Lincoln Square's local Thai community is thriving. Among popular restaurants sporting authentic menus, Opart Thai House maintains a long list of regulars after two decades. Couples and friends enjoy Opart's welcoming BYOB policy while sharing crunchy Rangoons and nursing a generous-portion of Bamee soup. The atmosphere is cozy enough for a date, but budget-friendly enough to bring kids or a large group. The restaurant's located directly across the street from the Brown Line's Western Avenue "L" stop, and in neighborhood also known for its German heritage. After eating, you can stroll up and down the shops and restaurants along Lincoln Avenue.
Open for breakfast and lunch only, people who love spicy Cajun and Creole dishes take a shopping break to feast on some of the zestiest gumbo this side of the Mason-Dixon. Or, try red beans and rice, jambalaya, or a catfish po' boy. All the Louisiana-style classics are boldly flavored and expertly prepared. Choose your poison from the wall of fiery hot sauces if you're feeling brave. The huge menu also offers basic lunchtime fare like deli sandwiches and burgers if you aren't in the mood for spice. Either way, the place is full of color and bustling with activity. Cash only. Also a location in west suburban Naperville.
This budget-friendly and delicious Middle Eastern spot specializes in falafel sandwiches on warm pita bread. But you can't go wrong with any of their Middle Eastern offerings, including homemade masada chicken soup or the lamb or chicken shawerma. Or share a plate of hummus as an appetizer. You will smell the garlic and olive oil as soon as you walk into this the small, dark, family-run restaurant, decorated with hookahs and drapes. Look through the glass displays to see what you want. Then order at the cafeteria-styled counter and take your tray to any open table. Walk off your meal by exploring North Avenue's little shops and restaurants. Also a Lincoln Park location.
This old-school pizza shop knows a thing or two about pies, and locals swear by the place's deep-dish crust, which showcases all manner of toppings. Try the "Lou," named for the restaurant's founder. It includes fresh spinach, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, and mozzarella, romano, and cheddar cheeses. The "Deluxe" is a great value: cheese sausage, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Remember, a slice of deep dish pizza is way more filling than it looks, so when ordering, keep in mind that two slices is enough for most adults. Leaving Chicago? No problem, pizzas can be shipped overnight to most US cities.
As you would expect, Penny's specialty is noodles! And she sells a lot of them to the hip crowd that packs her Sheffield Avenue location every night. Though the fare is admittedly, "Thai for the American palette," regulars swear the soups and pad Thai are some of the best in town � for a bargain price. Penny's is extremely popular, so expect to wait for a table, and bring your own liquor since Penny's doesn't have a license. EL: Red Line to Belmont. There are also locations in Bucktown, Oak Park and Wrigleyville.
Family-owned since 1948, this hot dog drive-in (or eat-in) is a local institution, not only for its great menu but for its enormous, roof-top wiener mascots. Don't call them hot dogs, though. They're Superdawgs. Served in a box with the trademark "Hiya!" phrase on the front, the supersized dogs are nestled in poppy-seed buns and done up with relish, pickle spears, hot peppers, and pickled tomatoes. They come with hot, salt-sprinkled fries crammed into the box. Other possibilities: burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, Polish sausages, fish sandwiches, and ice cream. A kitschy classic that absolutely lives up to the hype.
Spots to sample a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich abound, but no place holds a candle to the Little Italy original, which has been around since the late 30s. Steak spiced with garlic and oregano, grilled onions and peppers and a soggy loaf of white bread roll; this is what a sandwich is supposed to be! And it's also probably why napkins were invented. In addition to the signature sandwich, they also offer hotdogs and burgers. Nobody comes here for the decor, or if they're counting calories. But they'll leave with a happy full feeling, and the quintesential Chicago dining experience.
When people move away from Chicago, Portillo's is the first place they want to go to when they come home. This chain, which has dozens of locations around the Chicago area, specializes in hot dogs, Polish sausage and Italian beef sandwiches - three iconic Chicago meals. And they cook them up perfectly. The service is fast, the prices are low, and the food is delicious. If you want something less heavy, try their chopped salad. They also sell ribs on Monday nights. Some of the restaurants are housed in the same building as Barnelli's Pasta Bowl, a fast food pasta, salad and sandwich restaurant. So there'll be something for everyone in your group.
Phenomenal Southern, Cajun and soul food dishes - like Shrimp and Grits, BBQ brisket macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and waffles, and catfish tacos - are what pack people in to this small restaurant along busy Lincoln Avenue. The restaurant is named for Chef Darnell Reed's Mississippi-born great grandmother, and some of Reed's family members work at the restaurant. The service is friendly and the vibe is warm and homey, just like the food. There's not a bad item on the menu. It's a great place to go before or after a concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which is across the street.
The ramen noodle craze is sweeping Chicago, and a trendy place for some of the best ramen dishes is Furious Spoon. This ain't your college dorm ramen noodles. Here, they use homemade noodles, flavored broths, and fresh vegetables and meats. The prices are low - vegetable ramen is only $7. That's a good value, and it'll fill you up. There are also rice bowls with beef and chicken, and a nice selection of Japanese beers. Furious Spoon plans to open a few new locations around the city in 2016. It's an especially good place to dine during the cold Chicago winters, when a bowl of warm ramen soup will warm you right up.