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5 of My Beloved Chicago Restaurants

These restaurants powered me through the pandemic and deserve your business.

By Entertainment, Featured


Illustration by Lela Johnson

Listen. It’s been a rough year and a half — I don’t think I need to convince anybody of that. Between class, working two jobs, climate change destroying my hometown, and a pandemic, it’s safe to say I’m in a constant state of stress. How do I avoid exploding into flames, you ask? I eat. I come from a long line of people who express and receive care through food, so for me, the most effective way to remedy exhaustion is with a good meal.

Without further ado, here are five restaurants that help prevent my spontaneous combustion, which I guess is also called love.

1.) BienMeSabe Venezuelan Arepa Bar

CUISINE: Venezuelan
TYPE: Quick bite, takeout

This is an ode to the manager of my go-to place in the Loop. Thank you for always recognizing me when I pass your window — rain or shine, winter or summer, even with my mask on — and putting my usual order into the deep fryer. Love is the crunch the tequeños make when I bite into them. It’s the ridiculous amount of Caribbean cheese you put on my plantains. It’s the way your arepas keep me full for the rest of the day.

2.) Lito’s Empanadas

CUISINE: Mexican
TYPE: Quick bite, takeout

A triple threat of freshly-fried dough, vibrant flavors, and consistent quality. Shoutout to Lito’s for feeding my household on the days my roommates and I are too worn out to cook dinner. Their chorizo and cheese empanadas lift the weariness from my shoulders, and their spinach empanadas could raise the dead. When I pass on from this putrid world, remember to place one at my altar — and don’t forget the aji verde.

3.) Stella’s Diner

CUISINE: American
TYPE: Dine-in

Being from Texas, I spend most of the school year missing Southern food and hospitality. I don’t know if I’d say Stella’s replicates that comfort, but I certainly feel right at home when I’m in one of their booths. The portions are filling, the staff is sweet, and their country-fried steak is delicious. Not to mention the perfect location — there’s a killer bubble tea place across the street.

4.) Siam Noodle & Rice

TYPE: Dine-in, takeout

A historic, family-owned restaurant that’s near and dear to my heart. My aunt’s been eating here since the 80’s, so we always visit when she’s in the neighborhood. We love their fried chicken and sticky rice — it’s our go-to order, and the best summer food. (I dream of that crispy skin!) Pair it with their tom kha kai, pad ka prao, or pad kee mao and you’ve got yourself a five-star meal. 

5.) Crisp

TYPE: Takeout

When I’m in the mood for Korean fried chicken, this is my favorite place to go. The experience is always sweet! The first time I got food from Crisp, they were thirty minutes from closing and still getting a steady flow of customers. They made my fries as soon as I walked in so that they’d be fresh, and threw in three extra jumbo drumsticks with my order. I always feel like I’ve seen old friends when I come here.

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