slices are still awesome.) Pat’s Pizza in Lakeview has a storied history of popularizing tavern-style pies. This family-owned spot sports some of the crispiest, thinnest pizzas around. Pat’s uses its own sausage blend, which also helps set this place apart. Pies are available for carryout, delivery, patio, and indoor dining.

A Chicago tavern-style pizza with a few pieces missing. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Mi Tocaya Antojería

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Few chefs share the talent and drive that Diana Dávila exhibits while showcasing a dazzling display of small Mexican dishes in Logan Square. Dávila isn’t shy about taking risks; she isn’t pandering to the typical American diner. This isn’t a place to fill up on chips and salsa with a pitcher of margaritas; Dávila left her previous job after owners tried to force those expectations on her. That’s not to say the guacamole, steak burrito, and fried oyster tacos aren’t stellar. But customers should dive into unique items like peanut butter lengua and tlacoyo de nopalitos, the latter of which represents Dávila’s passion for pre-Hispanic Mexico.

Lula Cafe

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Chef and owner Jason Hammel continues to keep the community at the forefront of operations at Lula Cafe, which has, since 1999, endeared itself to many in Logan Square as a welcoming space for new American cuisine. This is an all-day cafe with fresh-baked pastries and a stellar breakfast burrito. At night, the wine list goes deep to accompany dishes like roast chicken, beet bruschetta, and summer squash with Santa Rosa plums, Tropea onions, and basil. Find a seat at the bar and enjoy oysters and snacks like chicken liver mousse.

A brick building with a sign that reads “Lula Cafe.”  Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Daisies

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Daisies is more than just a spot for beautifully made pastas. Chef Joe Frillman and family have met every challenge that the pandemic has posed with creativity. They converted the back dining room to a market for local vendors when the state suspended indoor dining. They’ve been working the farmers market every week with gusto. During this time, Daisies has started to offer a lunch menu where weekday diners can score a decadent wagyu cheesesteak or nosh on the best homemade sour cream and onion dip around. It’s the little touches that make Daisies unique, with a casual and welcoming feel. But it all comes back to those pastas, full of Midwestern farm-to-table pride: The produce comes from Frillman’s farmer brother.

Taqueria Chingon

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Chicago has plenty of taquerias, but this Logan Square entry has quickly ascended to the head of the class. From a trio of Mexican chefs who worked at acclaimed French restaurants La Sardine and Le Bouchon, Taqueria Chingon offers delicate top-notch tacos. The pork and veggie pastors off the trompo offer masterclasses in texture. This is also a great place for the uninitiated to try out organ meats. The weekly specials are worthy of repeat eating. You never know what the chefs will scheme. They recently debuted a patio.

Taqueria Chingon is top notch.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Redhot Ranch

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It’s hard for Chicago hot dog stands to differentiate themselves, as most of them use the same product: dependable Vienna Beef. But Redhot Ranch has managed. First, the stand uses sausage with natural casings. This provides the dogs with a unique bite, snappier than the Oscar Mayers that many Americans grew up eating. The stand also serves Depression dogs, the Chicago variant that comes with french fries in the bun. The griddle burgers are also of note. There are few meals as satisfying late at night. Redhot Ranch has locations in Lakeview and Bucktown, and 35th Street Red Hots, near Sox Park in Bridgeport, is from the same owners and has an identical menu.

Hermosa Restaurant

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Hermosa may look similar to a neighborhood hot dog or beef stand that many Chicagoans grew up with, but chef and owner Ethan Lim, who had a stint as a server at Alinea Group’s Next Restaurant and the Aviary, uses his culinary talent to take Chicago classics to the next evolutionary level, incorporating Asian flavors to create a Cambodian fried chicken sandwich and an Italian beef banh mi. But for those who want a composed meal rather than a fast-casual sandwich, Lim also offers a popular “Family Meal,” essentially a chance to buy out the entire room for dinner. The chef is a one-man show, loading the table up with delicious pan-Asian plates (noodles, Cambodian beef dishes) meant to be shared.

Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s fine dining institution is the city’s only restaurant to have three Michelin stars, and is considered one of the world’s best. Inside the luxurious Lincoln Park dining room, expect a sensory overload. Achatz uses heavily scented citrus, smoke, and other smells to provide diners with a theatrical experience: Servers present dishes as though they were works of art. As dinner for two can run close to $1,000 with wine pairings, Alinea is the restaurant that appears most frequently on Chicagoans’ bucket lists.

A muted, carpeted dining room.
Alinea remodeled in 2016.
Matthew Gilson/Alinea Group

Johnnie's Beef

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The best example of Chicago’s iconic Italian beef sandwich exists outside of the city at the two suburban locations of Johnnie’s Beef. The original space in Elmwood Park is a relic that first opened in 1961 (there’s also a second location in Arlington Heights). The menu is simple: beefs (the monosyllabic term locals use for Italian beef sandwiches), charcoal-grilled Italian sausages, and hot dogs. The thin-cut beef is perfectly seasoned with hints of oregano. The hot peppers deliver plenty of heat without overwhelming the meat. Don’t sleep on the beef-sausage sandwich, which combines tender slices with a robust sausage. Pepper-and-egg sandwiches are also available daily; they’re mostly aimed at Catholic customers who need a meat-free option on Lent Fridays. For dessert, there’s a stellar lemon Italian ice. While the city has plenty of beef options, Johnnie’s is worth the drive to the burbs.

Although 2020 was a challenging time to open a restaurant, the pandemic couldn’t stop the husband-and-wife team of Tim Flores and Genie Kwon. Kasama was one of the year’s true bright spots, and one of Eater’s 11 Best New Restaurants in America for 2021. Kwon handles the amazing pastries, like an eclair-shaped croissant topped with Serrano ham or salmon, while Flores prepares Filipino dishes for breakfast and brunch, including spins on lumpia and rice plates with tocino (roasted char siu-like pork) and longganisa (charred sausage). This past fall, Kasama introduced a fine dining dinner menu, one of the few Filipino tasting menus in the country, which immediately became one of the hottest tickets in town.

A tray with chicken wings, tocino, loganiza, and lumpia Shanghai. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Soulé amps up soul food classics like nourishing shrimp and grits, jerk chicken wings, and blackened catfish. The attention to detail in the food has made the restaurant a neighborhood favorite and drawn many visiting celebrities, particularly musicians and athletes, including former Chicago Bull Bobby Portis and NBA legend Scottie Pippen. As of publication, a second location is close to opening in North Lawndale.

Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Bar Sotano

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Rick Bayless is the Oklahoma-born chef who obsessed over Mexican cuisine, appearing on TV and creating his own grocery-food empire, and his restaurants still remain landmarks in River North for their inventiveness. His flagship, Frontera, which opened in 1987, provides a more casual dining experience, while sibling Topolobampo, which opened two years later, was one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to present Mexican food in a fine dining atmosphere. Bar Sótano is the baby of the group, a basement tavern that serves as an experimental space with pop-ups and creative cocktails. Bayless’s name often prompts emotional responses when it comes to discussion about cultural appropriation, but there’s no question that he’s raised appreciation for Mexican food in America. (Fast-casual Xoco, which has been spun out into the Tortazo chain, is in the same building).

A dining room with white brick walls and teal banquettes.
Bar Sotano is among four restaurants from Rick Bayless in River North.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Rose Mary

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Joe Flamm and his partners went big in Fulton Market, opening a meticulously designed restaurant that’s become a destination for out of towners who know Flamm from his Top Chef win. But Rose Mary, described as “Adriatic drinking food,” writes a love letter to locals with European notes by fusing Italian, Croatian, and Midwestern sensibilities. The pastas would be at home at Spiaggia, one of the best Italian restaurants in Chicago before it closed, and where Flamm cut his teeth. The ribs have a sticky sauce that breeds a familiarity to those who grew up on both the Southwest or Northwest sides. They serve cevapi, a Balkan-style sausage. The octopus, cooked over a wood grill, is perfect. There’s a great energy in the restaurant which also offers a seasonal tasting table over the warmer months. Reservations are a must for the latter.

A bright dining room in a restaurant with black and white tile, light wooden floors, and bar stolls with full back rests.
Rose Mary is a beautiful restaurant.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Ever Restaurant

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Chef Curtis Duffy became a superstar when he opened his first award-winning restaurant, Grace, on Randolph Street, and he’s brought that energy a few blocks west to Fulton Market, where Ever opened in 2020. Duffy is offering only one tasting menu (vegetarians will be accommodated), but he remains committed to showing off precise techniques with playful execution. Case in point: artfully cut ribbons of freeze-dried hamachi. Fine dining tends to be polarizing, but for folks who want a meal with a dash of theatrics, Ever fulfills that niche better than any Chicago restaurant. Just note that this is one of the most expensive meals in Chicago.

Oriole could have sat on its laurels when it reopened last July for the first time since March 2020. The Michelin-star recipient was already known for pushing the boundaries of fine dining without pretension. Instead, management gutted the space and gave chef Noah Sandoval a new kitchen to play with. The chef doesn’t disappoint in his new workplace and has created a fantastic tasting menu. The foie gras course — with pink peppercorn and anise hyssop — is one of the best in memory.

An open kitchen inside a restaurant. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Chicagoans have few choices for upscale Indian food downtown. Rooh’s 2019 arrival is noteworthy not only because it fills that void, but because it also gives the West Loop some sorely needed variety. Patrons will be more than impressed with familiar classics such as butter chicken, but jackfruit kofta, scallops dusted with gunpowder pepper, and achari monkfish offer a better taste of modern Indian cooking. The restaurant also has a heated and tented patio.

A white plate with two pieces of protein, swooshes of sauce, and delicate garnishes.
Rooh takes a more composed and modern look at Indian food.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Monteverde

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The first restaurant from former Top Chef and Spiaggia chef Sarah Grueneberg has quickly cemented itself as one of Chicago’s top Italian destinations. The pastas are the stars at this West Loop hot spot, and customers can see cooks hard at work behind the counter rolling out dough and creating the delectable noodles they will soon consume. The restaurant’s pandemic takeout menu remains, but the dining room offers lively options like whole-bird chicken parm. There’s also a notable gluten-free menu.

Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen

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The torchbearer for a dying breed of Jewish delis and diners in Chicago, Manny’s has endured for more than half a century in the South Loop, thanks to its massive and delicious pastrami sandwiches, an array of hot homestyle dishes on steam tables, and a family-friendly atmosphere cultivated over generations. The cafeteria-style setting is plastered with decades-old newspaper clippings and letters from Chicago luminaries. The space also now houses a new wing for bagels, sweets, coffee, and food to go. In its heyday, Manny’s was where Chicago politicians were often seen brokering deals.

HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen

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HaiSous in Pilsen is a remarkable comeback story for Thai and Danielle Dang after they survived financial fraud at their previous restaurant, Embeya. Now they’re free to focus on food and hospitality. Thai Dang, a native of Vietnam, uses a number of techniques from back home, including claypot cooking, to create a menu that’s as ambitious as it is unpretentious with dishes like grilled wild boar with lemongrass. Danielle Dang’s expertise with cocktails should be better-recognized, as she pairs drinks to complement her husband’s two tasting menus. Customers can also order a la carte.

A small metal pan holds a colorful monkfish dish topped with green dill, pickled shallots, and fresno.
Turmeric-laced monkfish with dill, pickled shallots and fresno served with rice noodles topped with scallion confit and roasted peanuts at HaiSous.
Mistey Nguyen

Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant

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Chicago’s Mexican community and food enthusiasts worldwide flock to this longtime family-owned counter-service institution in Pilsen that celebrates all parts of the pig. Order carnitas by the pound at the front counter and settle into a table — if one is available — to craft your own individual tacos with a mix of salsas, tortillas, and beans, or order tacos, soup, and cactus salad ready-made. Prepare for lines and waits during peak weekend hours.

A platter of meat, a bowl of salsa, a paper container of chicharron, and a red Jarritos soda sit on a green tablecloth.
A carnitas platter with the fixings at Carnitas Uruapan.
Carnitas Uruapan

88 Marketplace

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Chicago has many food halls, but none offer the same type of experience as 88 Marketplace, the Chinese grocer in East Pilsen. The grocery store stocks tons of ingredients not readily available at chain supermarkets. That alone makes it a destination, but the second-floor food court offers wonders, headlined by 312 Fish Market, a sit-down restaurant with one of the most creative sushi menus in town at affordable prices. Find dumplings and other delights from A Place in Northeast, barbecue duck, and more from BBQ King 88. On the first floor, there’s Holu Steakhouse, where diners can find rare, pricey, and delectable cuts of beef along with top-notch cocktails. No stuffy River North steakhouse can compare. Then find Qiao Lin Hotpot, possibly the best hot pot in Chicago. Finally, get something sweet at Pure Tea. It took a while for 88 Marketplace to get going, but it’s now chugging on all cylinders.

A hand holding tongs over a table grill, with a piece of raw beef.
Holu is one of the best steakhouses in Chicago.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chciago

La Chaparrita Taqueria

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Chicago doesn’t get enough love for its tacos, but this charming grocery store in Little Village produces some of the finest in the city. From carne asada to crispy tripe, these tacos fit delicately in customers’ hands and are best enjoyed with tiny bites to savor the mix of textures and flavors. This restaurant, on a quiet residential street, is a true Chicago original. Carryout only.

Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream/Maria’s/Kimski

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These three businesses in one space make up a love letter to Chicago. Thin-crust, square-cut pizza (known as tavern-style) is found all over the city; the slices are convenient to snack on while holding a beer in the other hand. Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream’s razor-thin version, preferably topped with Makowski sausage, is the real deal and worth reheating in your home oven if you live far from Bridgeport. PFIC also serves bars from Pretty Cool Ice Cream and ace fried chicken and mushrooms from Kimski chef Won Kim. Kimski, meanwhile, is the city’s only Korean Polish restaurant. Through March, Kim is taking a sabbatical and the restaurant will host month-long pop-ups. They’re all owned by the same family behind Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, one of the city’s most beloved packaged-goods stores (also known as a “slashie”), a bar-liquor store hybrid.

Birrieria Zaragoza

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Feeling the quesabirria mania? Head to the Southwest Side near Midway International Airport for goat that isn’t labeled as the latest food trend. There’s a simple menu packed with deep flavors here. The handmade tortillas and accouterments form the foundation of a signature Chicago meal. This family-run restaurant is takeout-only. Get there early, as it often closes by early evening.

A server ladles juices over a plate of goat meat.
A large birrieria plate at Birrieria Zaragoza.
Birrieria Zaragoza

Jade Court

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Family is at the heart of Jade Court, a unique Cantonese restaurant in the University of Chicago’s Harper Court development. Carol Cheung has taken the torch from her father, the late Eddy Cheung, who originally opened the restaurant in University Village. The Cheungs push boundaries with their renditions of Cantonese classics. For example, elitists might laugh at the sight of egg foo young, a staple at Chinese American fast-food restaurants, but Jade Court cooks treat the dish as precious cargo. Customers would be wise to trust Carol Cheung’s recommendations; she has an uncanny understanding of which dishes to suggest to customers, running the gamut from seafood to beef. The bar program is also noteworthy, with unique collaborations and tropical-style drinks. It’s tiki without the baggage through a Chinese American lens.

A steel ladel spooning food out of a wok onto a plate.
Jade Court’s food is amazing.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Virtue Restaurant

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Chicago restaurant veteran Erick Williams has finally launched the restaurant he’s been dreaming of opening. Williams is intent on smashing all expectations for Southern food, and hopes to give diners a new perspective on Black cuisine. If customers want lighter fare, there are dishes like cauliflower with cashew dukkah and root cellar vegetables. For richer appetites, the beef short ribs with creamed spinach and crushed potatoes satisfy. Williams won the James Beard Award in 2022 for Best Chef: Great Lakes. One of Eater’s Best New Restaurants in 2019, Virtue has claimed its place as an iconic Chicago eatery.

A colorful cauliflower dish sits inside a grey bowl on a light wood table.
Virtue’s cauliflower with cashew dukkah, root cellar vegetables, and rice
Nick Fochtman/Eater

Lem's Bar-B-Q

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Chicago’s legendary aquarium-style smokers are on display at Lem’s, underneath a giant lighted sign off 75th Street. This small shack specializes in sauced baby back ribs and giant hot links. Chicago is credited with creating the practice of serving rib tips slathered with sauce, and this is the place to give newbies an introduction.

A hand holds aloft a rack of ribs with a tong in front of a full smoker. Nick Murway/Eater Chicago

Harold's Chicken Shack

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Not all Harold’s Chicken Shacks are created equal, as a few writers have found. This isn’t news for any Chicagoan, but it bears repeating, as Harold’s has become a nationally known brand thanks to celebrity fans like Chance the Rapper. This particular Harold’s, on the corner of 127th and Halsted, is known not for customer service, but for its crisp chicken (fried in beef fat) and its own take on mild sauce, the must-have condiment that’s become a cult favorite. Still, not everyone will agree: Harold’s fans are passionate and really enjoy arguing about which location is best.

Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Milly's Pizza In The Pan

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It’s hard to break the hold of habit and branding, as seen every weekend with tourists crowding into Chicago’s fine downtown deep-dish establishments, waiting hours to be fed. For those not interested in those pomp and circumstances there’s Milly’s Pizza in the Pan in Uptown. Milly’s began during the pandemic in a Humboldt Park ghost kitchen but recently moved to a permanent location on the North Side — with an obscene delivery zone. Robert Maleski is a one-man operation, churning out artisanal pies with quality ingredients and that “burnt” ring of caramelized cheese around the edges. While deep dish is polarizing, Maleski’s methods restore that magic of eating it for the first time. Even the most stubborn hater will find love for Milly’s.

Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Obelix tells one of the purest Chicago stories. The restaurant is run by a pair of brothers, French Americans who watched their parents run some of the city’s most successful French restaurants in town (Le Bouchon, La Sardine). With Obelix, Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey have taken the lessons their dear parents have bestowed and added their perspective as city dwellers: find massive seafood towers, a taco with foie gras, and a decadent beef Wellington. The traditional French staples (gooey French onion soup) remain. But this bistro has a comfortable and modern feel, blending several culinary traditions to create a true French Chicago restaurant, a unique experience for any Francophile.

An open-faced taco Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

J.P. Graziano Grocery

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Randolph Street was once known for culinary innovation, but it’s now been reduced to a dance floor for national companies trying to demonstrate their worth. Fortunately, J.P. Graziano’s remains, an old Italian grocer transformed into a sandwich haven. The lunch lines are long, so order online, and be sure to order from a squadron of delicious subs (the Mr. G is the specialty of the house with a truffled vinaigrette). The grocer makes its own giardiniera, so this is where to pick up Chicago’s famed pickled pepper blend.

Spinning J Bakery and Soda Fountain

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Spinning J’s pies spin the web to catch customers, but this retro bakery in Humboldt Park has a menu that much more than the pie. That’s not to diminish the seasonal offerings — key lime and s’more star — but the homemade biscuits that power breakfast sandwiches (try the roasted poblano), the quiche, square-cut pizza, and milkshakes more Spinning J a must-stop.