Wicker Park has something for everyone, at least where restaurants are concerned. From fancy fine dining to a particular taco restaurant you most likely have strong opinions about, there’s a lot going on in the area.
The hardest part about breaking down the Wicker Park dining scene is deciding where exactly the neighborhood begins and ends. There’s no perfect answer, so for clarity’s sake, we’re considering the square area between Ashland and Western, and Division and the Bloomingdale Trail (thanks, Google Maps).
Here are the best restaurants in Wicker Park.
We like to go to this fun Latin American spot on a weeknight when it can help to break up the monotony of a boring week. All the dishes usually have some element that ends up surprising us - like the chicken skewers that come in a spicy huancaina sauce and have the unexpected addition of choclo (large chewy pieces of Peruvian corn), and ceviche that’s hiding sweet potato puree under the leche de tigre. As a bonus, almost everything on the menu is between $6-$15, making it a great option for a reasonably priced date night, too.
Things are usually off to a good start at a restaurant when the server puts (free) fresh bread down in front of you. That’s the case at Cafe Istanbul, an upscale Mediterranean place where most things carb-adjacent are made in-house - lahmacun, pita, even the rigatoni with veal sausage. But the main things you should focus on here are the meats. The best way to do this is by ordering the mixed grill that has a bit of everything, including doner, chicken, beef, shrimp, and lamb kebabs with fluffy basmati rice. The space is loud (the kitchen is semi-open, and there’s a TV in the dining room), but white tablecloths and the full bar make it feel nice enough for a celebratory group dinner.
It probably won’t shock you to learn that Phodega is a combination of a bodega and pho shop, and it turns out this small spot does a good job at being both. The food menu is short (mainly tasty bowls of pho, rice, and fried chicken skins), and the market has a nice selection of everything from paper towels and air fresheners, to a cooler full of paletas - which are, incidentally, very satisfying after a meal here.
If you’re wondering what happened to Publican Anker on the corner of Milwaukee and Damen, the owners turned it into Cafe Cancale. And we’re glad for the change, because Cancale’s food is delicious. It’s a French-inspired seafood spot where you’ll find shareable plates like charred leeks with mussels, and a well-balanced dish of clams, boudin blanc, and escargot in a buttery sauce. The light and bright space is nice enough for a date, but also good for oysters and wine at the bar - date optional.
Luella’s is technically in Bucktown, but we like this spot so much we’re including it anyway. It’s a casual BYOB counter-service spot that focuses on buttermilk fried chicken, from the same chef as Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square. The menu is short, with two styles of fried chicken: regular, served with honey, and “gospel,” topped with a spicy remoulade. The chicken is juicy, with crunchy, crispy skin, and the sides (particularly the sweet potatoes and fluffy biscuits) are also great. This is the kind of place you go after work when you don’t want to think - you just want to point to anything listed above the cash register and count on it being good.
Cebu is a small, slightly upscale Filipino restaurant in the neighborhood. The menu features dishes like kinilaw, sisig, chicken adobo, and some fantastic housemade pandesal bread served with honey butter. In fact, anything baked (including cakes and cookies on the dessert menu) needs to be on the table. The space is good for a quiet date night or catching up with one or two friends over drinks. But our favorite time to be here is any time of year when we can sit on the back patio.
Bars that serve good food are a wonderful thing, and that’s why we really like Tricycle. This spot definitely feels more like a Chicago bar than a restaurant, mainly because the bar itself dominates the space. But it also has a long food menu with a wide range of options that taste really good. You’ll find bacon-wrapped dates, roasted cauliflower with a fantastic curry sauce, and a deconstructed chicken pot pie. In other words, this place is a good reason to hit up a neighborhood bar for dinner.
Not only does Etta have great food, but it also works for a lot of different situations - from dinner with co-workers to a casual date night to eating with kids. This place serves delicious housemade pastas and pizzas, plus other dishes (like vegetables and pork shoulder) made in a wood-fired hearth. So basically, come here on a date, invite your co-worker who just had a baby, and order the cavatelli.
Ina Mae is a casual restaurant in Wicker Park serving New Orleans-inspired food. The menu is hit and miss, but they do have good po’ boys and fried chicken, both of which are very enjoyable while day drinking. And with a large bar area and friendly staff, this is a great neighborhood spot for doing that.
The Delta is a casual Southern bar and restaurant that’s great for drinks and light bites. There’s a long cocktail menu, and the food specialty is tamales simmered in a chile broth instead of steamed (these come in a few different varieties, like spicy brisket and a “Jim shoe” version with pastrami, lamb, beef, giardiniera, and lots of cheese). You can also get good hushpuppies and fried green tomatoes. The space is small and narrow, with an open kitchen and an awesome back patio. They don’t take reservations, but don’t be discouraged - seats turn over quickly.
Cajun and Creole restaurants open and close in Chicago at an alarming rate. We hope Fifolet doesn’t also succumb to this trend, since their Cajun food is very good. The menu is full of classics, including gumbos and po’ boys. Order the Fifolet gumbo, which has alligator, crawfish, and shrimp, and the shrimp and grits - the shrimp has nice spice and the grits are fluffy and creamy. It’s a casual spot, with a large bar in the center of the restaurant, and you should come for drinks or a low-key date night. If you’re lucky, they’ll have live music.
If you’re a fan of shellfish, this ultra-casual Mexican spot is where you should be eating in Wicker Park. It’s ideal for groups, because the portions are huge and everything will hit your table at once. Definitely order the prawns and lobster - the prawns come in a delicious spicy broth, and the lobster has a seafood stuffing, reminding us a little of a shellfish turducken. Don’t forget to BYOB.
Vegetable-centric restaurants have infiltrated Chicago, and Clever Rabbit is one of them. The overall feeling here is energetic and fun - for example, there’s an insanely huge crudité platter that’s like a garden on the table, and the salads have the same absurd level of abundance. Meat options are on the menu, but you’re better off sticking with dishes like the carrot dumplings, or any of the vegetable small plates. There’s a large outdoor patio, and the casual space makes this a likable spot to hang out even if you’re not a vegetarian.
Irazu is a Costa Rican restaurant that will make you feel good the moment you walk in. The menu is long, with lots of sandwiches, empanadas, and entrees like casado, a Costa Rican specialty with skirt steak, an over-easy egg, plantains, and cabbage salad. Whatever you order, you can count on it coming with gallo pinto (rice with black beans) and an order of plantains. Just know that this place is cash only and BYOB.
A pizza party for adults is the short way to sum up Piece. Their specialty is New Haven-style pizza, which has a lot of red sauce with extra olive oil and parmesan, but no mozzarella cheese (but you can order styles with mozzarella if you want). Gather your crew and head to Piece for pizza and beer.
Schwa is not only one of the best restaurants in Wicker Park - it also happens to be one of the most interesting dining experiences around. For a long time they only accepted reservations by phone, but now they’ll let you buy a ticket for a seat. Once you’re there, you can expect a fine-dining tasting menu with a soundtrack of rock and rap music, as well as an environment that’s something of a wild card (the staff has been known to light a firework or two out back). It’s BYOB (but not BYO fireworks), so keep that in mind.
You want great sushi, but you don’t want to (or can’t) pay outrageous great-sushi prices. That’s where Mirai comes in. It isn’t inexpensive, but it’s reasonably priced for quality fish. Focus on their nigiri and sashimi, and order one or two of the hot plates - their gyoza are really good.
Taxim serves lots of traditional Greek dishes in an upscale environment. Their food is consistently good, and there’s really no wrong way to order. But you should make sure to get a lamb dish, and at least one of their pastry appetizers (like leek and goat cheese in homemade phyllo). Come for a date night or even a big group dinner - that way you can try as much of the menu as possible.
We’re basically the leaders of the Furious Spoon fan club at this point, and we’re not ashamed. Both the ramen and the space have their own flair, with thick broth and loud music respectively. The housemade noodles are excellent, and our favorite bowl here is the Furious ramen, with tonkotsu broth and pork belly. It’s easy to get in here, as well - so this place really has a lot going for it.
Mindy’s is a staple in the neighborhood, and for good reason. The casual space is cool and the food is good (they have a fantastic cheeseburger and mac and cheese) - but it’s perfectly acceptable to come here and focus solely on the specialty hot chocolates and desserts, skipping dinner altogether.
The tacos at Big Star are perfectly fine, but you’re really here for the space. Specifically the huge patio. It’s one of the best in the city - lively, perfect for day drinking, and dog-friendly, too.
Antique Taco serves a bunch of different kinds of - you guessed it - tacos. While the classics, like their carnitas taco, are great, we prefer focusing on signature versions like their mushroom tacos with ranch dressing, or the sweet and spicy chicken. Inside, it looks like an old farmhouse, with reclaimed wood all over the place. Make sure you have room for a homemade pop tart (with marshmallow and chocolate) for dessert.
Dove’s is a great spot if you want to dine solo, or with just one other person. It’s almost all counter seating, and the place overall is a Tex-Mex Food + Old School Soda Shop Lunch Counter + Chicago Blues Music combination. You’ll find dishes like chicken fried steak, a flour tortilla brisket taco, and pork shoulder with hominy. It’s definitely one of a kind.
We all know the Au Cheval burger is the best out there. But as good as it is, that’s also how big of a pain in the a** it is to get a table. That’s why Small Cheval is so great. The Small Cheval burger is not quite as good as Au Cheval’s because you can’t order it with bacon, but it’s pretty damn close, and you can always get in.
Handlebar is a mostly vegetarian restaurant that has a real locals-only feel. It’s the kind of place you want to sit, eat, drink, and hang. And that’s especially true in the summer, when you can do all of those things on their patio out back. Handlebar’s menu is heavy on the comfort food, with things like mac and cheese and a buffalo seitan wrap with vegan ranch dressing. There are some non-vegetarian options, too, like blackened catfish and shrimp and grits, so it’s a good spot for a group with mixed preferences.
Pub Royale does Indian-inspired pub food, and there’s a lot to like here. You can keep things light with dishes like a curry dressing salad and cucumber raita, or go for the comforting stuff like palak paneer and an order of India hot chicken. Also, they now take reservations, so you no longer need to wait in line/make mortal enemies of all the more organized people who got there before you.
Cumin is a combination Nepali and Indian spot with fantastic food. The menu is long, with everything from goat stew to samosas to chicken tikka masala to Indian staples ideal for vegetarians. There’s a lunch buffet if you want to go big during the day, and at dinnertime, it has a nice, quiet environment for date night.
Sultan’s Market has affordable, tasty Middle Eastern food. We like to keep it simple with the falafel and shawarma sandwiches on the go, but the platters are a good choice as well. If you really want to take advantage of Sultan’s, grab dinner on the small patio in the summer. This spot is BYOB, so pick up some beer on your way.
Eating at Hash feels like having breakfast in your living room, if your living room were a friendly hipster commune. The mugs are mismatched, the alcohol is BYO, and the alt rock music adds to the atmosphere. Everything about this place gives you the sense that Hash isn’t interested in conforming to the brunch scene. It’s ideal for breakfast or lunch any day of the week.