Exploring the city's less visited West Side
Today's post is a LONG time coming. I've been working on this round-up for years basically. Always putting it off or extending it so I can include other spots I come across. A while back one of my friends said something along the lines of "500 years from now they're going to be able to look back at what and where Chicagoan's ate all through your site" or something of the likes. He's right I thought. This stupid blog is on the internet forever. So that made me pick up the pace on today's Westside dining special as it's easily the least covered area not just on this site but in Chicago in general. You think the Southside is neglected? Without a doubt but when compared to the Westside it might as well be a Northside enclave. Think about it, we hear stories of the city's Southside be it in Michelle Obama's doc or an episode of Lovecraft Country but how many times can you recall the focus being on someone or something from the city's Westside? That's too bad bc the history over here is also rich.
So first lets discuss what constitutes the city's West Side? According to Wikipedia - "nine community areas compose the West Side: West Town, the Near West Side, the Lower West Side, Humboldt Park, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, South Lawndale, and Austin. Within these community areas are smaller neighborhoods, some of which match the community area's name and boundaries, and some of which do not use the community area's name at all. The three main community areas that do not match their colloquial neighborhood names are the Lower West Side, which is widely known as Pilsen; North Lawndale, which is simply known as Lawndale; and South Lawndale, which is widely known as Little Village." They also explain how realtors have kind of taken Pilsen and called it the near South Side and stuff like that. Personally I've always considered Pilsen and Little Village to be Southside. Not bc it's better for home sales but bc of the numbered streets.
As regular readers know both Pilsen and Little Village are regularly covered neighborhoods on here. So today's post will focus less on them and more on the other areas which are less visited than either of those neighborhoods. This roundup wont include places from Taylor street which is technically the West Side but much more reflective of say Lincoln Park than it is Austin. Today's post will focus in on the Near West Side, Garfield Park, Austin, Lawndale, and the southern portion of Humboldt Park. These are the areas where the majority of the West Side's 44% Black population live. This is by no means a complete round-up as some of the areas most beloved eating establishments have already been covered over here. Places like Moon's Sandwich Shop, Ben's Barbecue, Bro-In-Laws BBQ, The Jerk Taco Man, Dave's Red Hot's (the city's oldest hot dog stand is temp. closed - fingers crossed).
Coleman's #2 Ribs and Tips on Chicago avenue is perhaps the most historic of the bunch. The Rib Tip and Hot Link Combo with sauce on the side is my standard order at the Chicago style bbq joints around the city’s south and west sides. For it’s this dish and the indoor aquarium smokers along with the Great Migration that made Chicago style barbecue a thing all it’s own. Coleman’s has been a part of the Austin area since 1971. Although the original location is no longer around the daughters of Henry Coleman have continued his legacy with this Chicago Avenue location. There’s an honorary street sign with his name on the corner. We call that iconic. Expect a line. Best to call ahead.
You can find soul food with roots in the Delta tucked under the California green line. Creed on Lake opened almost a year ago. The partners who own the place wanted to bring a taste of the deep south to Garfield Park. An area where many locals have roots going back to states like Mississippi. No hot tamales unfortunately but the food is really well made. Both the catfish and the fried chicken are hits as is the Friday special seafood gumbo. Of course when it comes to a great soul food spot they have to have good sides and I thought the mac and cheese was the best of a strong bunch.
The best egg roll I've tried on the Westside probably comes from Jay's Backyard BBQ on Division just west of Central. They have a jerk focused menu with jerk tips, wings and even jerk gyros being popular. But perhaps the most popular item is the Obama style cheesesteak sandwich. I haven't tried one in sandwich form but if they're as good as the egg roll version I need to make that happen soon. The Obama egg roll at Jay's is made with chopped bits of jerk chicken, chopped Philly steak, giardineria, and cheese which gets extra melted from the trip into the fryer. It's a glorious gut bomb.
What's a Westside eating exploration without some jerk tacos? Other than Uncle Remus's saucy fried chicken you can make a case that the Jerk Taco Man is one of the areas most iconic food figures. He was the first to do what's basically become one of the most readily available dishes on the city's south and west sides. Jerk tacos are 100% a Chicago thing. They might not have been invented here but then again it's impossible to say who did them first. What's not impossible to figure out is where they're a part of the fabric of a community and that's right here. Take this mobile food truck for example. I spied them parked on Madison one day and pulled over for some fried green tomatoes which were being advertised with a sign. They were out so instead I got some jerk chicken tacos. Grilled over coals so that's always a plus. Some spots do them better than others and these were decent but I've had better.
Next up is the infamous Peeples' Taco. This place is legendary amongst the city's Westside residents. Said to be best after the club and in between the after party. You can order them like wings and get anywhere from a few to 50. However many you order make sure you speak up when doing so, it's hard to hear behind that ballistic glass. This is a Beef Deluxe (LT + Cheese) with Hot and Mild.