14 Outdoor Things to do in Chicago This Summer

– By Tom Schaffner

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Cold and icy weather generally forces residents and visitors to deal with two distinct Chicago seasons — the “indoor season” and the “outdoor season.”  Not surprisingly, the indoor season closely aligns with the fall and winter months (October through March) and the outdoor season closely matches the spring and summer months (April through September).

A list of indoor activities in Chicago usually includes museums, sporting events (such as hockey or basketball), visiting interesting taverns and restaurants, shopping excursions, bowling lanes, indoor gardens and conservatories, gyms & fitness facilities, and much more.  The outdoor season means warmer weather and endless opportunities for unique activities and outdoor things to do in Chicago.

In 2021, as Chicago slowly reopens after more than 12 months of quarantines and social distancing, residents and visitors alike are rediscovering the city during the outdoor season.  We’ve put together a list of outdoor activities for residents and visitors who are looking for a way to put a little fun back into their lives while the weather and the pandemic allow them to do so:

Outdoor Things to do in Chicago

  1. Lincoln Park Zoo
  2. Take in a Ball Game
  3. The Lakefront Trail
  4. Kayak the Chicago River
  5. Japanese Garden
  6. Visit a Cemetery
  7. The 606
  8. Public Art in the Loop
  9. Art on the Mart
  10. Charter a Boat
  11. Chess Pavilion
  12. Chicago Riverwalk
  13. Beaches
  14. Navy Pier

1. Lincoln Park Zoo

Although the Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year, there’s always more to see and do during the warmer weather than during the harsh winter months. Founded in 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is the fourth oldest zoo in the nation and, like other zoos, allows visitors to view the animals in areas that replicate their natural habitats. If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in Chicago that involve roaming around beautiful landscaping with manicured lawns and scenic gardens all throughout a 35-acre site, then The Zoo should be at the top of your list. It is located in the heart of the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Admission is free, although in 2021 you need a reservation in order to enter the zoo.

2. Take in a Ball Game

Warmer weather means baseball and this year, both the Cubs and the White Sox are welcoming fans back to the ballpark with appropriate pandemic safeguards in place.  Although season ticket holders have top priority for the first available seats, many seats at most games are available to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis and can be purchased online.  I don’t know about you, but hearing the crack of the bat with a beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other seems awfully “normal” to me.

outdoor things to do in chicago - take in a ball game

3. The Lakefront Trail

Walk, run, bike, or rollerblade Chicago’s magnificent Lakefront Trail, which stretches for 18 wonderfully scenic miles and offers a variety of outdoor things to do in Chicago all in one place. Along the way, you’ll pass parks, the Museum Campus, Soldier Field, McCormick Place, many views and perspectives of Chicago’s skyline, the South Shore Cultural Center, and many more sites and attractions.  Because there is so much to see and do on the Lakefront Trail, many locals insist that traveling this unique path is like taking a “stay-cation” in Chicago.

4. Kayak the Chicago River

Natives and early explorers of Chicago traveled by canoe on the North and South Branches of the Chicago River to reach what would later be called Lake Michigan. You can do the same at various locations along the River with guided tours that depart during all hours of the day, for nighttime sails, and even trips that are timed to coincide with special events that take place in the city, such as the weekly fireworks show at Navy Pier.

Outdoor things to do in chicago - kayak the chicago river

5. Japanese Garden

Located in Jackson Park just south of the Museum of Science and Industry is a Japanese garden sometimes referred to as the “Garden of the Phoenix” or the “Osaka Garden,” (Osaka is a sister city of Chicago).  The garden was a gift to Chicago from Japan in honor of the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) which was held in Jackson Park.  The blossoming of the cherry trees in spring is an annual highlight of the park, however, the entire garden is beautifully landscaped, and located on a secluded island in the park.

6. Visit a Cemetery

This might not be on everyone’s list of outdoor things to do in Chicago, however, cemeteries are quiet, peaceful, landscaped, and are the final resting spot for notable Chicagoans, many of who have beautiful gravestones and mausoleums that adorn their tombs. On the North Side, visit Graceland Cemetery where Daniel Burnham, Ernie Banks, Roger Ebert, Marshall Field, William Le Baron Jenney, Joseph Medill, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Ruth Page, George Pullman, and many other famous people are buried.  On the South Side, visit Oak Woods Cemetery, the final resting spot for Cap Anson, Enrico Fermi, John H. Johnson, Jesse Owens, William Hale Thompson, Harold Washington, Ida B. Wells, and Bill Veeck.

7. The 606

The 606 is an abandoned 2.5-mile railroad line that has been converted into an elevated trail/park that runs parallel to North Ave. on the north side of the city from Ashland Ave. on the east to Ridgeway Ave. on the west.  Perfect for joggers, walkers and bikers, the trail is clean, well-maintained and also has a number of interesting bars, restaurants and shops that can be visited along the way.  The trail takes its numeric name from the first three digits of all Chicago zip codes.

8. Public Art in the Loop

Chicago’s Loop is a veritable gallery of public art featuring works from some of the most famous artists in the world, including Picasso, Calder, Miro, Dubuffet, Chagall, and many more.  The most notable (and famous) works are all within a short walk of one another and can easily be found online.

9. Art on the Mart

This innovative digital presentation uses the broad front face of the Merchandise Mart (the side of the building that faces the Chicago River) as a screen to display projected art in nightly “programs” that begin at 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.  Best spot to view the presentation is from the south bank of the Chicago Riverwalk between Wells and Lake Streets. For those looking for outdoor things to do in Chicago that are truly unique to our city, then this should be on your list!

10. Charter a Boat

There’s an awfully big body of water located on Chicago’s eastern border — why not charter a boat and do some sightseeing, fishing, sun-worshipping or celebrate a special occasion (and let the crew do all of the work)?  There are plenty of charter boats in the Chicago area, your next trip is only a few clicks away on your smartphone.

11. Chess Pavilion

If you enjoy playing chess — or enjoy watching others play it — the place to add to your list of outdoor things to do in Chicago is the beautifully designed outdoor chess pavilion located just south of North Avenue Beach in the Lincoln Park neighborhood (just off the Lakefront Trail).  The structure has chessboards carved into it and they are sheltered from the elements by a wing-like overhang.  The structure, built in 1957, also features carvings of chess pieces as well as sculptures of free-standing pieces.

12. Chicago Riverwalk

Located on the south bank of the Chicago River between the lakefront and Lake Street, the Riverwalk is Chicago’s version of the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, it has something for everyone.  In addition to enjoying a leisurely stroll along a picturesque river, you can visit outdoor restaurants and taverns, museums, do a little fishing, take boat trips, try your hand at kayaking, view public art, and even do a little bird watching.

Outdoor things to do in Chicago - Visit the Chicago riverwalk

13. Beaches

For most of 2020, Chicago’s entire lakefront was “closed” — completely off-limits by order of Mayor Lightfoot as a way to prevent crowds from creating hotspots during the pandemic.  In 2021, the 26-mile lakefront is open again — free to anyone who wishes to swim, bike, stroll or picnic along the shore.  In addition to the parks and Lakefront Trail, Chicago’s more than two dozen beaches will also be open this summer (with proper social distancing).

14. Navy Pier

Normally open 365 days a year, Navy Pier was closed twice for extended periods of time during the pandemic — from March to June 2020 and from September 2020 to April 2021.  It is now in the process of a gradual reopening — all outdoor activities are operating but indoor facilities (such as retail shops, museums, theaters) are not open yet but expect to be when the summer months arrive.  Weekly fireworks displays have also returned to Navy Pier, 10-minute shows begin every Saturday night at 9 p.m.

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

If you enjoy reading about our picks for the best outdoor dining in Chicago, then visit our blog to get more insightful facts, recommendations and history about Chicago.

– By Lindsay McNaught


What’s not to love about summer in Chicago? Each year the warm weather brings renewed excitement for rooftop bars, restaurant patios, beer gardens, boat rides, Cubs games, street festivals, and strolls along the Riverwalk. Though the summer of 2020 has come with some limitations, there are still plenty of opportunities to soak in the sun and enjoy the outdoors in our beautiful city.  

In response to the pandemic, many Chicago restaurants have safely stepped up their outdoor dining game – more space, reduced capacity, socially-distanced tables, plenty of hand sanitizer  and clear guidelines regarding masks. Restaurants are also getting creative in other ways, such as offering contactless payment options and menus available on your phone via QR codes. Hopefully, we’ll see some of these new innovations outlast the pandemic. 

Check out our top picks for outdoor dining in Chicago:

  1. 5 Rabanitos
  2. Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar
  3. Frontier
  4. Green Street Smoked Meats
  5. Duck Inn
  6. Mott Street
  7. Big Star
  8. Parson’s Chicken & Fish

With more and more restaurants reopening and offering outdoor dining in Chicago, the city’s sidewalks are bursting with activity once again. But with so many delicious options, which do you choose? Here are eight of our team’s favorite restaurants that feature dining al fresco:

5 Rabanitos 

As far as outdoor dining in Chicago goes, 5 Rabanitos is hard to beat. Just steps from the 18th Street Pink Line Stop, this Pilsen eatery serves authentic Mexican cuisine at lunch and dinner. The restaurant’s patio on Wood Street sits just across the sidewalk from a beautiful mural painted on the building’s exterior. Join us next tour season for our Pilsen: Creativity and Community Tour to enjoy more of 5 Rabanitos before visiting the National Museum of Mexican Art. 

Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar

While they’ve been offering carryout food and to-go cocktails for a few months now, Chef’s Special recently launched a unique outdoor patio operation. After placing your order, your food is presented on a private windowsill next to your table so you and the servers are able to maintain a safe distance. You then move the food to your table and dig in. The menu features delicious Chinese cuisine and housemade cocktails from the team behind Giant. For those looking for outdoor dining in Chicago that involves eating delicious Chinese food and specialty cocktails, then Chef’s Special is your spot.


Serving up Southern comfort food, whole animals and large format meals, Frontier certainly offers a dining experience not found at other Chicago restaurants. When we arrived, the hostess greeted us with a hand sanitizer spritz before leading us to our outdoor table. Frontier is a Black-owned business and a James Beard Award Semi-Finalist. This same team also runs Ina Mae Tavern & Packed Goods, another Wicker Park restaurant serving New Orleans-inspired dishes with outdoor seating.

Green Street Smoked Meats

Green Street has successfully switched up its operations in order to accommodate the new outdoor dining in Chicago health codes. They’ve added more outdoor tables and spaced them farther apart. They’ve also switched from counter pick up to full service. Their smoked meats, sides and cocktail offerings are amazing — you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Duck Inn 

Tucked between Pilsen and Bridgeport, this cozy tavern has a quaint patio and delicious food. Their specialties are rotisserie duck and Duck Inn dogs – their take on a classic Chicago hot dog. Both are excellent choices, depending on what you’re in the mood for. When we visited, we purchased extra dogs that came with instructions for preparing them at home. You can also find Duck Inn dogs at TimeOut Market, which reopened August 26 and is a stop on our Fulton Market: Winter on the West Side Tour.

Mott Street 

An Asian-fusion restaurant, Mott Street consistently offers unique and interesting dishes. To accommodate those who only want to do outdoor dining in Chicago, the patio has recently been extended. They allow small parties to be seated at large tables and everything feels safe and spread out. Mott Street also features family suppers to go and provides an opportunity for diners to purchase meals for frontline workers. This team also runs Mini Mott in Logan Square, an excellent spot for burgers, fries, and milkshakes.

Big Star

Big Star in Wicker Park remains a favorite among locals. They’ve expanded their already large patio and spaced tables to accommodate more diners safely. Their margaritas are refreshing on a hot day and dogs are welcome to hang out (on leashes, of course) while their owners enjoy delectable tacos and more. Our Wicker Park: Putting the Chic in Chicago Tour makes a stop at Big Star during tour season. 

Parson’s Chicken & Fish 

Both Parson’s locations have spacious patios with large picnic tables and delicious comfort food like fried chicken, hush puppies, and mac and cheese, to name a few. Unfortunately, real puppies aren’t allowed on the patio at this time but the good news is that Parson’s delivers and the food tastes just as good at home. We’ve ordered many hot chicken sandwiches over the course of the pandemic. Delicious.

Let’s continue to support our community and enjoy outdoor dining in Chicago while the weather cooperates.

– By Tom Schaffner

Every year, the “who’s who” of candy makers visit the international  “Sweets and Snacks Expo” held at Chicago’s McCormick Place.  Ever wonder why? Chicago has long-held the title of “Candy Capital of the World” so it’s only fitting that the largest candy maker convention in the world is held here on an annual basis.  

Transportation, geography and a steady supply of immigrant workers in the mid-19th century are what lead to Chicago’s success as a candy maker and distributor of candy products worldwide.  Access to rail lines and Great Lakes shipping sped the flow of ingredients into the city and made the outbound distribution of finished candy products around the globe effective and efficient.  Newly-arrived immigrants provided a steady stream of workers to fill candy manufacturing jobs while others opened small retail candy shops across the city featuring products made from Old World family recipes.

Through the years there have been a number of innovative candy makers that have called Chicago “home sweet home.”  The following is our list of great Chicago candy manufacturers and their contributions to the world of sweet treats.

Candy Makers in Chicago

Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company

Selling packs of chewing gum can lead to big business and no one was more successful at it than the Wrigley Company, an iconic candy maker company that was founded in Chicago in 1891.  Initially a soap and baking powder manufacturer, Wrigley offered purchasers gum as a premium to sell the company’s primary products. Wrigley soon realized however that the gum was more popular than the other products so he retooled his factory so it could manufacture gum.  In 1893, Wrigley introduced Juicy Fruit and Spearmint brands; Doublemint was introduced in 1914. Though the company was acquired by Mars, Inc. in 2008 for $23 billion, it still maintains a Global Innovation Center on Goose Island. 

Doublemint, Juicy Fruit and Spearmint are available on Amazon! As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Blommer Chocolate Company

 If you’ve ever been in the Loop and smelled chocolate in the air, you’ve been properly introduced to Blommer, a West Loop chocolate candy maker that has been processing cocoa beans since 1939.  A wholesaler, not a retailer, Blommer has become one of the largest independent candy makers and chocolate ingredient suppliers in North America, accounting for nearly 45 percent of cocoa beans processed in the U.S.  Although the company’s main business is supplying chocolate ingredients to other companies, the company maintains a small retail shop adjacent to the manufacturing plant that sells chocolates and various baking supplies.

Schutter-Johnson Company

This Chicago-based company’s claim to fame was the introduction of Bit O’ Honey in 1924, a honey-flavored taffy product with bits of almond embedded throughout.  Like taffy from other candy makers, Bit O’Honey was a long-chewing candy. The brand is now owned by Pearson’s Candy Company of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Want to try it? A one-pound bag goes quickly – purchase Bit O’Honey on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Ferrara Pan

Founded in 1908 in the Little Italy neighborhood, the candy maker Ferrara is known for a wide range of candies, including Lemonheads, Jujyfruits, Chuckles, Atomic Fireballs, Red Hots and Boston Baked Beans.  Today, Ferrara Candy has its headquarters in suburban Oak Brook Terrace and operates five manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and Mexico. Ferrara also is the country’s largest producer of candy canes, the largest seller of conversation hearts (“Kiss Me,” “Miss You,) etc. and produces a large portion of jelly beans that are consumed in the U.S.

Ever tried Red Hots? Lemonheads? Boston Baked Beans? As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.


In 1904, Emil J. Brach opened “Brach’s Palace of Sweets” on North Avenue near Halsted and, at the time, sold mainly chocolate bars and an almond nougat confection.  After World War II, the candy maker company began to focus on bulk and bagged candies and one time had more than 1,700 product lines. Brach’s Candy Corn has been a staple at Halloween and for many years has been the number one selling candy corn product in the U.S.  In 2012, after a number of acquisitions by other companies, Brach’s became part of the Ferrara Pan Candy Company.

Stock up on Candy Corn for Halloween! As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Curtiss Candy Company

Though no longer headquartered in the Chicago area (Nestlé is currently the owner), the company’s two most famous products are manufactured in Franklin Park (near O’Hare) — Baby Ruth (1920) and Butterfinger (1936).  Curtiss was founded in Chicago in 1916 by Otto Schnering who named the company using his mother’s maiden name because of anti-German sentiment during World War I.

Get your fix on Amazon – Baby Ruth and ButterfingerAs an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

DeMet’s Candy Company

 Turtles brand candy was developed by Johnson’s Candy Company in 1918 when a traveling salesman showed a candy to one of the dippers that looked like a turtle.  It was made with pecans and caramels and then dipped in chocolate. In 1923, the candy maker’s stores dropped the Johnson’s name and assumed the name DeMet’s and reserved the trademarked Turtles name.  Now owned by Yildiz Holding, the products are sold at a wide variety of retail stores, including Walgreens, CVS, Target and Amazon – purchase here! As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Tootsie Roll Industries

Founded in New York in 1898, Tootsie Roll Industries has had its candy maker headquarters and primary manufacturing facilities in Chicago since 1968.  The company’s eponymous product, the Tootsie Roll, derived its name from owner Leo Hirshfield’s daughter, whose nickname was “Tootsie.” Additional treats are added to the product line or acquired over the years: Tootsie Pops (1931); DOTS (1972); Junior Mints, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Babies and Charleston Chew (1994); and Dubble Bubble (2004).

Easy access to a chocolate fix here. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Leaf Brands

Founded in 1920 by Chicago entrepreneur Sol Leaf, Leaf Candy Company was once the fourth largest candy company in North America, producing such products as Whoppers, Jolly Rancher, Milk Duds, Payday and Heath Bar (As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases).  The company’s U.S. division was sold to Hershey in 1996 and the remainder of the company left the U.S. for Europe. Today the company has been re-launched in the U.S. and it is selling a variety of food products, such as Hydrox cookies.

Fannie May 

The first Fannie May candy shop was opened at 11 N. LaSalle St. in 1920 by H. Teller Archibald, a prominent Chicago racehorse owner.  The business was successful — by 1935 it has grown to 48 retail shops in Illinois and surrounding Midwest states. Key to the company’s success was its collection of decades-old candy recipes that, over the years, it refused to update or modernize.  In 1946, Fannie May created “Pixies,” a blend of hand-poured caramel, roasted pecans and dark or milk chocolate. Pixies, its most popular product ever, helped propel Fannie May in 1992 to the position of largest candy retailer (most stores) in the United States.  Today the company is part of Ferrara Candy.

The Hershey Company

 No, the Hershey Bar was not invented in Chicago.  None of the company’s other products — Kisses, Syrup, Reese’s, Kit Kat, Almond Joy (to name a few) — were launched or manufactured here, either.  The candy makers have a very important connection to Chicago, however. After Milton S. Hershey, founder of the company saw German chocolate-making machines for the very first time at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he decided he wanted to go into the chocolate manufacturing business.  He purchased the machines and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mars, Inc.

Though not founded in Chicago, Mars, Inc. had its corporate headquarters here for 30 years (1929-1959) and during that period launched some of its most popular candy products, including Snickers, Three Musketeers and M&M’s (As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases).  Now headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C. and still owned by members of the Mars family, the company still maintains manufacturing operations in Chicago and has grown to become one of the largest privately-held companies in the world.

Marshall Field & Co.

Originally created at a Seattle-based department store chain, Frederick and Nelson’s, in 1918, the recipe for Frango Mints became the property of Marshall Field & Company stores in Chicago when it acquired the Washington company.  In 1929, Field’s moved production of Frango Mints to the 13th floor of its enormous State Street flagship store where they were produced in huge melting pots for nearly 70 years.  Now owned by Macy’s department stores, Frango Mints are available in a wide variety of flavors and in different product lines.  The products, however, are now manufactured in Ohio. 

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Interested in learning more? For more stories about Chicago’s fascinating history, take a look at what Chicago city tours we are currently running with L Stop Tours! You can see some of these candy factories and businesses while on one of our many Chicago tours. Book your next adventure today!

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, a newsletter for former Chicagoans. Tom is also the co-owner of L Stop Tours.

– By Tom Schaffner

While it’s important to keep up with the latest trendy restaurants in town, it’s also important to keep tabs on those eating places known as  “joints” — places that have been around forever, have one or several signature items on their menu, have been popular for years, are small, independent or family-owned (not a franchise or corporate chain) and, as often is the case, are unabashedly dowdy in their design, décor and appearance. What you’re about to discover is simply the best food in Chicago.

In my family, we keep tabs on various joints around the city by making it a point to visit one — either a long-time favorite or a new one we’ve just discovered — about once a month. We generally go on Saturdays, usually for lunch,  because the time slot allows plenty of time to sleep on a Saturday morning and also because, well, there’s no rush to get back to the office or workplace. On Saturdays, there’s plenty of time to fully wallow in the “joint” experience and savor the food you have purchased.

So with no further ado, here is a list of our very favorite Chicago food joints that we have compiled over the years for your dining pleasure:

Best Food Joints in Chicago

Stony Sub (8440 S. Stony Island Ave.)

You can’t miss the bright yellow building on the west side of Stony Island just past 84th. Inside the structure, every square inch of wall space is covered with signs offering everything from burgers to gyros, wings to subs. Stony Sub is a cash-only joint that offers only food to go. We visited Stony Sub in the summer and took our food across the street and enjoyed a picnic of sorts on the grassy, park-like median that separates Stony Island’s north- and southbound lanes.

Signature Dish:  The uniquely Chicago Gym Shoe Sandwich (also known in various parts as the Jim Shoe), which consists of gyro meat, roast beef and corned beef stacked high on an Italian roll with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt), Swiss cheese, onions, sweet peppers and giardiniera (hot pickled Italian relish). It doesn’t get any more Chicago than this!

Jim Shoe Sandwich – LTHForum

Ricobene’s (252 W. 26th)

Open since 1946, this South Side Italian eatery is located in Bridgeport but is difficult to find. It’s boxed in by two overhead expressways (I-55 on the north and I-90/94 on the south) and also by an above ground rail switching yard immediately west of the restaurant. During the lunch hour you’ll find all types of customers dining there — truck drivers, executives, factory workers and, yes, railroad employees.

Signature Dish: Ricobene’s is known far and wide for its breaded steak sandwich, a massive pile of beef smothered in cheese, peppers, giardiniera and marinara, all of which are packed tightly inside a split French roll. In 2015, USA Today named Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich the “Best Sandwich in the World;” Anthony Bourdain liked it so much he featured it on his “Parts Unknown” travel show. Years ago, a friend of mine ordered one and just stared at the massive Frisbee-sized concoction when it was placed in front of him. He then looked up, shook his head and said, “This thing’s as big as a disk brake.” It was. But over the next hour or so, he ate every morsel.


Half Shell (676 W. Diversey Pkwy.) 

It’s like a little, divey neighborhood bar with kitchy nautical decorations that’s located in the basement of someone’s house, but with one notable exception — this little subterranean gem serves great seafood at great prices. 

Signature Dish:  Alaskan King Crab legs with herbed garlic butter are extremely popular at the Half Shell, they’re cooked well and you get a lot of them. One reviewer suggests you bring your own kitchen shears so you can attack the pile of shellfish faster. Great advice.


Taurus Flavors (8534 S. Stony Island Ave.)

The name refers to the original business, an ice cream shop, which was opened at this location in 1966. Some of the unique ice cream flavors are still on the menu, such as black walnut, butter pecan and praline. This is a “joint” in the truest sense of the word, great food (mainly sandwiches) is offered to go (cash only) and the service is fast and the building itself resembles a trailer or mobile home with the windows propped up.

Signature Dish:  The Steak Sweet sandwich, a combination of chopped rib-eye steak, seasonings, grilled onions, cheese, sweet peppers and tomatoes that comes on a steamed bun and is topped with a sweet-savory sauce.


Calumet Fisheries (3259 E. 95th)

You would never suspect that this little, weathered wooden building with the hand-painted signs just a few feet from the Calumet River actually is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurant. It opened in 1948 and is owned and operated today by the same founding family. Without question, it’s some of the best food in Chicago.

Signature Dish:  Calumet Fisheries is essentially a smokehouse, you cannot go wrong with anything on the menu that is smoked, particularly the smoked sturgeon, trout and shrimp.


Lindy’s Chili (3685 S. Archer Ave.)

Like most “joints,” there’s nothing fancy here, just a small bar, several tables and walls that are covered with signs and old photos.  Lindy’s claims to be “Chicago’s Oldest Chili Parlor” and it probably is — it was founded on this spot in 1924.

Signature Dish:  You can order the chili with beans, with mac, without beans, without mac or ladled on top of just about anything, like hot dogs, nachos or burgers.


Cemitas Puebla (817 W. Fulton St.) 

Located in Humboldt Park since 2002, this Mexican eatery recently relocated to Fulton Market where it now sports a new, trendier look. Cemitas refers to a sandwich resembling a torta that originates from the Puebla region of Mexico.

Signature Dish: Cemitas Atomica, a breaded pork chop, a chile guajillo marinated pork chop, and ham, along with Oaxacan cheese and avocado served on sesame seed bread.


Johnny O’s (3465 S. Morgan)

Another classic Bridgeport “joint,” Johnny O’s, is a 55-year-old establishment that is kind of a business mash-up — it’s part hot dog stand, part diner, part convenience store and part restaurant. Its split personality aside, they serve fast food that tastes great and is widely considered to be some of the best food in Chicago.

Signature Dish:  The Mother-in-Law, a tamale in a hot dog bun, covered with chili and then topped with relish, onions, peppers and tomato slices. 


Friistyle (5059 S. Prairie)

Open only for about a year, this South Side eatery has already achieved “joint” status. It serves only dishes that are versions of Belgian-style pommes frites, or, French-fries that are covered with decadent sauces and your choice of protein, such as roast lamb, jerk salmon or chicken wings. 

Signature Dish:  Italian Beef Frite, Chicago-style Italian beef, Asiago, giardiniera cheese sauce and au jus on a bed of fresh pomme frites.


Johnnie’s Beef  (7500 W. North Avenue, Elmwood Park)

A no-nonsense, one-story building with a big glass window that reveals a long line of customers who are waiting for their piping hot Italian beef sandwiches. It has looked this way since the joint opened in 1961.

Signature Dish:  Italian Beef, thin slices of seasoned roast beef, simmered and served au jus on a long Italian style roll, usually with giardiniera and sport peppers.


Looking to try some of the best food in Chicago for yourself? Great! Check out our list of Chicago tours now and you could be elbows deep in giardiniera before you know it!

Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, a newsletter for former Chicagoans. Tom is also the co-owner of L Stop Tours.