-Grubbing in Chicago
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.
Sights from Chicago's West Side
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.
Sights from Chicago's West Side
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).
Sights from Chicago's West Side
Almost everyone knows about Harold's at this point but some still don't know who Uncle Remus is. It's to the Westside as Harold's is to the Southside. One of the city's iconic Black owned businesses, not just restaurants. They were featured in a nice piece at the Tribune
not too long ago. They've been a part of the community since 1963. It's founder Gus Rickette migrated to Chicago from Mississippi in the 1940's. He's credited with creating Chicago's iconic mild sauce which is where the term "saucy fried chicken" comes from. Today the business is ran by the daughter as they slowly expand with a new Southside location as well as a future spot in the suburb of Bolingbrook. The location on Madison and Central remains the oldest of the bunch. I prefer straight wings when it comes to Chicago style fried chicken. You'd be hard pressed to find a better $5 holla than a 2 piece with fries. Legendary.
Saucy Fried Chicken at Uncle Remus
Coleman's #2 Ribs and Tips
Chicago style bbq has a cult following but most of it's members will wax poetic about the Southside spots. Nothing wrong with that but there is in fact a few really good spots on the Westside as well.
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.
Rib Tips and Hot Links Combo at Coleman's #2 Ribs and Tips
Wiley's Chicken & Ribs
Wiley's Chicken and Ribs on Madison Street (block west of Pulaski) is another popular Westside BBQ option.
You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the crowd outside. They stay
busy from the afternoon into the night. Takeout only but Garfield Park
is a 5 minute walk. I've only been here once as I decided to check it out for this roundup but I enjoyed my visit. I preferred the tips to the links bc they had the perfect texture but the links were a bit limp. Barbecue has always been political especially here
in Chicago where it’s been a source of Black Economic Empowerment back to the days of Great Migration. It was often BBQ that fueled historic civil rights leaders during their visits.
Tips and Links Combo at Wiley's Chicken & Ribs
I first noticed Pete's Place on a cruise down Kedzie years ago. I'd always said I was going to go but it took me years to do so. In fact it was the most recent place I ate at for this report. It sits at the corner of on Van Buren right across the street from a busy CTA Garage. They've been here since 1963. You kind of figure an old school spot like this would be somewhere near a place where lots of blue collar jobs are being worked. You also figure it's got to be good or at the very least filling. That it is. Pete's Place is known for a few things but it's their steak sandwiches that seem to be the most popular item ordered. They're made with a fresh chopped steak and available with all the things that make both a breakfast sandwich and a burger good. The supreme comes with grilled onions, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo, cheese on well buttered perfectly browned toast. Great way to start the day.
Super Steak Sandwich at Pete's Place
Duwell Fish Co.
Here's where you can Friday Fish Fry 'Westside Chi Style'. Duwell's has sold fresh river fish over here at 5th avenue and Pulaski since the 60’s.
You can’t get it fresher. They’re swimming live in big tubs on one side.
Then they recently added a takeout window a few years back and now sell
fried catfish and buffalo fish in a variety of ways on the other side.
No Buffalo ribs on my visit but that’s ok bc I kind of wanted a catfish
sandwich anyway. Anybody out there remember Jin’s Fish & Chicken in
Madison (WI)? Best catfish sandwich I’ve had since then. Also of note is
the Harris Ice Co. right down the block. They sell all sorts of ice
including the shaved stuff for sno-cones. It's a great 1-2 punch.
Catfish Sandwich at Duwell Fish Co.
Al's Under the "L"
The Westside is home to two of the best hot dog stands in the city. Both of them Black owned. Hopefully Dave's Red Hot's
on Roosevelt reopens soon but for now they're temporarily closed. On the other hand Al's Under the "L" on Lake street is open with a walk-up window. They've been serving up their famous deep fried all beef Polish sausages since 1956. They do a fantastic natural casing hot dog too with the minimalist toppings including neon green relish. Fries are fresh cut too. I don't think I've tried anything else over the years but that's bc the classics are so well made. Hall of Fame stuff.
Hot Dog and Polish Sausage at Al's Under the "L"
Creed on Lake
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.
Sides at Creed on Lake
Our next stop on Chicago avenue is home to all the egg rolls you ever imagined. The Jerk Chicken Egg Roll is a
popular item at spots around the city. I first encountered them at Tastee Rolls in Bellwood. Since then quite a few spots have started specializing in them. But none of the places I’ve been
to offer more options than the ladies at Eggsplosion Rolls. I stopped in for some not too long ago and was overwhelmed with the selections. Def get the legit spicy jerk
chicken egg roll as well as the Italian Beef with hot
peppers and cheese in egg roll form. Plenty of options or build your own!
Egg Rolls at Eggsplosion Rolls
Jay's Backyard BBQ
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.
Obama Egg Roll at Jay's Backyard BBQ
3 Kings Jerk
More Jerk Chicken Egg Rolls on the
Westside! Here I also tried the customer favorite Buffalo Chicken. Both were bomb.
It’s time to do some digging on how these treats became the unofficial
snack of the city’s westside. It's almost like it was originally jerk tacos
but then everywhere on the Southside started serving those so they
pivoted to egg rolls out west. Anyone else dialed into this?
Jerk / Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls at 3 Kings Jerk
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.
Jerk Chicken Tacos on Madison in Chicago
Toy's Beef & Rice
As previously mentioned there's a handful of Asian owned hot dogs stands around town. The West side of the city is perhaps where you'll find the largest concentration of them. Except they're not really hot dog stands on the west side. They're more like Chicago style Chinese restaurants by which I mean they offer all the Chicago style standards including hot dogs however it's not the hot dogs that are popular at these spots. It's the tacos and Chinese food that most people go to them for. Toy's is perhaps the most popular of them all. They've been open for more than 30 years and according to reviews lots of people that grew up in the area come back to Toy's once in a while. As the sign outside shows they offer alot of different options. The kitchen was manned by two older guys making the food and one older lady taking orders. Customers were coming and going my entire time there. Aside from the fried rice and tacos, both of which I tried, the wings are also popular. Specifically the housemade honey wings. I got an order of them which comes with fried rice and also a taco with standard toppings of lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, and a melted slice of American cheese. I miss spots like this.
Honey Wings and Fried Rice with a Taco at Toy's
Tim's Fried Rice
You'll spy this Vienna Beef sign advertising fried rice on the 5600 block of Division. This is another one of the areas Asian owned hot dog stands. These places are so unique and there's less than ten total left. These are the type of spots you'll never see a new one of bc they're all so damn old school. Tim's is run by an older Asian couple and that's another reason you'll never see a new one of these open. When these folks retire that's it. They may have kids but most of the folks working and running these stands are old enough to be grandparents. So if the kids were taking over they would have already. Spots like Tim's Fried Rice cater to the neighborhood with large portions and reasonable prices and large menus that have everything from gravy bread (called a Soaky here) to egg rolls. They all make a good fried rice and they all sell a ton of tacos. I call them gringo style but they're unique to the area. While not for me all these spots will also boast a "super taco" made with a pita.
Fried Rice, Fries, and Taco at Tim's Fried Rice
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.
Beef Taco at Peeples
This place isn’t your typical Route 66
eatery. In fact it’s perhaps the most dangerous restaurant in the city
as it’s location on a triple intersection means cars come flying by from
all angles and have plowed into the the building multiple times. Yep
that’s a bumper sitting in front on the sidewalk in the picture above. I believe there’s also
been some gangland incidents inside later in the night. Either way they got the Chicago
style bulletproof glass setup just in case. But westsiders just can’t
get enough of their steak tacos which come served with a slice of melted
American Cheese. These are kind of a middle ground between the tacos served at other spots featured in this post and then the tacos you'd find at any one of the 100's of Mexican owned taquerias in town. The melted cheese being standard is very reminiscent of the previous spots while the fillings here are actual steak and "al pastor" etc.
Steak Taco at Sanchez Tacos
Here's another spot I always said I would try. It took me a minute but this post made it happen. The orange colored building always caught my eye when driving by down Division. That and the fact there's usually a crowd waiting for food made it worth trying in my eyes. It's a walk-up window ran by a friendly old Asian lady but no fried rice or anything Chinese related on the menu. Except maybe the fried chicken which reminds me of some of the Vietnamese fried chicken joints down in New Orleans. It's fresh fried and it's cheap. The picture below is an order I got with hot and mild on the side in case you wondering where that's at. The other popular eat at Mimi's are the tacos. The classic gringo variety that seems to be enjoyed by the locals both here and other spots previously featured. I noticed the other day they're opening a second location over on Western at Jackson but that's it for this trip.
Fried Chicken Wings at Mimi's