It’s easy to let the bright-lights-big-city vibe of downtown Chicago catch your eye—while bars like Sable and Broken Shaker quench your thirst—but real Chicagoans know where to go for the best food and drinks their city has to offer. The West Side, and the cluster of neighborhoods that define it, has quickly become the quintessential drinking and dining destination, offering everything from fried pig face to vegetarian tasting menus.
It started ten-years-ago, when a chef by the name of Jason Hammel opened his flagship restaurants Lula Café and essentially planted a farm-to-table flag in the area that would soon become a magnet for up-and-coming chefs. In the past decade, it has indeed attracted other notable culinary names, such as Matthias Merges with Yusho and Stephanie Izard with Girl & the Goat, to the swath of land along the Blue Line—from Logan Square to the West Loop. However, with increased interest comes increased rent. So today, we explore the next frontier of this great culinary migration—Humboldt Park and Ukrainian Village—where first-time owners and seasoned vets are committed to bringing creative concepts, craft cocktails and delectable dishes to a new crowd of curious eaters.
While it’s not the easiest area to commute to—a cab ride from River North or the #65 to #70 buses offer the most direct route—once you’re in, you’re in. Start the evening with a Boozy Steamer at C.C. Ferns, before grabbing dinner at Bar Marta and then some live jazz at The California Clipper. Archie’s is the ideal dive for nightcaps or mingle with the after-hours industry crowd at Sportsman’s Club. The West Side is calling and it’s doing so with short-rib beignets and gin cocktails.
Fried chicken sandwiches are served with a side of hip-hop at this rapidly expanding fast-casual chain (find other locations in River North and the United Center). A far cry from KFC, all of Leghorn’s birds are heritage breeds and come from small, local farms. That means, pickle-brined friend chicken on a buttermilk biscuit with a side of nori fries or green chili hushpuppies come with less guilt and a lot more flavor.
959 N. Western Ave., 773-394-4444
With the right mix of mood lighting and chicken liver toast, this corner bar toes the line between sexy date spot and cool cocktail lounge. Or maybe it’s both? Classic cocktails—from a French 75 to mezcal Old Fashioned—and a food-friendly wine list expertly accompany an elevated bar food menu, filled with favorites such as lamb tartare, cacio e pepe and steak frites. Like what you see, and taste? The team just opened a new dim sum restaurant and karaoke bar in the West Loop called 2 Fun Chinese.
2700 W. Chicago Ave., 773-697-4489
Doughnuts and coffee go together like the snooze button and Monday morning, but what about cigars? The glass case lined with earthy, spicy or full-boded stogies isn’t the only unexpected element in this quaint coffee shop. Curl up in the mismatched furniture with a Boozy Steamer—espresso spiked with spirits, such as rum and caramel or Irish whiskey, Irish cream and almond.
2806 W. Augusta Blvd.
This dive has been slinging drinks since 1937, but in 2015 it got a new owner, restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff. A lot of the beloved bar’s former glory remains, including its signature red lighting and regular live music, while a classics-driven cocktail menu, offering everything from the Clover Club to Hemingway Daiquiri, attracts a fresh batch of locals.
1002 N. California Ave., 773-384-2547
Steakhouses come with a lot of “supposed to.” You’re supposed to splurge on the T-bone, drink tannic Cab Savs and then pay a triple-digit check. At this boutique steakhouse, chef Brian Ahern ignores all the rules by serving house-aged meats in addition to duck breast, short-rib beignets and pumpkin späetzle paired with German, Austrian or French wines. During the day, the same well-sourced meat is turned into one of the best Reuben sandwiches in the city.
1012 N. Western Ave., 773-661-2116
A quality BYOB sushi spot is as essential to any city-dweller’s repertoire as rent gouging and stacks of parking tickets. Kai Zan sets itself apart from the pack with uni shooters, madai carpaccio and angry crab rolls as well as an elegant omakase menu starring premium seafood and non-traditional ingredients. The intimate restaurant packs in a lot of flavor plus elegance with a marble sushi bar, two-seat booths, and window-side banquette seating.
2557 W. Chicago Ave., 773-278-5776
In a city that has seemingly every drinking option—from old west saloons to molecular mixology lounges—Pub Royale opened a year ago to fill a void Chicagoans didn’t even know existed. The Anglo-Indian-inspired pub offers takes on classic Indian dishes—eggplant curry and chicken tikka kati rolls—along with rare beers and seasonal Royale Cups, refreshing Pimm's Cup-style cocktails made with gin, rum, whiskey or other spirits paired with fresh juices.
2049 W. Division St., 773-661-6874
Want to drink where the bartenders drink? Look no further than this hospitality industry favorite. Snag a stool at the long wood bar—an elegantly restored specimen that dates back to the 1950s—and order a Low Life (house amaro blend and a Miller High Life) or a cocktail off the menu board that changes daily. During the warmer months, the crowd from this tiny, taxidermy-covered bar spills out into an enclosed back patio, complete with a fireplace and vertical garden.
948 N. Western Ave., 872-206-8054
Queen Mary Tavern
Every wonder what it’s like to drink in the captain’s quarters of a British Royal Navy ship circa 1800? Probably not, but Queen Mary’s nautical-chic decor is appealing to event the most adamant landlubbers. Old life preserves act as cushions in the booths and dusty bottles seemingly salvaged from the bottom of the ocean fill the space. A gin-focused cocktail menu, compete with a Daily Grog and large-format tea punch, means you can truly drink like a sailor.
2125 W. Division St., 773-697-3522
The coffee shop to end all coffee shops. At least, that’s how Chicagoans see this beloved, and heavily caffeinated, standby. The repurposed bar offers Dark Matter Coffee—from agave lattes to intense barrel-aged blends—which is roasted just around the corner. Expect rock, hip-hop or electronic music to be blasting on the sound system and every seat in the street-art-covered patio to be occupied on a warm day.
2521 W. Chicago Ave., 773-384-7827
A dive bar where rounds of pool go by as smoothly as cans of PBR. This quintessential neighborhood bar offers trivia nights, daily drink specials and a Bloody Mary0filled weekend brunch. There’s a roaring fireplace for the winter and sidewalk seating for the summer. Basically, this one-size-fits-all bar has a dozen ways to satisfy.
2532 W. Chicago Ave., 773-384-0701
Jukebox, pool tables and lawn furniture used for indoor seating—what else could you ask for in a dive bar? Cheap beer, perhaps? They have that too as well as a giant marlin hanging over the bar and the occasional four-legged patron. It’s a no-judgment zone after you’ve already had a couple drinks in the neighborhood or an off-the-beaten path safe haven free from craft cocktail and all the pretense that comes with them.
2600 W. Iowa St., 872-206-5119
They say nothing good happens after 2 a.m. This 4 a.m. bar can help you either disprove that saying or end up with a brutal hangover the next morning. Dim lighting and a live DJ means a few shots of Malort can easily lead to late-night dance party that spills out onto the sidewalk. Earlier in the evening, the exposed brick and distressed wood lounge offers a more laid-back atmosphere for cheap beers and strong cocktails.
2801 W. Chicago Ave., 773-292-1200