Chicago’s culinary scene is one of the best in the country and there are diverse dining options for every palate, whether you’re vegan or love barbecue meats, looking for a fine dining tasting menu, or just a casual meal on the go. Here are some of our top picks in neighborhoods throughout the city, from West Town to Chinatown to Logan Square, spotlighting primarily restaurants owned by women of color.
For a family-friendly pick that everyone will love, Roots Pizza serves the best pizza in town, including creative chef collaborations like a tomato braised pork ragu pizza by Chef Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde. You can build your own pizza from scratch, choosing from more than 50 different toppings and they make their mozzarella from scratch. It’s not Chicago-style deep dish, but locals love this Quad Cities-style pizza with a subtly sweet malted crust even more. The vegan pizzas are really good and their enormous salads are a healthy sleeper hit too. Bonus: they’ll even deliver to your hotel if you’re feeling lazy after a busy day.
Owner Zoe Zhao immigrated from Guangdong, China to Chicago with her family in 2007 and after graduating from the University of Illinois Chicago with a degree in health information management, she opened Veggie House in August 2020 to bring more vegan and vegetarian options to Chicago’s Chinatown. Fan favorite dishes include crispy turmeric oyster mushrooms, pistachio fried red rice and kung pao plant-based chicken. There are lots of tofu dishes for plant-based protein and wok-fried noodles of all kinds from Korean potato noodles to rice noodles for Pad Thai. Zhao is also working on a new dessert bar concept scheduled to open later this year too.
Husband-and-wife team Genie Kwon and Tim Flores recently won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes for their Filipino-inspired tasting menu and the duo have also been awarded a Michelin star. Dinner here is pricey and reservations are required, but you can also get a more affordable taste of Kasama by visiting during the day for Kwon’s famous pastries, hearty Filipino breakfast with longanisa sausage garlic fried rice and mushroom and chicken adobo bowls. Try the iced black sesame latte or ube latte with coconut sap for an adventurous coffee alternative.
Chef Dominique Leach serves the best barbecue in Chicago at her soulful smokehouse, named after her grandmother, Betty King, and inspired by nostalgic home cooked meals from her childhood in Lexington, Mississippi. The pulled pork, brisket and rib tips are classics, served as hearty meat platters or atop macaroni and cheese, loaded nachos or a bed of BBQ fries.
If you love pasta and dessert, this Midwest-meets-Italy Logan Square restaurant is sure to be winner. Chef and owner Joe Frillman makes fresh pasta daily and sources most of his produce, eggs and honey from his family farm in Prairie View, Illinois. Pappardelle with mushroom ragu, nduja rigatoni, ricotta farm egg raviolo and beet agnolotti are just a few examples but everything is excellent. Save room for pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky’s desserts, including housemade gelato, sorbetto, cakes, pies and cookies. Omilinsky also offers sweet and savory pastries during the day from the bakery case along with local coffee and tea.
Vibrant plates and bold flavors at her neighborhood Mexican restaurant have garnered executive chef and owner Diana Dávila national accolades like Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2018 and Bon Appétit‘s Best New Restaurants in 2017. Sweet and salty elote-style spaghetti squash, pan-roasted romanesco in gooseberry sikil pak, and fried oyster tacos with squid ink tortillas are just a few examples of how fun Dávila puts a fun, modern twist on classic Mexican flavors.
Rohini Dey is one of the most respected restaurateurs in Chicago and her Indian fusion restaurant celebrates 20 years this year, representing incredible longevity in a challenging industry. For its 20th birthday, Vermilion has transformed from Indian-Latin fusion to Indian-Chinese fusion, represented by creative dishes like Chongqing fried chicken with charred tandoor pineapple and Cantonese lobster with sambal-sake-soy sauce and black cardamom vinegar garlic chili oil. Try the shahi tukra Indian saffron bread pudding for dessert.
Everything at this lively Middle Eastern restaurant is meant to be shared and the larger your group, the more of the menu you’ll get to try. Every meal begins with silky hummus, fluffy fresh pita bread, and a medley of colorful small plates (salatim) before transitioning to large plates like foie gras and challah toast, cumin-roasted carrots with Bulgarian feta and hazelnut duqqa, smoked turkey shawarma and lamb merguez. The wine list includes esoteric and delicious bottles from Armenia, Lebanon, and Cyprus.
If you’re looking to splurge, Esmé is perhaps the most exciting tasting menu in Chicago. Chef Jenner Tomaska imbues a playful and relaxed touch to fine dining, entirely transforming the menu concept quarterly and collaborating with local artists and creatives with regard to plateware, décor, uniforms and service. Bar Esmé next door offers an a la carte menu of bar snacks (try the flamin’ hot cheeto!) and more classic bistro mains like tableside brown butter whole fish and whole roasted chicken.
Featured image by Chait Goli