Thanks to Chicago's large Greek community, the city has a lot of fantastic, authentic Greek food. Most of the best Greek restaurants are family run and have been around for decades. They're centered along the gentrified Greektown neighborhood, on Halsted Street, just west of downtown (and near the United Center). There, a few city blocks are lined with fancy Greek restaurants, fast-food gyros joints, and family-run Greek bakeries serving hard-to-pronounce but absolutely delicious homemade pastries. There are even a few Greek columns, statues, and a National Hellenic Museum, so it's a nice area to walk around after your meal. Greeks like to take time to enjoy their food and wine, so don't rush your meal - enjoy the Greek music and decor, soak up the Mediterranean ambiance, savor the spectacular food, and slowly sip your Greek wine or shot glass full of ouzo. There are always special events going on in the neighborhood, so check greektownchicago.org for listings. Whether you're craving baklava, fresh olives and feta cheese, or lamb chops with Greek spices, you can count on USA TODAY/10Best to point you toward Chicago's best Greek restaurants.
This iconic Chicago restaurant boasts that it popularized gyros in America, and invented flaming Saganaki cheese with the cry of "Opa!" So you'll have to order the Saganaki, sort of a Greek cheese stick that's crisped by the huge flame. People also like Parthenon because it stays open late, after other Greektown restaurants have shut their doors. The menu includes a host of traditional mezes – try a platter of sausages, liver, sweetbreads, and meatballs, or sample spinach cheese pie. Main selections encompass a delectable roster of lamb, vegetable, potato, and chicken dishes. Try chicken karama, chicken simmered with tomatoes and herbs and served with rice pilafi or okra. The interior features Greek landscapes. (312-726-2407)
It's not fancy food, just delicious food. Since 1973, this local standout has prepared traditional Greek dishes. Start with some of the egg lemon soup, said to be some of the best in Greektown. Some of the menu items customers rave about include the braised lamb, homemade Greek sausages, fried squid, roast lamb loin, dolmades, and orange roughy. Like every restaurant in the neighborhood, there's the flaming saganaki (fried cheese) appetizer, which is lit on fire tableside. The restaurant's casual ambiance features Greek music playing in the background, scenery murals, and quaint knickknacks adorning the blue and coral-hued interior. The restaurant is wheelchair accessible. (312-454-0800)
Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop
A family-owned bakery that's been around since 1974, this is THE place to get authentic Greek desserts in Chicago. While many of the items have long, hard-to-pronounce names (Galaktoboureko, anyone?), everything is fresh, delicious and handmade. They have breads, pastries, cookies and cakes, and a few items that could make a delicious lunch, like the Spanakopita (spinach and cheese pies). The baklava is outstanding, and customers usually buy amigdalota (almond cookies), Louis' Cookies (a chocolate sandwich), baklava and other Greek cookies and pastries by the box-full. There are a few tables inside, but most people take their sweet treats to go. ((312) 454-1886)
Santorini is one of the Greek islands, so fish is the specialty there. It's also the specialty at this Chicago restaurant, which prepares fresh seafood to order. While the red snapper has everyone talking, black bass and shrimp, and the Char-Grilled "Kamari Beach" Kalamari (spelled with a "K") are also delicious. Typical Greek favorites like vegetable moussaka and saganaki (slabs of flaming cheese) also compliment the dishes. The cozy interior has the white and blue decor that makes the island of Santorini one of the most beautiful places in the world. There's also a wood-burning fireplace that sets an especially accommodating mood during cooler months. Outdoor dining and complimentary valet parking are available. (312-829-8820)
Artopolis Bakery & Cafe
A modern loft-style space with an open-air kitchen, Artopolis prides itself on producing all of its fresh baked goods in house. The cafe's name comes from a combination of the words "artos" and "polis" (bread and town, respectively), and the menu features a variety of breads, pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and classic Greek dishes. The dessert menu includes specialty coffees, organic teas, and adorably decorated cakes and pastries, which can include special candles for Greek Christmas and Easter. A selection of Greek beers and wines is also available. Artopolis is a sister business to the Pegasus Restaurant and Taverna, two blocks away. (312-559-9000, 877-502-7867)
Pegasus Restaurant and Taverna
This casual eatery offers a mix of traditional Greek and Mediterranean eats, including pasta and fresh fish. The pleasant atmosphere includes seascape murals and a bi-level dining room with a skylight and many large windows. The rooftop patio, called "The Veranda," draws rave reviews for its skyline views but it has an abbreviated small plates menu. The windows at the front of the restaurant open onto the sidewalk when the weather is nice. Standout entrees include jumbo Gulf shrimp kebobs with vegetables and rice pilaf, and seared sea scallops with fresh spinach and rice. The large, well-selected wine list features Mediterranean and American varieties. (312-226-3377, 888-558-2637)
An excellent glass atrium and summer patio sets this Greek restaurant apart from the rest. The outdoor space is a three-tiered affair that features brick walkways, 30-foot trees, colorful flowers, and a waterfall. The food is as good as the atmosphere. The menu features most classic Greek dishes, including braised lamb, dolmades (rice and ground beef wrapped in grape vine leaves and drenched in an egg-lemon sauce), lemon egg-drop soup and moussaka. Warm pita bread, seafood kabobs, and eggplant dishes are solid choices as well. Save room for one of their delicious cake martini desserts, like the hocolate Hazelnut Cake Martini, made with Absolut Vanilla Vodka, Frangelico, milk and chocolate syrup. (312-655-0000)
The Greek food here is not fancy, but it's fast, cheap and delicious. Cross-Rhodes is in downtown Evanston (the suburb just north of Chicago's border). For what you'd pay for an appetizer in Greektown, you can have a heaping meal of pork tenderloin shish kabobs and beef and lamb gyros. Try the moussaka, either with chicken or vegetarian-style. It's loaded with potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and cheese and topped with an egg custard. The fresh Greek salads are filled with plump olives and feta cheese. For $10.25, you can get one of the most popular Greek dishes, Souvlaki. It's two skewers of marinated meat, rice or fries, pita bread, tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce. (847-475-4475)
A beautiful, romantic restaurant, Taxim serves upscale modern Mediterranean cuisine and has become a beloved and buzzed-about place in Chicago. It's not in Greektown, however. It's in the nearby Wicker Park neighborhood. Some of the popular menu items include lamb chops, duck gyros, wood grilled octopus, and the chef's made-from-scratch Greek yogurt. The service is excellent, and the waitresses are attractive women who know the food and wine list well, so ask them for recommendations. The restaurant has an impressive list of Greek wines which pair well with the food. It's a great place for a date night or a special occasion. (773-252-1558)
Greek Islands separates itself from the pack with festive atmosphere and a professional waitstaff. Start with Avgolemono soup and saganaki, also known as cheese on fire, and then dig in to some traditional dishes like dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), moussaka (baked eggplant, ground meat and potato casserole topped with béchamel sauce which can also be prepared vegetarian) and lamb kokkinisto (Lamb braised in their special tomato sauce), which are among local favorites. If seafood is more your style, fresh lavraki is flown in daily and broiled octopus is ideal for adventurous palates. The décor is cheery, in the traditional white and blue colors of many Greek restaurants. Greek Islands is conveniently located in Greektown and offers free valet parking. (312-782-9855)
About Jamie Bartosch
Jamie Bartosch is a lifelong Chicagoan who thinks her hometown is the greatest city in the world. She is an award-winning newspaper reporter, a freelance travel writer, and the mother of two great kids.
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