Chicago is a world-class culinary city. What often gets overlooked, though, are the terrific options available in the surrounding areas. Destination dining exists in the suburbs and those who live near the following spots can likely attest to their excellence. There’s a range here, from fine dining to the finest burgers and hot dogs in northeastern Illinois. So think outside the city limits and pursue a tasty adventure.Read More
Where to Eat in Suburban Chicago
The best bites outside city limits
Chicago Culinary Kitchen
Owners Kristina and Greg Gaardbo have earned high marks and a devoted following for their Texas-style barbecue. Before the pandemic, the couple sold limited quantities of brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and other smoked meats on the weekends. They’ve since expanded into a full-fledged restaurant with an extensive menu of craft beer and weekly specials.
Charlie Beinlich’s was created back in 1950 in the image of a north woods bar, complete with wood paneling and fish trophies on the wall. Its menu is simple: shrimp cocktail and sandwiches (grilled cheese, ham, tuna and egg salad). But the true standout is the burger. It’s a thick patty of meat, cooked on a grill, served on a toasted and buttered bun, ideally with grilled onions and a side of crispy crinkle fries. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’s the sort of burger that makes a diner sigh afterward, “Ah, that hits the spot.” Be warned: it’s cash only.
George Trois is actually two restaurants in the same building. George Trois is a temple to fine dining with a seasonal tasting menu. Aboyer is a brasserie that mixes French classics such as moules marinière and foie gras with chicken wings and sliders. Both are run by chef Michael Lachowicz (who previously worked at the legendary Le Francais), who in recent years overhauled both dining rooms.
Fans have flocked to Chef Ping for more than six decades, delighting in its robust Korean-Chinese menu and family-friendly dining room. Regulars praise its consistency — a feat in light of its tenure — and favorites like jajang myuen and fu chi fae pian (Sichuan spice-marinated beef and tripe).
For North Shore residents, wings are synonymous with this Evanston institution. The chicken is fried until it’s extra crispy and then tossed in founder Joe Prudden’s tangy, buttery sauce. Spiciness ranges from mild to “suicide,” and the quintessential game day food is best paired with a side of Buff Joe’s waffle fries.
Chef Miguel Escobar, sous chef Carlos Cahue, and wine director Sergio Angel leverage this newish Mexican restaurant as a platform to highlight the cuisine they grew up eating Huandacareo in Michoacan and Huitzuco in Guerrero. Longtime colleagues and business partners of Lachowicz (Aboyer, George Trois), the trio are bestowing dishes like chile relleno (queso Oaxaca, pintos martajados) and pork rendering-laced sope manteca upon Evanston.
Bombay Chopsticks bore great responsibility as one of the only Indo-Chinese restaurants in the Chicago area. Find great noodles, dumplings, and more. There’s a second location in Naperville.
Chicago’s premiere Japanese market is actually tucked away in suburban Arlington Heights, where legions of longtime fans beat a path to shop for produce and Asian packaged goods. It also houses Pastry House Hippo, a bakery packed with delectable Japanese pastries, an outpost of the confectionary brand J. Sweets, and a bustling food court with stalls featuring sugary Japanese-style crepes, ramen, udon, donburi, and more.
Since it opened 40 years ago, Pita Inn has become celebrated for its falafel, shawarma, kebabs, hummus, lentil soup, and, of course, its soft and pillowy pitas. (Keeping up with the times, there are now Impossible kebabs.) But also don’t overlook the garlic sauce, which elevates anything it touches, from a pita sandwich to a plate of french fries. There are now four additional locations, plus a grocery store in Skokie.
Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen
After more than six decades of serving Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine and baked goods, it’s safe to say that Kaufman’s is a Skokie institution. Its eye-popping menagerie of delights includes house-smoked pastrami, knishes, babka, lox, and much, much more. Patrons in a hurry should check the calendar before visiting — if a Jewish holiday is coming up, expect a crowd.
Burt’s Place was the last restaurant founded by Burt Katz, the legendary Chicago pizza-maker who first added a ring of caramelized cheese around the crust (his other spots include Pequod’s and the recently-closed Gullivers); Anthony Bourdain once said that Burt’s was the only Chicago-style pizza he ever loved. Before his death in 2016, Katz passed his recipes onto Jerry Petrow, his hand-picked successor, who continues to run Burt’s Place in the style of the master.
Chodang Tofu Village
Stay nourished with sizzling-hot tofu soups courtesy of this Korean stalwart in Mount Prospect. Chodang dedicates much of its menu to comforting sundubu-jjigae served in stone pots. There are several variations, including seafood, beef, and pork, and diners choose their spice level. Each order arrives with a host of banchan and an egg to poach in the broth.
Japanese chef Kenta Ikehata turned Des Plaines into a ramen destination for suburbanites and city-dwellers alike with the 2019 debut of Chicago Ramen Widely seen as one of the best noodle shops around, the restaurant specializes in tsukemen, composed of cold ramen noodles and a rich broth for dipping. The digs are unfussy and a wait is likely, but worth it. Ikehata and his team have rapidly expanded to locations in Schaumburg and Rolling Meadows.
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New York Bagel & Bialy
The best bagels in Chicagoland are boiled and baked in a Lincolnwood strip mall just off I-94. This 24-hour shop slings New York-style bagels that are soft, chewy, and doughy. Grab a dozen to go or enjoy them in sandwich form, filled with lox, corned beef, or pastrami.
Gene & Jude's
The iconic River Grove hot dog stand needs little introduction. Its famous Depression Dog is topped with just mustard, onions, relish, sport peppers, and a handful of fries. Ketchup lovers will have to look elsewhere for the tomato condiment: it’s expressly forbidden inside Gene & Jude’s.
Italian beef aficionados know that the finest version of the sandwich is out in Elmwood Park (there's a second Johnnie’s in Arlington Heights, too). The well-seasoned beef is finely chopped and loaded onto Gonnella bread, and diners can (and should) have it dipped in jus and balanced with giardiniera or sweet peppers. On a hot day, the housemade Italian ices are also required eating.
It doesn’t get as much recognition as some Chicago taquerias but Geneva residents know Bien Trucha stacks up to the best. The town’s busiest restaurant, whose name roughly translates to “on top of one’s game,” sets the standard for Mexican dining in the suburbs with an outstanding array of tacos. The signature Bien Trucha taco — carne asada, chorizo, roasted tomatillo salsa, and a layer of melted Chihuahua cheese — is a must-try.
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Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits
In 2011, four Spiaggia vets landed in Berwyn and opened a cozy neighborhood bistro. The result: Destination-worthy Mediterranean fare consisting of seasonal shared plates, pastas, and flatbreads. The eclectic drink list is equally impressive, showcasing a selection of old-world wines and small-batch spirits.
An essential spot for Chinese food, Katy’s is renowned for its hand-pulled noodles and fresh dumplings. Menu favorites include pan-fried potstickers, beef noodle soup, and scallion pancakes stuffed with meats and veggies.
Paul Virant's lauded restaurant has received critical acclaim and was previously a recipient of a Michelin star. The focus is on fresh, seasonal ingredients and Virant also specializes in pickling and preserving. Vie offers a three-course prix fixe menu that changes with the seasons.
Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe
Head to Chuck’s Southern Comforts Cafe for some divine smoked meats. The menu boasts Cajun staples, like seafood gumbo and po’ boys, but the star of the show is the barbecue. Feast on ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken, and more. Can’t decide on just one? Order the three-meat sampler platter. A second Chuck’s is located in Darien.
Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket
A secret fried chicken recipe passed down over generations has helped Dell Rhea’s become a historic and necessary pit stop along Route 66. The restaurant has been feeding hungry travelers the same juicy chicken with a side of nostalgia since 1946.
Al Bawadi Grill
There are several Middle Eastern restaurants in densely Arab-populated Bridgeview, but Al Bawadi stands above the others. Once guests step inside, they’re treated to Arabian décor, servers dressed in traditional outfits, and wood-fired meats and seafood. An added bonus: Every meal starts with complimentary eggplant dip. A second location is in Niles.
CAKE N' BAKE
Wasfia Shalabi’s petite bakery Cake ‘N Bake, tucked inside a strip mall in Palos Hills, is a sugary wonderland of treats that range from classicly decorated cakes to trendy spiral croissants.
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Originally founded in 1948, Schoop’s is a regional chain with 14 locations in Illinois and Indiana. With that information alone, one might (accurately) guess that the hit regional chain serves up a serious smash burger. Fans rave about its crispy edges, griddled to lacy perfection, along with decadent shakes and sundaes.
Maple Tree Inn
Beloved Cajun-Creole restaurant Maple Tree Inn reopened in 2019 in Homewood after a fire destroyed its original location in Blue Island, where it had been serving Big Easy-style meals since 1980. (Previously, it had been a modern American restaurant until its owner had a hangover-fueled epiphany one New Year’s Day.) All the classics are here — barbecue shrimp, gumbo, jambalaya — plus some originals, like voodoo nuts, garlic cloves covered in andouille sausage and then smoked.
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