The Chicago sportswriter’s guide to burgers, wings, tacos, subs and more (2024)

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Believe it or not, there is more to Chicago food than hot dogs, Italian beef and pizza.


In some areas of the city, arguments about sub sandwiches — the ones from places with Italian names — can become more intense than ones over hot dog joints.

The same can be true about the best burgers and tacos and even our beloved breakfast spots.

So back by insatiable demand and in an effort to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, here is The Athletic Chicago’s picks for burgers, wings, subs, tacos and much more.

The Chicago sportswriter’s guide to burgers, wings, tacos, subs and more (1)

The restaurateurs behind Au Cheval have created a burger empire in Chicago with several offshoots around the city. (Interim Archives / Getty Images)


Small Cheval (1732 N. Milwaukee Ave.; multiple locations): I’ve never been to Au Cheval, but I don’t even need to with the excellent Small Cheval approximately 100 yards from my front door. It’s the only double-patty burger I like, and it’s certainly worth the steep price. Also, shoutout to Claim Company in the northern suburbs, which makes a mean, perfectly medium-rare burger (topped with Merkt’s cheddar, the superior burger cheese). — Lauren Comitor

Small Cheval, Part 2: I’ve never waited for Au Cheval, so when this spot opened up walking distance from my old place, I had to see if it was worth the hype. I loved it at first, but I swear six months into its existence, it got even better. I asked the owner about that one afternoon and he told me it’s not unusual because the grill had been “broken in” and the burgers should be more flavorful. Maybe that’s all nonsense, but we still get carryout from there every few months because we can’t find a better burger. Homestyle with bacon and fries with extra garlic aioli — which really is key to completing the meal. — Sahadev Sharma

The Palace Grill (1408 W. Madison Ave.): I’ve probably spent years of my life at The Palace, and it’s probably taken years off my life. Worth it. There are fancier burgers out there, including right down the street at Au Cheval. But I’m not a fancy guy. The Sunshine Burger at The Palace is perfect for me — burger, bacon, fried egg. Simple. Perfect. I skip the cheese, but it’s there if you want it. The key is they put it on French bread instead of a regular hamburger bun, so it’s sturdy enough to handle the goo bursting out of the fried egg with every bite. — Mark Lazerus


The Sandlot (1120 W. Touhy Ave., Park Ridge): My wife always says you shouldn’t have to travel too far for a good burger. I love that about her. It’s her favorite food. I can go on about Nick’s Drive-In or Franksville (both on Harlem Avenue in Chicago). I’ve enjoyed a couple of burgers from Kuma’s Corner, too. But The Sandlot in Park Ridge has become a favorite for my entire family. Great burgers made on the spot and with fresh-cut fries. Plus, there are pictures on the wall from the movie “The Sandlot,” which is another Jahns family favorite. I’m a big burger and a beer guy, too. For that, my picks are Holt’s in Park Ridge and Iron Horse in Norwood Park. You can’t go wrong with either place. — Adam L. Jahns

Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap (1172 E. 55th St.): This isn’t a famous burger people wait hours for. It’s not one with six million toppings. Just a cheeseburger with fries you order from the bartender that everyone loves.Listen, Au Cheval is awesome — I remember when it was well-known but not famous and we could get a seat at the original one after Bulls games — but that’s an easy out. When I went to grad school at the University of Chicago, I spent a lot of time at Jimmy’s and I loved this simple, cheap burger and fries. In retrospect, I think it reminded me of the ones I would eat as a kid at the Elby’s Big Boy that was in the mall in my hometown. In any event, Jimmy’s is a treasure, whether you eat there or not. — Jon Greenberg

Little Bad Wolf (1541 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.): You may remember me from previous Chicago food guides as the one who was not a pizza elitist, and I’m the same with burgers. All I need is patties cooked right, a great bun and plenty of cheese. I’ve actually only been to Little Bad Wolf one time — that’s how good the burger was. I also love Small Cheval, The Butcher and the Burger, DMK and Kuma’s. The best burger in the north suburbs is Beinlich’s, but I’m also a longtime consumer of the Norton’s cheeseburger in my hometown. — Kevin Fishbain

Little Bad Wolf, Part 2: You grow up embracing all sorts of notions about being a blue-collar guy from the South Side, and one day you wake up and find that you’re ordering $18 cheeseburgers from a trendy, darkly-lit joint in Edgewater. But the $18 cheeseburgers are really good! There’s a $14 version too, if for some reason you’re not geared up for three patties. I haven’t tried ordering booze from them yet, but man, I wouldn’t bet against it. — James Fegan

Moody’s Pub (5910 N. Broadway St.): A huge, robust slab of burger meat for a reasonable price that’s perfect for blue-collar folks like you and me. You’ll feel like you’re on the South Side! — Fegan


The Grafton (4530 N. Lincoln Ave.): This is a solid Irish pub — The Atlantic (5062 N. Lincoln) would be my favorite in the area — that surprisingly serves my favorite burger in Chicago. I highly recommend getting “The Beckett.” — Scott Powers

Top Notch Burgers (2116 W. 95th St.): OK, we have to give the South Side a lot more love (so if you’re from Beverly, Mount Greenwood, Woodlawn, Morgan Park and so on, please put your favorites in the comments). I reached out to an old college buddy who went to Marist High School — let’s call him “Stuck in Wisconsin Bob” — and he recommended Top Notch. It’s been consistently featured among the city’s best burger joints. He also called Nino’s Pizza (which is on 111th in Alsip) his go-to spot. — Jahns

Poochies (3602 Dempster Street, Skokie):I love an indulgent Au Cheval or Loyalist burger as much as the next Chicagoan, but I’ll always be partial to the ubiquitous corner burger-and-dog spots that dot the city and suburbs. This is an easy one for me. It has to be Poochie’s in my hometown of Skokie. They make their cheddar char burger with Merkts cheddar, which is really the only way to make a burger, and their fresh-cut fries rate as my favorite fries in the area, as well. Honorable mention to Little Bad Wolf, The StopAlong and Carbon Arc. And never forget the permanently closed Murphy’s, which sat at Belmont and Racine for 30-plus years. — Michael Beller


Buffalo Joe’s (812 Clark St., Evanston): For years, my friends and I would make the 25-minute drive from our homes in the city to Evanston every weekend. It was a must after a late night. One buddy — let’s call him “Hungry Jeff” — would get a double order of spicy with cheddar chips (cheese fries) and a mega-gut RC. More often than not, he ordered some more wings and brought them home for his family. Another buddy — let’s call him “Polite Pat” — would always get the barbeque wings. We never understood it. But he loved them. Over the years, it also became a favorite spot for my brothers and me. My order? It’s a single order of spicy, cheddar chips and a mega-gut RC. Every time. Sometimes it’s the only meal you need that day. — Jahns

Buffalo Joe’s, Part 2: So, Buff Joe’s has my favorite wings. They’re small, but powerful and drenched in a delicious sauce. I get them spicy, though longtime customers go for “suicide.” Get the waffle fries and if you’re really living footloose and fancy-free, a Royal Crown Cola.

How much do I love it? Well, a few months ago, I was meeting Kevin, Lauren and Adam in Evanston for a lunch meeting and I went to Buff Joe’s first to eat. I told them I had eaten already, but not that I had just eaten without them. — Greenberg

The Chicago sportswriter’s guide to burgers, wings, tacos, subs and more (2)

Jon Greenberg only takes his daughter Sloane to the best-reviewed wing joints. (Jon Greenberg / The Athletic)

Buffalo Joe’s, Part 3: I haven’t fully explored the chicken wings of Chicago, but when we moved to Evanston, I was told this was a great spot. I was not disappointed. The only problem was I used to work out at Evanston Athletic Club, which is a half-block from this place. It just became too tempting after a workout and the whole “exercising and then eating a dozen wings” thing didn’t really lead to great things for my health. I switched gyms and now I’m in much better shape, but slightly less satisfied with my wings consumption. — Sharma


Buffalo Joe’s, Part 4: I can’t claim this as my own, but having visited with The Athletic Chicago’s very own Scott Powers I can confirm that these are some of the best wings you’re ever gonna taste. When approached for comment on Buffalo Joe’s, Powers responded: “This is what should be given to all people as their last meal. Well, maybe not vegetarians.” The waffle fries are also great by the way, so grab them before a Northwestern game with a basket of wings. Bring hand wipes. — Ed Malyon

Buff Joe’s, Part 5 and Crisp (2940 N. Broadway): OK, let me get this out of the way — I don’t eat wings. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just find them to be a pain. Too much effort, too big of a mess. Go ahead, rip me in the comments, but I will choose chicken tenders over wings every day and twice on Sunday. With that said, I can judge the wings based on the sauce used on my chicken tenders. I’ve been going to Buff’s for nearly 20 years (no one calls it Buffalo Joe’s). Add in the waffle fries with cheese and a mega RC, and you’re golden. Crisp was my spot in Lakeview — the Seoul Sassy flavor was top notch. — Fishbain

The Chicago sportswriter’s guide to burgers, wings, tacos, subs and more (3)

Try the Harold’s on Stony Island Ave. if you love wings. (Jon Greenberg / The Athletic)

Harold’s Chicken (7348 S. Stony Island Ave.): I also have to give a shout-out to the iconic Harold’s, which I love. As everyone knows there are good Harold’s and bad Harold’s. I’m obsessed with Harold’s rankings and I went to this one recently because of Larry Trotter’s rebuttal list in Chicago Magazine. The Stony Island Harold’s is No. 4 on his list and worthy of a trip if you’re nearby. There are two seats and one stool, so you might have to eat in your car, which I have done on one of my two trips there. — Greenberg

The Bird’s Nest (2500 N. Southport Ave.): One of the last classic neighborhood dive bars left on Chicago’s north side, The Bird’s Nest’s commitment to beer, chicken wings and showing sports on an abundance of screens has proven an unsurprisingly popular combo with locals for the last 25 years or so under current management and even longer under previous owners.

While the menu is varied, you’ll want to zone in on the chicken wings that the Chicago Tribune crowned the city’s best only a couple of years ago. Go during a Bears game for the full Chicago sports fan experience. — Malyon

The Bird’s Nest, Part 2:Evanston’s Buffalo Joe’s is a great choice, but I have to go with Bird’s Nest in Lincoln Park. I lived just a few blocks east of Bird’s Nest on Altgeld for five years, first with one of my best friends, and then with the woman who would become my wife. We no longer live walking distance from the restaurant, but it’s still our go-to spot for wings. The Bird’s Nest sauce is incredible, and their buffalo/BBQ mix might be even better. — Beller


Nottoli Italian Foods (5025 N. Harlem Ave.): I have a few to recommend: Tony’s Deli in Edison Park, Bari on Grand and J.P. Graziano’s on Randolph. In time, J.P. Graziano’s might take the lead. A friend brought a couple of trays over for our block party last year. They went fast. Too damn delicious. I just have to be down in that area of the city more often. For now, Nottoli’s tops my list. A couple of trays from them makes for a great party option, too. We’ve done it several times. — Jahns


Bari (1120 W. Grand Ave.): I’m still seeking out a proper chicken-part hero in Chicago, and I got a ton of suggestions on Twitter just before the league shut down and I stopped coming into the city every day. So next year, my answer might change. But for now, I’ll go with the Italian sub at Bari. Again, I’m a simple guy, I don’t put dressings or toppings or anything on my subs. Just give me the meat and cheese and the right bread, and I’m in heaven. I wish I could get it baked instead of just cold sometimes, but it’s great regardless. — Lazerus

Bari, Part 2: ESPN Radio’s Carmen DeFalco turned me onto this place years ago and my Italian wife approves. It’s an unassuming little Italian deli and grocery store that I never would have noticed if not from the recommendation. I get the Italian on focaccia and occasionally switch it up with the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sub. When we have a large gathering with my wife’s family, we often get cannolis next door at D’Amato’s. — Sharma

Bari, Part 3:This is a knockdown, drag-out fight between Bari and J.P. Graziano’s, but I side ever so slightly with the former. There’s just so much versatility at Bari. Of course they’ve got an impeccable Italian, but you can also walk out of there with a great turkey, meatball, tuna, Italian sausage, Italian beef, or pretty much anything else your stomach desires. Plus, you can do some grocery shopping while you’re there. They’ve always got great prosciutto, and an excellent proprietary giardiniera, as well. (Graziano’s does, too, for that matter). — Beller

Li’l Guys (2010 N. Damen Ave.): I lived right by here, and every time my buddy Nick Friedell would come over to our place when our kids were young, he’d stop there first to get us Baked TKRB sandwiches. That’s a baked turkey-roast beef sandwich on a hoagie roll with thousand island dressing. It’s delicious. A perfect sandwich. I still eat there regularly, even though I moved. It’s also a My Pi, which makes tasty deep-dish pizza. — Greenberg

Rollin’ to Go (825 Noyes St., Evanston): I lived around the corner from the original Rollin’ my senior year in college and essentially created a starting rotation for myself of their sandwiches. They’re now located inside D&D Finer Foods across the street. The chips are an added bonus, but the sandwiches are creative with generous portions and great bread. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the legendary Al’s Deli (and their cookies) on Noyes Street as well. In the city, I’ve only been once, but the “Kitchen Sink” sandwich at Nini’s in Noble Square is outstanding. And for anyone looking for a great selection of sandwiches (and beers and whiskeys): Jerry’s in Lincoln Square. — Fishbain


Maria’s (9440 W. Foster Ave.): Maria’s is outstanding for tacos and more — carne asada, fajitas, quesadillas, you name it. The Sinatra booth is a favorite spot, but I usually sit in the bar so it’s a short trip for the killer margaritas from Mary. Take an Uber, please. — Dan Pompei

Taqueria Moran (2226 N. California Ave.): The original social distancing was me wandering through the boulevard in Logan Square eating an al pastor burrito as I slowly walked home to my three-person bachelor apartment. It’s very possible to make a great al pastor without including pineapples, but after trying Taqueria Moran’s version, I don’t know why I would try. Also, I used to refer to it shorthand as “Taco Moron” and maybe I’ve had prouder moments. — Fegan


L’Patron (3749 W. Fullerton Ave.): If there’s one thing I did during 15-plus years living in the city, it was try every taco place in my general vicinity. This city has an impressive array of options to choose from and L’Patron tops my list. I discovered it a little late, preferring Las Asadas and La Pasadita in my 20s, but after they moved from the Diversey location, I finally gave L’Patron a try and it’s on another level. The carne asada has a very unique flavor that I haven’t seen replicated anywhere else and the chorizo is strong as well. My wife loves their pickled carrots and makes sure we get extra to last us through a week whenever we venture back out to Logan Square. — Sharma

El Milagro (3050 W. 26th St.): My old favorite, La Palapita on Milwaukee, is sadly closed. So when in doubt, ask the cops. They know their food in the city. For some of Chicago’s Finest, their top picks are El Milagro and L’Patron. — Jahns

Mas Tacos (8020 Kennedy Ave., Highland, Ind.): We don’t have much haute cuisine in Northwest Indiana, but dammit, we do have some great taco joints. My pick is this pickup-only hole in the wall in Highland. Every taco is made fresh, they’re cheap and they’re great. — Lazerus

La Pasadita (1140 N. Ashland Ave.): The perfect taco joint, not far from where I used to live in Bucktown. I go for the carne asada every time. No muss, no fuss, just good food. I still stop by fairly regularly if I’m going to Bulls practice. If you’re on the highway, it’s right off the Division St. exit. Plenty of seating to sit and eat, as well. — Greenberg

The Chicago sportswriter’s guide to burgers, wings, tacos, subs and more (4)

Despite the abundance of sugary alcoholic drinks, the Wicker Park Taco Bell did not make our list. (Matt Marton / Associated Press)

En Hakkore II (1840 N. Damen Ave.): Spending two years living in Wicker Park really opened my eyes to some great tacos. Big Star, Antique Taco, and the grocery store Carnicerias Guanajuato on Ashland. But I’ll go with En Hakkore II or 2.0 (the one with tacos on the menu) on Damen. Get the taco combo — Korean BBQ beef and spicy pork. — Fishbain

Antique Taco (1360 N. Milwaukee Ave.): Even in quarantine, I don’t trust the Wicker Park location to not be crowded. I’m referring to the 35th St. location. It’s a little new wave for my taste, but it’s done well enough that I wasn’t even that mad when a drunk guy knocked over a squirt bottle of salsa all over my coat. I probably should not have dragged my feet getting it dry cleaned. — Fegan

Edgewater Tacos (5624 N. Broadway Ave.): They’re not slow by any means, but their burritos take just long enough to make for you to talk yourself into one of their freshly made churros. They also have posted on their site that they don’t expect to survive the year unless this ends soon. — Fegan


Los 3 Panchos (1155 W. Diversey Ave.): I pick up lunch here a few times a week. Nothing fancy about this place, it’s just a small, family-owned place that serves great authentic Mexican food. That’s all I need. — Powers

Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave.; 3640 N. Clark St.):This certainly isn’t an off-the-beaten-path answer, but I just really love Big Star. It’s as much about the atmosphere of the patio on Damen as it is the tacos, and that’s no knock on the tacos. I think we’re all dying for a patio season right now even more than we are in a typical April. — Beller

Bonus picks

Steak sandwich

Booby’s (8161 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles): My family has been going to Booby’s for years. They used to have an old-fashioned salad bar in the middle of it. I’d always grab that red jello. That’s gone. But the steak sandwich isn’t. This is one of the best sandwiches — in any genre — that you’ll get in Chicagoland. Add a little barbecue sauce to it. Their fries and Caesar salad with chicken are great, too. — Jahns


Twin Anchors (1655 N. Sedgwick St.): For a period in my life, I considered this my favorite restaurant in town. Their ribs are that darn good. — Jahns


Bongo Room (1470 N. Milwaukee Ave.): Yes, it’s often a long wait on weekends, but the food is worth it: the breakfast burrito or whichever incredible pancake option that’s available. My other favorite city brunch spots are Batter and Berries, Dove’s, Flo and Yolk. For anyone in the north burbs: Once Upon a Bagel, Walker Bros., Cherry Pit and Egg Harbor. — Fishbain

Firewater Saloon (Edison Park or Mount Greenwood): In the mood for a hearty breakfast that results in an immediate nap? Then Firewater Saloon is your spot. I like the skillets and my pick here is the “Wrangler,” which includes corned beef hash. I’m not into Bloody Mary’s but folks always seem to get them. — Jahns

The Bagel (3107 N. Broadway):I grew up going here, and their thick-cut challah French toast remains the best I’ve ever had (aside from my Nani’s, of course). Their bagels are great, too, obviously. — Comitor


Jam’n Honey (958 W. Webster Ave.): Word is that the locals in Lincoln Park were none too pleased with the enormous, luminous sign erected above Jam ’n’ Honey’s door on the corner of Sheffield and Webster. If you ask me, the sign adds character and looks like it’s been there for decades, the food is excellent regardless and this small spot with a classic diner feel has become one of the best spots in the neighborhood for breakfast or lunch. Their breakfast sandwich benefits from the entrancing addition of caramelized onions and shouldn’t be missed. I sometimes get it delivered when I’m hungry AND lazy rather than just one of the two. — Malyon

Nookies (1746 N. Wells St. or 2114 N. Halsted Ave.): Delightful small chain on the north side of Chicago specializing in breakfast and brunch. The Mexican-inspired dishes are a slam dunk. — Malyon

Booze and more

The Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave.): It’s not only arguably the best beer bar in Chicago, with a wide array of drafts and bottles, it’s also a good place to work during the day. They serve coffee and light breakfast food in the morning and it’s a very chill place to write, edit or stare out the window. At 11 a.m., the boozehounds start drinking. When we’re allowed out again, I highly recommend going there. — Greenberg

Bitter Pops (3345 N. Lincoln Ave.): This North Side store focused on craft beer will deliver whatever you need to get through Zoom chats with people you haven’t seen in years. — Patrick Mooney

Winestyr (648 W. Randolph St.): With a base in the West Loop and a good website (, this direct-to-consumer business sells bottles from smaller, hard-to-find wineries in places like California and Oregon and processes the deliveries that go right to your doorstep. — Mooney

(Photo: Interim Archives / Getty Images)

The Chicago sportswriter’s guide to burgers, wings, tacos, subs and more (2024)
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