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The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen
The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen
Tim McCoy

20 of Chicago's Most Underrated Restaurants, 2018 Edition

Sometimes the tastiest foods are hidden in plain sight

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The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen
| Tim McCoy

Chicago's most essential and hottest restaurants get all the buzz, but what about the places flying under the radar? Instead of chasing the latest openings, discover some hidden gems. These neighborhood favorites stand toe-to-toe with the city's finest and deserve recognition too. They span a variety of different specialties, from Kurdish and Garifuna cooking to tamales and Philly cheesesteaks, and are as reliable as can be so Chicagoans would do well to try them out. Listed in alphabetical order.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Isla Pilipina

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2501 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
IL, 60625
(773) 271-2988
Visit Website
Filipino cuisine is underrepresented in Chicago but Isla is a standout that makes up for its scarcity. Classics like lumpia, pancit, and lechon are well executed while colorful halo-halo is a refreshing finish to every meal. Stop in during weekday lunch hours for specials that’ll satisfy both the stomach and wallet.

2. Da Rae Jung

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5220 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
IL, 60625
(773) 907-9155
This mom-and-pop Korean spot is easy to miss but worth seeking out. The small space means there’s often a wait for a table, where diners can cook a number of soups on portable gas burners. For the uninitiated, get the budae jjigae. It’s a popular sausage stew teeming with pork, ham, sausage, tofu, cheese, ramen noodles, and more.

3. Monti's

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4757 N Talman Ave, Chicago
IL, 60625
(773) 942-6012
Visit Website
Brotherly love has never tasted as good as it does at this Lincoln Square bar. Philadelphia natives James Gottwald and Jennifer Monti set the standard for cheesesteaks in Chicago with their irresistible sandwiches. The bread is sourced from Amoroso’s and the menu offers variations like “The Rocky,” a fiery combination packing onions, smoked provolone, jalapeno, scotch bonnet, charred Serrano, and spicy mayo.

4. Arbor

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2545 W Diversey Ave, Chicago
IL, 60647
(312) 866-0795
Visit Website
The Green Exchange, a sustainable retail and office building, is home to one of the most unique dining experiences in Chicago. By day, Arbor is a café that sells baked goods, grain bowls, salads, and sandwiches, but at night it becomes an elevated restaurant. Instead of a set menu, the kitchen creates a Midwestern omakase tailored to each individual’s tastes. Reservations can be made by texting the restaurant directly.

5. Uru-Swati

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2629 W Devon Ave, Chicago
IL, 60659
(773) 262-5280
Visit Website
The sights and smells of Devon Avenue can be overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar so sticking with where the locals eat is always a smart decision. This Indian spot features vegetarian fare from both the north and south regions of the country. Even carnivores will find bites to enjoy, such as masala dosas — crepes stuffed with lentil and rice — and samosa chaat, a fried pastry topped with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, and chutney.

6. Hot"G"Dog

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5009 N Clark St, Chicago
IL, 60640
(773) 209-3360
Visit Website
When venerable Hot Doug’s closed up shop in 2014, Chicagoans were left with a sausage-shaped hole in theirs hearts. Fortuantely, two former line cooks — Juan Carlos and Octavio Garcia — decided to carry on Doug Sohn’s legacy with their own restaurant. This worthy successor boasts a similar menu and even uses the same sausage purveyor as Hot Doug’s so fanatics can still enjoy a rich foie gras dog.

7. Buona Terra

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2535 N California Ave, Chicago
IL, 60647
(773) 289-3800
Visit Website
Housemade pastas, reasonable prices, and a cozy atmosphere have made Buona Terra the kind of family-run trattoria that every neighborhood needs. On Thursdays, the $28 three-course prix fixe includes the choice of any appetizer, entrée, and dessert on the menu. It’s a steal for bargain hunters and Italian food lovers alike.

8. Al Bawadi Grill

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7216 W 87th St, Bridgeview
IL, 60455
(708) 599-1999
Visit Website
One of the best Middle Eastern restaurants is located right outside city limits in Bridgeview. The festive interior is a sight to behold and complemented by an array of wood-grilled kebabs, seafood, and vegetarian options. Be sure to try the traditional Arabian coffee with cardamom as well; it delivers a real kick.

9. Mini Hut

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6659 W Archer Ave, Chicago
IL, 60638
(773) 586-2115
Often overlooked in the debates over the city’s best fried chicken is this no-frills, hole-in-the-wall shack on the Southwest Side. The chicken is brined overnight and dredged in a secret butter-flavored breading. Call ahead: It takes 20 minutes to pressure fry but it’s well worth the wait.

10. Alegrias Seafood Chicago

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1024 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 252-7200
Visit Website
Delicious seafood doesn’t have to break the bank. This Mexican spot serves affordable platters of prawns, langoustines, lobsters, crab legs, and more. They’re cooked Nayarit-style in a variety of different sauces. Bring companions in order to sample everything and don’t forget to take advantage of the restaurant’s BYOB policy.

11. Aloha Eats

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2534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 935-6828
Visit Website
Believe it or not, Hawaiian cuisine consists of more than just poke. Head to this Lincoln Park cafe to discover other island favorites, such as curry chicken katsu, loco moco, and Spam musubi. With affordable prices and substantial portions, it’s no surprise that Aloha Eats has become a neighborhood standby.

12. Bacchanalia

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2413 S Oakley Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 254-6555
Visit Website
It doesn’t garner as much attention as contemporary trattorias or the institutions on Taylor Street, but Bacchanalia is essential Italian dining all the same. The family-run restaurant has been whipping up authentic “old country” recipes for close to four decades. They include reliable versions of seafood pasta, chicken Vesuvio, gnocchi, veal piccata, and more. Save room for a cannoli at the end and bring some bills because it’s cash-only.

13. BBQ Supply Co.

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6954 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60645
(773) 675-1410
Visit Website
Owner and pitmaster Jared Leonard has been quietly smoking quality barbecue on North Side over the past seven years. The meats are rubbed with a secret blend of seasonings and slow-cooked over wood-burning fire. The restaurant also offers BBQ 101 classes to help aspiring chefs become seasoned masters. A second location in Hyde park opened in 2017.

14. Calabria Imports

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1905 W 103rd St
Chicago, IL 60643
(708) 388-1500
Visit Website
Just like a beloved nonna, this deli/restaurant comforts guests with a host of red sauce favorites. Try the Original Freddy (sausage patty, sweet peppers, mozzarella, red sauce) or the Mickey (eggplant and breaded steak combo, mozzarella, red sauce) sandwiches. Then pick up some groceries on the way out and make an Italian feast for friends and family.

15. Garifuna Flava

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2516 W 63rd St
Chicago, IL 60629
(773) 776-7440
Visit Website
The only Garifuna restaurant in Chicago gets a stamp of approval from Guy Fieri and Caribbean food enthusiasts. The menu is chockfull of unique staples, such as Belizean stew chicken, hudut, and conch fritters. The must-try dish, though, is the gumbo-like conch soup. It’s comprised of shellfish with potatoes, carrots, peas, cassava, onions, and peppers.

16. Golden Bull

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242 W Cermak Rd
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 808-1668
Visit Website
Chinatown is brimming with intriguing dishes. Exhibit A: Golden Bull’s home-style cooking, which extends beyond the scope of typical American Chinese fare. Pan-seared steak and jumbo steamed oysters are best sellers, but dig deeper to find specialties like beef tongue in XO sauce, jelly fish, and fried pigeon as well. And because the restaurant is open until 1 a.m., those staying out late can end the night with a hearty rice casserole.

17. The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen

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Edit 2909 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 904-8120
Visit Website
The city’s first dedicated Kurdish eatery opened in 2017, providing Chicagoans with a fresh spectrum of flavors. The recipes draw inspiration from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines so expect plates of lamb shank, eggplant stew, sac tava — a traditional stir fry — and more. Or swing by in the morning for a lavish breakfast spread that includes soft scrambles and an assortment of side dishes.

18. Nhu Lan Bakery

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2612 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 878-9898
Visit Website
Argyle Street is the recognized mecca for Vietnamese dining in Chicago. It’s a bit of a revelation, then, that the best banh mi is being made in Lincoln Square. Nhu Lan’s sandwiches, a French-influenced Vietnamese staple, are a paragon of the form. On the house special, a freshly baked baguette comes loaded with pate, headcheese, ham, fried pork sausage, and the usual accoutrements. Feeling extra hungry or looking to sample multiple sandwiches? Purchase five and receive the sixth for free.

19. Uncle Joe's Tropical Dining

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8211 S Cottage Grove Ave
Chicago, IL 60619
(773) 962-9935
Visit Website
Everyone needs an uncle who makes jerk chicken as tasty as this Cottage Grove restaurant. The tropical setting and mellow vibes go hand in hand with the kitchen’s authentic Jamaican cooking. Dig into jerk fish, curry goat, oxtail, and, of course, chicken that’s been rubbed with a blend of spices.

20. Yvolina's Tamales

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814 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 731-3167
Visit Website
Tamales might seem simple but it takes a true craftsman to produce great ones. Mother and daughter Marcelina and Yvonney Hernandez fit that bill as their shop presents a fine selection of masa delights. These homemade tamales are filled with everything from chicken and pork to soy and eggplant. Some are smothered in mole, yet they’ll all have guests coming back for more.

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1. Isla Pilipina

2501 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL, 60625
Filipino cuisine is underrepresented in Chicago but Isla is a standout that makes up for its scarcity. Classics like lumpia, pancit, and lechon are well executed while colorful halo-halo is a refreshing finish to every meal. Stop in during weekday lunch hours for specials that’ll satisfy both the stomach and wallet.
2501 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
IL, 60625

2. Da Rae Jung

5220 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL, 60625
This mom-and-pop Korean spot is easy to miss but worth seeking out. The small space means there’s often a wait for a table, where diners can cook a number of soups on portable gas burners. For the uninitiated, get the budae jjigae. It’s a popular sausage stew teeming with pork, ham, sausage, tofu, cheese, ramen noodles, and more.
5220 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
IL, 60625

3. Monti's

4757 N Talman Ave, Chicago, IL, 60625
Brotherly love has never tasted as good as it does at this Lincoln Square bar. Philadelphia natives James Gottwald and Jennifer Monti set the standard for cheesesteaks in Chicago with their irresistible sandwiches. The bread is sourced from Amoroso’s and the menu offers variations like “The Rocky,” a fiery combination packing onions, smoked provolone, jalapeno, scotch bonnet, charred Serrano, and spicy mayo.
4757 N Talman Ave, Chicago
IL, 60625

4. Arbor

2545 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL, 60647
The Green Exchange, a sustainable retail and office building, is home to one of the most unique dining experiences in Chicago. By day, Arbor is a café that sells baked goods, grain bowls, salads, and sandwiches, but at night it becomes an elevated restaurant. Instead of a set menu, the kitchen creates a Midwestern omakase tailored to each individual’s tastes. Reservations can be made by texting the restaurant directly.
2545 W Diversey Ave, Chicago
IL, 60647

5. Uru-Swati

2629 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL, 60659
The sights and smells of Devon Avenue can be overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar so sticking with where the locals eat is always a smart decision. This Indian spot features vegetarian fare from both the north and south regions of the country. Even carnivores will find bites to enjoy, such as masala dosas — crepes stuffed with lentil and rice — and samosa chaat, a fried pastry topped with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, and chutney.
2629 W Devon Ave, Chicago
IL, 60659

6. Hot"G"Dog

5009 N Clark St, Chicago, IL, 60640
When venerable Hot Doug’s closed up shop in 2014, Chicagoans were left with a sausage-shaped hole in theirs hearts. Fortuantely, two former line cooks — Juan Carlos and Octavio Garcia — decided to carry on Doug Sohn’s legacy with their own restaurant. This worthy successor boasts a similar menu and even uses the same sausage purveyor as Hot Doug’s so fanatics can still enjoy a rich foie gras dog.
5009 N Clark St, Chicago
IL, 60640

7. Buona Terra

2535 N California Ave, Chicago, IL, 60647
Housemade pastas, reasonable prices, and a cozy atmosphere have made Buona Terra the kind of family-run trattoria that every neighborhood needs. On Thursdays, the $28 three-course prix fixe includes the choice of any appetizer, entrée, and dessert on the menu. It’s a steal for bargain hunters and Italian food lovers alike.
2535 N California Ave, Chicago
IL, 60647

8. Al Bawadi Grill

7216 W 87th St, Bridgeview, IL, 60455
One of the best Middle Eastern restaurants is located right outside city limits in Bridgeview. The festive interior is a sight to behold and complemented by an array of wood-grilled kebabs, seafood, and vegetarian options. Be sure to try the traditional Arabian coffee with cardamom as well; it delivers a real kick.
7216 W 87th St, Bridgeview
IL, 60455

9. Mini Hut

6659 W Archer Ave, Chicago, IL, 60638
Often overlooked in the debates over the city’s best fried chicken is this no-frills, hole-in-the-wall shack on the Southwest Side. The chicken is brined overnight and dredged in a secret butter-flavored breading. Call ahead: It takes 20 minutes to pressure fry but it’s well worth the wait.
6659 W Archer Ave, Chicago
IL, 60638

10. Alegrias Seafood Chicago

1024 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Delicious seafood doesn’t have to break the bank. This Mexican spot serves affordable platters of prawns, langoustines, lobsters, crab legs, and more. They’re cooked Nayarit-style in a variety of different sauces. Bring companions in order to sample everything and don’t forget to take advantage of the restaurant’s BYOB policy.
1024 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

11. Aloha Eats

2534 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
Believe it or not, Hawaiian cuisine consists of more than just poke. Head to this Lincoln Park cafe to discover other island favorites, such as curry chicken katsu, loco moco, and Spam musubi. With affordable prices and substantial portions, it’s no surprise that Aloha Eats has become a neighborhood standby.
2534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614

12. Bacchanalia

2413 S Oakley Ave, Chicago, IL 60608
It doesn’t garner as much attention as contemporary trattorias or the institutions on Taylor Street, but Bacchanalia is essential Italian dining all the same. The family-run restaurant has been whipping up authentic “old country” recipes for close to four decades. They include reliable versions of seafood pasta, chicken Vesuvio, gnocchi, veal piccata, and more. Save room for a cannoli at the end and bring some bills because it’s cash-only.
2413 S Oakley Ave
Chicago, IL 60608

13. BBQ Supply Co.

6954 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60645
Owner and pitmaster Jared Leonard has been quietly smoking quality barbecue on North Side over the past seven years. The meats are rubbed with a secret blend of seasonings and slow-cooked over wood-burning fire. The restaurant also offers BBQ 101 classes to help aspiring chefs become seasoned masters. A second location in Hyde park opened in 2017.
6954 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60645

14. Calabria Imports

1905 W 103rd St, Chicago, IL 60643
Just like a beloved nonna, this deli/restaurant comforts guests with a host of red sauce favorites. Try the Original Freddy (sausage patty, sweet peppers, mozzarella, red sauce) or the Mickey (eggplant and breaded steak combo, mozzarella, red sauce) sandwiches. Then pick up some groceries on the way out and make an Italian feast for friends and family.
1905 W 103rd St
Chicago, IL 60643

15. Garifuna Flava

2516 W 63rd St, Chicago, IL 60629
The only Garifuna restaurant in Chicago gets a stamp of approval from Guy Fieri and Caribbean food enthusiasts. The menu is chockfull of unique staples, such as Belizean stew chicken, hudut, and conch fritters. The must-try dish, though, is the gumbo-like conch soup. It’s comprised of shellfish with potatoes, carrots, peas, cassava, onions, and peppers.
2516 W 63rd St
Chicago, IL 60629

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16. Golden Bull

242 W Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL 60616
Chinatown is brimming with intriguing dishes. Exhibit A: Golden Bull’s home-style cooking, which extends beyond the scope of typical American Chinese fare. Pan-seared steak and jumbo steamed oysters are best sellers, but dig deeper to find specialties like beef tongue in XO sauce, jelly fish, and fried pigeon as well. And because the restaurant is open until 1 a.m., those staying out late can end the night with a hearty rice casserole.
242 W Cermak Rd
Chicago, IL 60616

17. The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen

Edit 2909 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657
The city’s first dedicated Kurdish eatery opened in 2017, providing Chicagoans with a fresh spectrum of flavors. The recipes draw inspiration from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines so expect plates of lamb shank, eggplant stew, sac tava — a traditional stir fry — and more. Or swing by in the morning for a lavish breakfast spread that includes soft scrambles and an assortment of side dishes.
Edit 2909 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657

18. Nhu Lan Bakery

2612 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
Argyle Street is the recognized mecca for Vietnamese dining in Chicago. It’s a bit of a revelation, then, that the best banh mi is being made in Lincoln Square. Nhu Lan’s sandwiches, a French-influenced Vietnamese staple, are a paragon of the form. On the house special, a freshly baked baguette comes loaded with pate, headcheese, ham, fried pork sausage, and the usual accoutrements. Feeling extra hungry or looking to sample multiple sandwiches? Purchase five and receive the sixth for free.
2612 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

19. Uncle Joe's Tropical Dining

8211 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago, IL 60619
Everyone needs an uncle who makes jerk chicken as tasty as this Cottage Grove restaurant. The tropical setting and mellow vibes go hand in hand with the kitchen’s authentic Jamaican cooking. Dig into jerk fish, curry goat, oxtail, and, of course, chicken that’s been rubbed with a blend of spices.
8211 S Cottage Grove Ave
Chicago, IL 60619

20. Yvolina's Tamales

814 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608
Tamales might seem simple but it takes a true craftsman to produce great ones. Mother and daughter Marcelina and Yvonney Hernandez fit that bill as their shop presents a fine selection of masa delights. These homemade tamales are filled with everything from chicken and pork to soy and eggplant. Some are smothered in mole, yet they’ll all have guests coming back for more.
814 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608

Related Maps