NFT Chicago Northwest


If there's one thing you can count on in Northwest Chicago, it's that you can count on just about everything. Compared to other sections of the city, the Northwest is a bastion of stability. Most of the people and businesses have been around forever, and even typically transitory ethnic enclaves--in this case Eastern European, Middle Eastern, North African, Korean, and Italian--are fairly entrenched. That said, the slow but steady growth of the northwest side communities of Jefferson Park, Mayfair, and Edison Park is notable, as more young families discover the affordable housing and excellent school districts offered here. Additionally, Northwest Chicago is blessed with an abundance of small parks and field houses, as well as a large hunk of forest preserve, giving much of the area a bucolic, suburban feel.

Northwest Chicago wears its blue-collar ethnic proclivities on its sleeve. Local shops and restaurants don't go out of their way to attract clientele outside their own, and even the staff at the area's abundant Korean and Eastern European businesses make little effort to communicate in English. Adventuresome diners and cooks rise to the challenge--some of the city's best restaurants and ethnic grocers can be found here, including Thai vegan spot See more.

>Amitabul and Korean Joong Boo Market. American Science and Surplus has you covered for telescopes, army gear, UV spy pens and (to say the least) more. Farther south, Logan Square's young contingent is sprawling out along a quiet stretch of Armitage at Kedzie thanks to a new crop of bars and restaurants.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Singin' in the Pain: Where to Find True Blue Chicago

By Douglas DuBrin
Ah, the blues. Nothing like the gruff, dejected drawn-out wail of misery. It came from the South. It takes up residence in the fields of the fertile Midwest. Douglas DuBrin callously categorizes his city's jazz joints by geography and calibre. Determine the rightfulness of his delineations in the article which follows.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  David Donze
Photo:  David Donze

Taco Chino
Among the multicultural culinary delights that dot the Albany Park landscape, this small taco stand has delivered the delicious inevitability of fast food fusion to the north side neighborhood. Visible from the Brown Line train as you reach the last station at Kimball, Taco Chino is a quick trip to Mexico via Korea. Kimchi tacos are the marquee dish here, made with a classic version of the Korean staple, but do not sleep on the Korean beef, al pastor, or chicken varieties. The menu includes familiar taqueria offerings, as well as reworkings of Korean staples into Mexican-style street food. These subtle twists on Mexican classics are served up in a bright, clean storefront by friendly polyglots, and the prices are more than affordable. You can stop by for a full lunch, and easily spend under $10.

Posted By:  Kristen Orser
Photo:  Kristen Orser

Heavenly Gelato and Ice Cream
It's easier to just get this out of the way--Heavenly has some hellish prices. The gelato comes in a really small serving and it's unbearably expensive. That said, Heavenly might be the closest thing I've had to a religious experience since having gelato in Italy. Pistachio is the only flavor I care about, but there are some more creative flavors. The staff is more than willing to let you sample as many flavors as you want. I suggest trying all of then and, when you're already kind of satisfied, ordering a small gelato to share with a friend. In all honesty, the gelato is really rich. You probably don't need more than the serving you're given; you just want to see a heaping cone of it because you're used to ice cream with less flavor. It's worth the price. It's worth the trip to Logan Square. It's worth having to eat apples for dinner because you can't afford your groceries.

Posted By:  Brian Lauvray
Photo:  Brian Lauvray

The Brown Sack
Lunch for me has now been redefined. Fuck hyperbole. THE BROWN SACK HAS THE BEST SANDWICHES IN THE CITY. There, I said it. Discussion is now closed until some young upstart sandwich maker comes to town saying some cliche Hollywood Western line, like, "I reckon this town ain't big enough for the two of us." At which point proprietors of said B.S.I.C. will calmly and methodically kick their ass in a sandwichy kinda way. How did I come about this amazing revelation? I simply walked in with no expectations ordered the meatball sub with hot peppers and a side of coleslaw. What I got (if you couldn't tell) has redefined lunch. You like Potbelly's? Sit Down! You go crazy for Panera Bread? Shut your mouth, grow a pair and go to a real sandwich spot. The food here is top-noth. The slaw? Amazingly simple; forces slaw atheists to believe. The sandwich: sublimely sloppy with flavor that lasts. What to wash everything down with? Oh, I don’t know, maybe the greatest sweet tea this reviewer has ever had north of Mason-Dixon. The portions are perfect for an average eater. "Bravo, Brown Sack. Bravo" (wipes single tear away). Fin.

Posted By:  Elissa Pociask
Photo:  Elissa Pociask

American Science & Surplus
A visit to American Science & Surplus will definitely bring you back to the day when you were too young to realize you were best friends with the class nerd next door. Something about plastic spud launchers and lamps that project accurate constellations onto the ceiling really harks back to a more innocent, joyous time, before the social politics of Girl Scouts tore everyone apart. They've got slime for your little cousin’s birthday party, retro bike horns for your indie cyclist friends, and glow-in-the-dark "Wizard Rocks" for all of you. Don't forget to throw a thumbs up to the excited customer rummaging through the graph paper aisle--chances are, that's someone's old favorite neighbor.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Galos Caves
This may sound a little wacky, but sitting in a salt cave is a fun and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Located in one of the many Polish enclaves on the Northwest Side, Galos Caves taps into the Poles' love of homeopathic remedies. They claim the cave can help relieve a whole host of health issues, including respiratory and sinus problems. Made with Black Sea iodine salt, the cave itself has salt everywhere, even on the floor. Walk on it for a while, and you'll get a nice foot massage. During your forty-five minute session, sit in a lounge chair, lie on the heated floor, or play with toys in the saltbox. A new age soundtrack plays, lulling you to sleep. When your session is over, you'll feel really relaxed and energized, like you've spent a day at the beach. One tip: bring clean white socks to wear in the cave, or else you'll have to buy special booties.

Posted By:  Molly Fergus
Photo:  Molly Fergus

Russell's Barbecue
Ten dollars don't buy you much anymore. A beer at the airport. Two magazines. A scone and a grande skim latte at Starbucks. Unless you're at Russell's BBQ, where one Franklin nets a tender BBQ beef sandwich, a side of tangy coleslaw, a heap of fries and a large Sam Adams or Leinenkugel Honey Weiss. Worn wooden booths and faded decor keeps the original Elmwood Park location looking its 78 years, but you don't need to hike out West to enjoy Russell's recipe--the meat and sauce are sold in bulk.

Posted By:  Molly Fergus
Photo:  Molly Fergus

Discovery Clothing
Try not to let the heart-shaped "O" in the logo turn you off. Or the exclamation-point-heavy Web site. Or that girl’s high-pitched laugh at the end of the commercial. Something like a cross between T. J. Max and The Rave, Discovery Clothing’s selection is undeniably targeted toward the junior high set. But luckily for the cheapskate in all of us, this chain hides a few gems among its baby-tees and mini-skirts. Think $5.99 black clutches, $4.99 camis and $12 sundresses. Of course, caveat emptor--that skanky top you just bought might fall apart after one night at the bar.

Posted By:  Nina Williams
Photo:  Nina Williams

A small café located in the middle of Avondale, Curio is extremely small, holding about thirty patrons max. There are a few very simple tables scattered about, but it is really made for families with children. Nothing could say that more than the chalkboard and toys in the corner. Kid-friendly, this neighborhood café serves a variety of Guatemalan breakfast specials. They also serve lunch and dinner. Their service, although friendly, was beyond slow. Curio is not set up to service big groups of people yet, but they’re getting there. Avoid it if you have people to see and places to be.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Nothing makes a man more a gentleman than a nice hat. And I’m not talking about baseball caps. I’m talking about real hats. A fedora. Problem is, these days there aren’t many places to find them. Enter Hats Plus, a little shop at Six Corners that’s devoted to all kinds of men’s hats in almost every style, color, and size imaginable. Fedoras for dress, Panamas for summer, Outback-style for when you’re going on an archeological dig, Kangols for when you need to look hip, Cowboy hats for that weekend trip to the dude ranch. If it goes on a man’s head, you’ll probably find it here. The expert staff will measure you for proper fit and help you pick out a style that works with your face. There’s even a small corner devoted to ladies’ hats. Once you’re through here, you’ll be stepping out in style.

Posted By:  Annie Anderson
Photo:  Annie Anderson

In one of its MySpace blurbs, The Burlington lists its address and then says “That’s right, west of Kimball!” as if Kimball were the frontier of some unknown entity like The Suburbs. Indeed, for most Logan Square young folk, venturing west of Kimball means venturing away from things—the el, the lake, the comfy delights that crowd the three corners of Milwaukee, Kedzie, and Logan Boulevard. But The Burlington is worth a look and, at the very least, a $2 PBR. It’s kind of like a Hideout-Danny’s hybrid, sporting a woodsy vibe, small candlelit tables and a row of retired church pews facing the bar. Rotating deejays spin inconspicuously along the back wall seven days a week. The young brothers who opened The Burlington have said they want in on Logan Square’s increasing cultural cache, claiming that much of the neighborhood mirrors the Bucktown of a decade ago. If they keep up what they’re doing, they may just get a piece of the boom. For now, they give the Logan kids what they need—a chilled-out, friendly tavern with some solid grooves and stellar draft beers.

Posted By:  Tamara Matthews
Photo:  Tamara Matthews

Kurowski's Sausage Shop
Chicago has the largest Polish population outside Warsaw, and this is where they shop for food. If you’ve never left the country, here’s your chance to for a mild culture shock. Unless you are familiar with the Polish language, you have no choice but to let your senses guide you. Your nose will lead you to the meat counter where strings of sausage hang on the walls. The delicious smoky smell has gotta translate to yum–the nose knows best. Instead of Cheetos you can buy Crik Crak and select a flavor by the helpful picture on the bag (the one with a picture of cheese is probably a safe bet). The packaged pastries and frozen pierogi are sometimes marked in English and undoubtedly all tasty. If you are not feeling particularly daring, there is always fresh fruit, most of it familiar. And even if you can only drool at the meats in the case and not dredge up the courage to order via sign language, it’s worth the trip just to pretend you’ve transported yourself to Poland…for a few moments anyway.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Although Weegee’s seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s definitely a spot where you’d want to hang out after a long, tough day at the office. Unlike many other neighborhood bars, it doesn’t sport one TV, and their stereo cranks out a relaxing selection of old-timey jazz, swing, and blues music. The staff pours expertly mixed cocktails with recipes straight out of the 1947 Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide, and it only takes one of these delights to take the stress out of your day. If you’re more of a beer drinker, they’ve got a nice list of craft brews and imports to work through. Named after the famed crime photographer Arthur Fellig, you’ll notice homages to photography all over the place, including a functional photo booth. If you don’t want to chat at the bar, play a game of shuffleboard on one of the nicest tables around.

Posted By:  Tamara Matthews
Photo:  Tamara Matthews

Friendship Chinese Restaurant
Well-priced food should not be in a place this classy. For those with thin pocketbooks, that’s a good thing. Those with fat pocketbooks would hardly find cause to complain. You can get a full-sized lunch for $6.95 or a dinner entrée on Tuesdays for $8.95. This is why Friendship Chinese has a lot of friends. But it’s not just price. The food quality matches the décor: rich and serene as all get out. The wontons in the wonton soup come with a pleasant little surprise inside. The Pineapple Walnut Shrimp comes doused in a sweet, creamy sauce. And the fortune cookies are even chocolate flavored. Friendship Chinese prides itself in being set part from typical Chinese food joints. Your sesame-chicken loving tummy will thank you.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Located on a strip of Montrose near the Kennedy that frankly doesn’t offer much in the way of dining and entertainment, Shiraz is an oasis of hope in this section of Irving Park. Named after the capital of the Fars province in Iran, this Persian restaurant specializes in kabobs, enormous portions of ground meat that’s been skewered and broiled. Koobidehs come in original—a mixture of ground beef, lamb, veal, and onion—or chicken. Combination platters allow you to sample some of the favorites. Don’t fill up on the complimentary pita, cheeses, and pickles, because you won’t have enough room for your main course, although you will be happy to go home with a tasty meal for the next day. Shiraz offers live music and belly dancing on the weekends.

Posted By:  Paul Barile
Photo:  none

I’ve been down to the deep south—both nationally and within Chicago’s borders—and I have loved me some barbecue. Nothin’ says lovin’ in the tummy like good bbq. You can imagine my culinary joy when Smoque opened its doors just a few short blocks from my humble (northside) abode. They don’t do a lot so they can do what they do very well. They price it reasonably. One thing they do better than anyone is the macaroni and cheese. The unique casserole like experience is reason alone to visit Smoque—but don’t let that happen to you. You’re there anyway so you may as well go with a (reasonably priced) brisket platter. Heck you can buy it by the pound. Maybe you’re a rib-traditionalist. The St. Louis Ribs are meaty and delicious and will bring you back to Smoque again and again. There is a hint of (Memphis barbecue legend) Rendezvous vibe in the intimate little space on Chicago’s northwest side. Smoque also serves “add-on meats”. What could be better than adding on meat?

Posted By:  Paul Barile
Photo:  Paul Barile

Don’t let the new sign fool you, folks. LaVilla hasn’t gone upscale—they’re still the neighborhood eatery providing the finest in mediocre service and perfectly prepared Italian specialties that locals are accustomed to. You’re still going to begin your meal with a piece—or two—of warm moist foccacia bread that you smelled all the way from the vast (free) parking lots—not to mention those long skinny breadsticks to dip in your olive oil. The inside of the red velvet slice of heaven—the dimly lit lounge recalls the best Scorcese film. There are dark booths for private encounters or high stools to see and be seen. The restaurant sprawls with miles and miles of red leather and glossy black wrought-iron braided light fixtures. While every neighborhood in Chicago boasts that their pizzeria is the best LaVilla quietly proves it over and over—night after night. Just don’t ask for table 24 when you get there. That’s my table.

Posted By:  Paul Barile
Photo:  Paul Barile

I have to admit that I know very little when it comes to ordering Thai food. I know that I like it—but that isn’t much of a stretch for me. Everything comes down to the mood. Noodles? Rice? Tofu? The one thing I am sure of is that the food has to be fresh. Providing more light than necessary on the otherwise low-key corner of Pulaski and Addison sits Manee Thai, serving heaping helpings of freshly prepared Thai food. Teen is the waiter at Manee Thai. (He claims “Teen” is a nickname his mother gave him.) His manic giggle and his have-a-nice-day thumb salute make the cozy atmosphere that much more entertaining. The Manee Thai Deluxe is a thick slab of noodles drenched in an otherworldly peanut sauce. On a large platter heavily populated with steamed broccoli and your choice of tofu, chicken, beef, or shrimp. Whenever the word peanut and sauce are in the same sentence, you know you can’t go wrong. In a city bursting with Thai restaurants—this dignified little BYOB is easily worth the visit.

Posted By:  Rick Karlin
Photo:  Courtesy Smoque

Smoque is a very casual laid back place. You head up to the counter to place your order, wait for your number to be called, and bring your food back to your table. The staff is friendly, if a bit overwhelmed at times, but the diverse crowd, a mix that included folks of all races, ages, socio-economic, and sexual preferences, takes it all in good stride. This is the kind of place where you not only are you apt to strike up a conversation with the folks at the next table, but share your beer or wine with them. This is also some of the best barbeque in the city. Brisket or pulled pork are available as a sandwich or full dinner. Dinner platters of chicken or ribs (baby back and St. Louis style) are also offered. You can add a quarter slab of ribs or a sample of pulled pork, chicken, or brisket to any dish for just a few bucks more. As sides the barbecue beans and perfectly crisp and just greasy enough skin-on fries are the best bets. Top that off with BYOB, and you can see why it’s so popular.

Posted By:  Bathsheba Birman
Photo:  Christina Kapetan

Edgebrook Coffee Shop
Loving your neighbor takes on new meaning at this retro 17-seater. You can sit anywhere you like, so long as it’s the counter. Expect to literally brush elbows with fellow patrons and do the right thing by scooting down to give newcomers contiguous spots. Watch breakfast or lunch prepared before you in the galley kitchen, including thick French toast, made to order omelets, and shakes from scratch. Service is an ad hoc collection of owner Dimitri Kapetan and a couple of sweet high school kids, with cameos by Kapetan’s six-year-old son completing the small town feel. It’s cash only, but a sawbuck will get you far; most menu items are less than $5.

Posted By:  Brian Diebold
Photo:  Brian Diebold

Jimmy Mack Bar
Located on the northwest side of Chicago, Jimmy Mack’s caters to the blue-collar, dees, dems, dose crowd found so often in this big city…with one small twist. From the time it opens until about 9 pm, Mack’s is the typical beer swilling, TV watching joint. But come the witching hour, it turns into a leather-clad, Harley riding biker bar. They line their bikes outside and talk of their rides and rallies. They whoop it up and have a good old fashioned rough-punk time. One thing they do not do…watch sports. As it happens, I walked in during a Bears pre-season game, and I swear, this was the only bar in the city that wasn’t cashing in on the game. I guess bikers are simply not into this scene. Typical? Yes, it’s a beer swillin’, shot slammin’ joint with nothing close to ambiance. But you’ve got bikers (in the pm) and who could ask for anything more? $10 buckets of domestics and food are offered until 6 pm. I guess it’s not safe to feed a biker at night. God only knows what they’ll turn into!

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