Bucktown packs a big dining scene within a small footprint



Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood is filled with character and art and a great dining scene. It gets its name from the goats (called bucks) kept in the backyards of its early, poorer residents but the area began to turn once local artists found cheap rent and easy access to the Loop (10 minutes away) attractive. Their creative force left a lasting impression and now the small, walk-able neighborhood is home to a wide range of restaurants and bars as well as late-night music clubs and boutiques. Its close proximity to the Loop and easy access to public transportation make it especially easy to visit.

Foodies will appreciate fine dining options like The Bristol and Le Bouchon. For eclectic sandwiches, fans flock to Bill Kim’s Belly Shack. Love oatmeal? Order the oatmeal shake at Costa Rican Irazu or the oatmeal pancakes at Feast.

Dessert isn’t an afterthought in Bucktown. Mindy’s Hot Chocolate’s gourmet desserts are popular additions to an outstanding dinner menu while old school Margie’s Candies has been delighting fans with its sundaes for generations as a family-friendly destination.



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Since 1921, Margie's has been dishing out the best homemade ice cream in Chicago. The shop also sells homemade candies. The family-owned business has a long list of ardent fans who have been frequenting the place for decades. The interior hasn't changed much - booths with wood paneled walls, decorated with authentic throwback decor. While you can order sandwiches and other dinner items here, the real reason people come here are for the unparalleled ice cream sundaes. They're accompanied by a gravy boat full of homemade hot fudge or caramel, and served in the restaurant's trademark white clamshell-shaped bowls. Milkshakes are so thick you will need a spoon. Being a local favorite, and in a small space, it's always crowded. The line moves, but it's long. So best to go in off hours if possible.


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Expect to wait in line for breakfast and brunch, but it's worth it for their fantastic breakfast and brunch foods. While the name might imply that bread is their specialty, it's really the breakfast dishes that stand out. Among their most popular dishes are their "scrambles," including their pesto & prosciutto, which is scrambled eggs with tomato, prosciutto and swiss cheese. And their french toast and eggs benedicts options also get rave reviews. Order a mimosa flight to wash it down. Not feeling like breakfast? The menu also has several burgers, salads and sandwiches. The restaurant is adorable and the food is worth the wait.


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Named after a Central American volcano, Irazu is reputed to be Chicago's first Costa Rican restaurant. The family-run business offers indigenous dishes of plantains, gallo pinto (beans, white rice, spices, and veggies), excellent and affordable burritos, and yummy and distinct shakes concocted with oatmeal, guanabana and tamarind. The restaurant isn't fancy, but the food is terrific. To venture outside of the ordinary, try tacos filled with mashed potatoes or one of the numerous seafood and chicken dishes. A large outdoor patio and BYOB (without a corkage fee) are even more reasons to love this place. The restaurant does not accept credit cards and there is usually plenty of metered street parking to be found.


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The restaurant is small and the menu is small. But there's a big payoff when you dine here: excellent Asian food and bento boxes. Grab a seat at one of the 12 tables in the modestly decorated space and see what's on the ever-changing chalkboard menu. Your choices could include rice noodles in a chili-scented broth, or foods with Japanese, Korean and Thai flavors in the bento boxes. Boxes might include a heaping portion of barbecue bulgogi, short ribs with rice noodles, or house-made kimchi.If they're serving barbecue pork steamed buns, it's your lucky day, because it's a favorite among diners.


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Belly Shack
Photo courtesy of Megy Karydes


 

Bill Kim's trendy Asian fusion joint is a little shack hidden beneath the Blue Line train tracks. Locals crave the Belly Dog with Togarashi Fries (a hot dog topped with egg noodles, kimchi salsa and pickled green papaya), Tostones in a chimichurri sauce (deep fried plantains smothered with chimichurri sauce and lime juice) and brussels sprouts and chorizo. Most dishes run around $9 and are freshly prepared on the premises. There is both communal seating and individual tables so you can share your BYOB with others or your own party. It boasts a huge vegetarian following. Metered parking is not impossible but since the place is literally below the Blue Line, you don't have to venture far for your meal if you take the el.


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The main draw at this hip spot, run by James Beard Award winning pastry chef Mindy Segal, are the stunning, gourmet chocolate desserts. Mindy's Hot Chocolate also serves entrees such mac and cheese which many consider some of the best mac and cheese they've ever tasted. The brunch menu changes every weekend but the doughnuts are staples. Expect to wait for a table at peak dinner hours. Whether you have your chocolate in a martini or a hot chocolate brownie dessert, it's a must-order. And the homemade marshmallows are phenomenal. No time or money for a full meal? No worries. You can buy chocolate treats to go.


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If the ambience doesn't absolutely win you over, the wonderful French food certainly will. Romantic, intimate (restaurant is pretty small, typical of un bouchon) and so French. The menu is in French (with English translations) and includes many of the best and traditional French dishes: soupe a l'ognion, salade chevre chaud, steak frites, confit de canard and moules frites. Favorites among diners include the soupe a l'ognion, steak frites and moules frites. The extensive wine selection offers a nice range of bottles and price ranges and a full bar includes beers. Finish off the meal with a slice of their famous lemon tart.


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The Bristol's food is imaginative and the menu is constantly changing. The place specializes in meats and whole-animal butchery and while that is the big draw for many diners, its vegetable dishes such as the Hokkaido squash are no less exciting. The duck fat fries and monkey bread can often be found on many diners' bill. Its cocktails are not an afterthought, either, and it has an equally impressive beer and wine menu. Although a high-end dining experience, its casual and comfortable setting gives it a more contemporary bistro feel. The restaurant does accept reservations and they are highly recommended because it does get very busy, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings.


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Meet 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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