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A long row of birria tacos on a white rectangular plate
Virtual restaurants are a full-on phenomenon.
Qbirria Factory

Chicago’s Most Unique Virtual Restaurants

Use Instagram to order top-secret tacos, classified curries, and more

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Virtual restaurants are a full-on phenomenon.
| Qbirria Factory

Virtual restaurants, also known as ghost kitchens, have been making their ways into Chicagoans’ conscience for years, but it took a pandemic for the idea to really take off. These are delivery- and takeout-only restaurants without dining rooms. In theory, these are places with low overheads that could allow chefs interested in opening a restaurant with a dining room to learn without the need to pay high bills.

However, there’s debate on how beneficial virtual restaurants are to chefs as third-party apps forge alliances with larger fast-food companies to price independent restaurants out. So the bottom line: not all virtual restaurants are created equal. Consumers should be choosy on where they spend their money. That new virtual restaurant might just be a gimmick set up to compete with local business owners.

Beyond that, food needs to taste good and the following listing includes a few of Chicago’s best.

As of August 20, the city has mandated that everyone wear facial coverings while indoors. For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Hot Box Sushi

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Great sushi can be found all over the city but Hot Box Sushi takes things in a new direction with its namesake dish: A casserole made of rice, crab mix, and Japanese seasonings. It’s meant to be scooped into seaweed sheets for a fun, interactive eating experience. Diners can order online and pick up their food in Northbrook.

2. Tasting India

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Andersonville
Chicago, IL

Chef Jasmine Sheth features a rotating menu of exciting Indian fare all out of an Andersonville ghost kitchen. Sheth, a Mumbai native, is giving Chicago a more accurate glimpse of food actually served in India, rather than through the Indian-American lens from buffets. Find the latest offerings and ordering details on Instagram.

3. Au Levain Chicago

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4518 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

Angel Chavez, the pastry chef at Bistro Campagne, has borrowed his employer’s kitchen for his new side project: every week, he bakes up a selection of pies, pastry, bread, and cookies that are available for pickup on Wednesdays and Sundays. Leftovers are also available for walk-in customers on Sundays, but for the best selection, Chavez recommends ordering in advance. Oreo-creme pies are among the stars here.

4. Monti’s Cheesesteaks

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4131 N Rockwell St
Chicago, IL 60618

A fire in late 2020 forced Monti’s Cheesesteaks to relocate from Lincoln Square into a ghost kitchen where it shares a roof with corporate big guns like Chick-Fil-A. The restaurant has found a niche serving up Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks and chicken wings, and ownership touts plans to rebuild. Order online.

A ladle of Cheez Whiz drops liquid gold onto a beef sandwich.
A ladle of liquid gold.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

5. Professor Pizza

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3724 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60613

Tony Scardino, a.k.a. Professor Pizza, is the mastermind responsible for this pop-up running out of the Full Shilling in Lakeview. The decorated pizzaiolo has worked at some of Chicago’s top spots, including Paulie Gee’s and Dough Bros, and his square, thin-crust pies are inspired by a Long Island recipe dubbed “grandma-style.”

6. Stuffed Catering

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3705 N Troy St
Chicago, IL 60618

Whenever the chefs behind this catering company aren’t out and about at events around the Midwest, they’re at home in Irving Park testing out beef-centered new recipes, like a beefy grilled cheese or the Bosnian sausage cevapcici, which visitors can stop by and sample. Follow along on Instagram for more details on where to find them and what they’ll be serving.

7. Crust Fund Pizza

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Avondale
Chicago, IL

Pizza-making was John Carruthers’s pandemic hobby. He made so many pizzas, he started giving them away, in exchange for a donation to a designated charity. Every week, Carruthers posts his pizzas on Instagram, and every week they sell out almost instantly. Earlier this summer, the project expanded to a pizza-centric community cookbook for those who are not quick enough on the draw to get a Crust Fund Pizza of their own.

8. Funeral Potatoes

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Logan Square
Chicago, IL

When the pandemic started, Eve Studnicka (Dinner at the Grotto) and Alexis Thomas (Black Cat Kitchen), inspired by the Midwestern custom of bringing hash brown casseroles to neighbors in times of need, teamed up to deliver inventive comfort food to Chicagoans who needed it. Menus drop every Sunday afternoon for delivery on Thursday or Friday, and the chefs make regular donations to a variety of local nonprofits.

9. Milly’s Pizza in the Pan

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1801 N Spaulding Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(224) 656-4732
Visit Website

This one-man ghost kitchen in Logan Square pays homage to famed Chicago pizza maker Burt Katz with impressive pan pies. Milly’s, named after owner Robert Maleski’s grandmother, specializes in a caramelized crust that gets its flavor and coloring from a ring of mozzarella cheese around the pan’s rim. Topping combinations include Que Suerte (pineapple, cherry tomatoes, jalapeno, brown sugar bacon) and Covfefe (Peppadew peppers, sausage, mushrooms, red onions, tomatoes, spinach, ricotta). Each day’s selection sells out early and can be ordered online.

A pan pizza.
The caramelized crust sets Milly’s apart from its competitors.
Milly’s Pizza in a Pan [Official Photo]

10. Bumbu Roux

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833 W Haines St
Chicago, IL 60642
(847) 644-6331
Visit Website

Bumbu Roux has survived Politan Row’s closure, as chef Chris Reed draws on the culinary histories of his Black Louisianan father and Dutch-Indonesian mother to create delectable renditions of seafood gumbo, blackened catfish, Telor Bali, dan Mie Goreng, and more.

11. Mary's Bar-B-Que

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3220 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60651
(773) 638-2233
Visit Website

Mary’s has been serving up barbecue in West Garfield Park since 1968, but the owners of this family-run business recently moved to Humboldt Park and made their rib tips, hot links, burgers, fried catfish, and chicken and waffles available for delivery.

12. Qbirria Factory

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215 N Clinton St
Chicago, IL 60661
(773) 340-2886
Visit Website

At the Qbirria Factory, it’s all birria all the time — not just in tacos, but also in nachos, quesadillas, tostadas, crunchwraps, ramen, sandwiches, and fries. There are also chicken, carnitas, vegetables, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos options for those who, by chance, don’t like birria, but everything comes with a cup of consomme for dipping.

13. Five Squared

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135 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60612
(224) 595-5782
Visit Website

A host of exciting pizza options have emerged lately and this food truck is at the forefront. Husband-wife duo Steve and Jenn Kaplan started slinging five-inch Detroit-style squares out of a truck in 2019 but are now also offering carryout and delivery on Fridays. The creative toppings include Italian beef with giardiniera; gyro meat; and PBnJ (pepperoni, bacon, pickled jalapeños). Slide into Five Squared’s DMs to order.

14. Masa Madre

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135 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60612
(872) 202-8307
Visit Website

Elena Vázquez Felgueres and Tamar Fasja Unikel have combined the flavors of their native Mexico with the baked goods of Fasja Unikel’s Jewish heritage to create a stupendous collection of babkas that taste like cinnamon churro, cafe de olla, and pistachio cardamom, among other things. They sell challah, too, and pastries for the Jewish holidays, all available for delivery or pickup at various points around the city.

15. 3 Little Pigs

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There’s a new king in town for Chinese barbecue pork. Chef Henry Cai makes standout char siu that’s glazed in sticky-sweet sauce, as well as additional items like barbecue ribs, fried rice, and skewers. The dishes have drawn rave reviews from customers and orders are currently being accepted through Instagram.

16. Chicago Secret Burger

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It’s no secret that an exceptional burger just hits differently. Those in search of the best will want to follow Chicago Secret Burger for a worthy contender. It features two thin patties, special sauce, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles on a sesame bun. Drops are announced on Instagram.

17. Birria Ta-Ta-Tacos

Copy Link

In late 2020, a new taco pop-up, Birria Ta-Ta-Tacos, began selling out at various locations around the city including Easy Does It (nee East Room) in Logan Square. The chef, Oscar Samsony, formerly worked at Mi Tocaya Antojeria. Find quesatacos, beef birria, and more. Keep those eyes open on Instagram for its next appearance.

18. Hooked On Fish

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(773) 551-4317
Visit Website

Chicago is not known for its ample supply of fishermen standing by the docks, waiting to hand over the freshest catch of the day. It does, however, have Hooked On Fish, a fish delivery service that offers subscribers a choice of two different fresh, sustainable fish per week, frozen for convenience. Recipes are also available for those who aren’t sure what to do with the fish once they get it home.

19. Downstate Donuts

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The bakers at Downstate Donuts make home deliveries on weekend mornings so customers don’t even have to get out of their pajamas to get a dozen sinkers — though Downstate also does pop-ups and recently began selling at Foxtrot Market and several coffee shops around the North Side. These potato doughnuts come in a range of classic and seasonal flavors and can also be ordered gluten-free.

1. Hot Box Sushi

Northbrook, IL 60062

Great sushi can be found all over the city but Hot Box Sushi takes things in a new direction with its namesake dish: A casserole made of rice, crab mix, and Japanese seasonings. It’s meant to be scooped into seaweed sheets for a fun, interactive eating experience. Diners can order online and pick up their food in Northbrook.

2. Tasting India

Andersonville, Chicago, IL

Chef Jasmine Sheth features a rotating menu of exciting Indian fare all out of an Andersonville ghost kitchen. Sheth, a Mumbai native, is giving Chicago a more accurate glimpse of food actually served in India, rather than through the Indian-American lens from buffets. Find the latest offerings and ordering details on Instagram.

Andersonville
Chicago, IL

3. Au Levain Chicago

4518 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Angel Chavez, the pastry chef at Bistro Campagne, has borrowed his employer’s kitchen for his new side project: every week, he bakes up a selection of pies, pastry, bread, and cookies that are available for pickup on Wednesdays and Sundays. Leftovers are also available for walk-in customers on Sundays, but for the best selection, Chavez recommends ordering in advance. Oreo-creme pies are among the stars here.

4518 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

4. Monti’s Cheesesteaks

4131 N Rockwell St, Chicago, IL 60618
A ladle of Cheez Whiz drops liquid gold onto a beef sandwich.
A ladle of liquid gold.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

A fire in late 2020 forced Monti’s Cheesesteaks to relocate from Lincoln Square into a ghost kitchen where it shares a roof with corporate big guns like Chick-Fil-A. The restaurant has found a niche serving up Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks and chicken wings, and ownership touts plans to rebuild. Order online.

4131 N Rockwell St
Chicago, IL 60618

5. Professor Pizza

3724 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613

Tony Scardino, a.k.a. Professor Pizza, is the mastermind responsible for this pop-up running out of the Full Shilling in Lakeview. The decorated pizzaiolo has worked at some of Chicago’s top spots, including Paulie Gee’s and Dough Bros, and his square, thin-crust pies are inspired by a Long Island recipe dubbed “grandma-style.”

3724 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60613

6. Stuffed Catering

3705 N Troy St, Chicago, IL 60618

Whenever the chefs behind this catering company aren’t out and about at events around the Midwest, they’re at home in Irving Park testing out beef-centered new recipes, like a beefy grilled cheese or the Bosnian sausage cevapcici, which visitors can stop by and sample. Follow along on Instagram for more details on where to find them and what they’ll be serving.

3705 N Troy St
Chicago, IL 60618

7. Crust Fund Pizza

Avondale, Chicago, IL

Pizza-making was John Carruthers’s pandemic hobby. He made so many pizzas, he started giving them away, in exchange for a donation to a designated charity. Every week, Carruthers posts his pizzas on Instagram, and every week they sell out almost instantly. Earlier this summer, the project expanded to a pizza-centric community cookbook for those who are not quick enough on the draw to get a Crust Fund Pizza of their own.

Avondale
Chicago, IL

8. Funeral Potatoes

Logan Square, Chicago, IL

When the pandemic started, Eve Studnicka (Dinner at the Grotto) and Alexis Thomas (Black Cat Kitchen), inspired by the Midwestern custom of bringing hash brown casseroles to neighbors in times of need, teamed up to deliver inventive comfort food to Chicagoans who needed it. Menus drop every Sunday afternoon for delivery on Thursday or Friday, and the chefs make regular donations to a variety of local nonprofits.

Logan Square
Chicago, IL

9. Milly’s Pizza in the Pan

1801 N Spaulding Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
A pan pizza.
The caramelized crust sets Milly’s apart from its competitors.
Milly’s Pizza in a Pan [Official Photo]

This one-man ghost kitchen in Logan Square pays homage to famed Chicago pizza maker Burt Katz with impressive pan pies. Milly’s, named after owner Robert Maleski’s grandmother, specializes in a caramelized crust that gets its flavor and coloring from a ring of mozzarella cheese around the pan’s rim. Topping combinations include Que Suerte (pineapple, cherry tomatoes, jalapeno, brown sugar bacon) and Covfefe (Peppadew peppers, sausage, mushrooms, red onions, tomatoes, spinach, ricotta). Each day’s selection sells out early and can be ordered online.

1801 N Spaulding Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

10. Bumbu Roux

833 W Haines St, Chicago, IL 60642

Bumbu Roux has survived Politan Row’s closure, as chef Chris Reed draws on the culinary histories of his Black Louisianan father and Dutch-Indonesian mother to create delectable renditions of seafood gumbo, blackened catfish, Telor Bali, dan Mie Goreng, and more.

833 W Haines St
Chicago, IL 60642

11. Mary's Bar-B-Que

3220 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60651

Mary’s has been serving up barbecue in West Garfield Park since 1968, but the owners of this family-run business recently moved to Humboldt Park and made their rib tips, hot links, burgers, fried catfish, and chicken and waffles available for delivery.

3220 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60651

12. Qbirria Factory

215 N Clinton St, Chicago, IL 60661

At the Qbirria Factory, it’s all birria all the time — not just in tacos, but also in nachos, quesadillas, tostadas, crunchwraps, ramen, sandwiches, and fries. There are also chicken, carnitas, vegetables, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos options for those who, by chance, don’t like birria, but everything comes with a cup of consomme for dipping.

215 N Clinton St
Chicago, IL 60661

13. Five Squared

135 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60612

A host of exciting pizza options have emerged lately and this food truck is at the forefront. Husband-wife duo Steve and Jenn Kaplan started slinging five-inch Detroit-style squares out of a truck in 2019 but are now also offering carryout and delivery on Fridays. The creative toppings include Italian beef with giardiniera; gyro meat; and PBnJ (pepperoni, bacon, pickled jalapeños). Slide into Five Squared’s DMs to order.

135 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60612

14. Masa Madre

135 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60612

Elena Vázquez Felgueres and Tamar Fasja Unikel have combined the flavors of their native Mexico with the baked goods of Fasja Unikel’s Jewish heritage to create a stupendous collection of babkas that taste like cinnamon churro, cafe de olla, and pistachio cardamom, among other things. They sell challah, too, and pastries for the Jewish holidays, all available for delivery or pickup at various points around the city.

135 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60612

15. 3 Little Pigs

Chicago, IL

There’s a new king in town for Chinese barbecue pork. Chef Henry Cai makes standout char siu that’s glazed in sticky-sweet sauce, as well as additional items like barbecue ribs, fried rice, and skewers. The dishes have drawn rave reviews from customers and orders are currently being accepted through Instagram.

Related Maps

16. Chicago Secret Burger

Chicago, IL

It’s no secret that an exceptional burger just hits differently. Those in search of the best will want to follow Chicago Secret Burger for a worthy contender. It features two thin patties, special sauce, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles on a sesame bun. Drops are announced on Instagram.

17. Birria Ta-Ta-Tacos

Chicago, IL

In late 2020, a new taco pop-up, Birria Ta-Ta-Tacos, began selling out at various locations around the city including Easy Does It (nee East Room) in Logan Square. The chef, Oscar Samsony, formerly worked at Mi Tocaya Antojeria. Find quesatacos, beef birria, and more. Keep those eyes open on Instagram for its next appearance.

18. Hooked On Fish

Chicago, IL

Chicago is not known for its ample supply of fishermen standing by the docks, waiting to hand over the freshest catch of the day. It does, however, have Hooked On Fish, a fish delivery service that offers subscribers a choice of two different fresh, sustainable fish per week, frozen for convenience. Recipes are also available for those who aren’t sure what to do with the fish once they get it home.

19. Downstate Donuts

Chicago, IL

The bakers at Downstate Donuts make home deliveries on weekend mornings so customers don’t even have to get out of their pajamas to get a dozen sinkers — though Downstate also does pop-ups and recently began selling at Foxtrot Market and several coffee shops around the North Side. These potato doughnuts come in a range of classic and seasonal flavors and can also be ordered gluten-free.

Related Maps