Chicago’s West Town neighborhood is a somewhat gritty part of town which includes a stretch of Chicago Avenue that many residents and visitors never explore. This makes makes me very sad. Look, I get that this area does not have the same vibe-y caché as River North or the West Loop, but I highly recommend you get off the beaten path. Hop the CTA Blue Line or the #66 Chicago bus and try the tasty cuisine at the following West Town restaurants. Seriously.
This Italian-inspired newcomer puts locally sourced ingredients in the spotlight. The black kale pesto spaghetti with walnuts is the best version of this classic dish I have eaten outside of Venice, Queens or Brooklyn. Well played!
I really enjoyed the moist cod fish with new potatoes and cherry tomatoes in a zesty tomato sauce. The preparation of this dish perfectly showcased the simplicity of Italian cooking which focuses on highlighting ingredients without being fussy or complicated.
One more thing. This place is pretty sexy!
Charlatan is located at 1329 W. Chicago Ave.
This is truly one of the most underrated and overlooked restaurants in Chicago. I love everything about Mexique. Chef Carlos Gayton is serving up really flavorful dishes that are also very colorful and beautifully presented.
I love to dig into a big bowl of mussels and the one I had at Mexique was phenomenal. The P.E.I. mussels were a good size and very sweet on their own. However, the delectable broth made with white wine, saffron, buerre blanc, chorizo and peppers put this dish over the top. I should have asked for a straw to suck up that lovely liquid but the toasted bread was pretty great, too. I will be ordering this again.
Another dish that stands out at Mexique is the pan seared mahi mahi with mole. It’s served over a corn tortilla with chorizo and beans, roasted pineapple and avocado. Bonus! Chef Gayton has received awards for his mole. Nice!
The contrast of the sweet, roasted pineapple with spicy and smoky mole was terrific. It was probably one of the prettiest entrees I have ever seen.
Mexique is located at 1529 W. Chicago Ave.
Green Zebra made it onto my list of Chicago’s Best Vegetarian / Vegan Restaurants for good reason. It is located in a sleek space and it’s inventive menu will satisfy even the most devoted carnivore.
The menu at Green Zebra is seasonal which is always exciting. Although I do not live my life as a vegetarian, I am always impressed when a restaurant can elevate vegetables to be the star of the show.
I loved the Hen of the Woods mushroom paté. The accompaniments change with the seasons but the general execution is wonderful. I enjoyed this dish by myself but it is perfect for sharing.
Green Zebra’s menu skips around the globe using spices from different countries. You can enjoy one dish that highlights Vietnamese ingredients or another dish that incorporates flavors from the Middle East. Check out this lovely, stuffed roasted acorn squash Za’atar I had earlier this year.
I also really loved a dish made entirely of the short lived spring ramps. Beautiful!
Green Zebra is located at 1460 W. Chicago Ave.
I am overdue for a return visit to The Winchester. The brunch here is wonderful and the menu sets it apart from some of the usual suspects in Chicago.
For instance, I absolutely loved this root vegetable hash made with smoked trout, new potatoes, golden beets, fennel, slow egg and pea shoots. It’s a nice change of pace not feel bloated after brunch 😉
The space at The Winchester reminds me of a cottage or small farmhouse. You will forget that you are dining in the middle of Chicago! I think I will be stopping by soon to check out their dinner, dessert and cocktail menus.
The Winchester is located at 1001 N. Winchester Ave.
Chef Kevin Cuddihee is serving up dishes with Midwestern flare in a rustic and comfortable space. I enjoy the cocktails, mussels and pasta dishes here.
Two is also paying homage to traditional butcher shops by making its own sausage, bacon and jerky. Now, that’s commitment!
Two is located at 1132 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago has a huge Latino population and the island-nation of Puerto Rico is well-represented here, too. Cafe Central is the perfect place to satisfy your craving for plantains, hearty stews and more without breaking your bank.
Try everything here to get a good feel for Puerto Rican fare. I really enjoyed the Shrimp Creole with a side of spicy plantains.
This family-run spot might be in need of a makeover but the food is fantastic. Don’t judge a book by its cover, folks!
True to form for any quintessential neighborhood “diner,” Cafe Central has you covered with delicious options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, this food is served with love.
Cafe Central is located at 1437 W. Chicago Ave.
Flo Cafe & Bar
There are not many restaurants in Chicago that are open for breakfast. Lunch and weekend brunch, for sure, but not breakfast. This fact annoys me greatly, since I am an early riser. So, when I discovered that Flo Cafe & Bar is open for breakfast during the week, I jumped out of bed and hopped the Blue Line to West Town.
Flo is a very cool restaurant and bar that serves some zesty Southwestern cuisine. There are many options on the breakfast menu from which to choose but I kept things simple with some fluffy scrambled eggs served with black beans, roasted poblano sauce, charred sweet potatoes pico de gallo and a warm tortilla. The coffee here is great, too.
This dish came out steaming hot and it was a really hearty portion for the very affordable price of $7. Hell, yeah! I don’t know about you but I usually feel ripped off by the cost of brunch these days, even before cocktails are added onto the bill. That is precisely why I appreciate a hearty plate of eggs and some protein for less than $10. Thank you, Flo!
Flo Cafe & Bar is located at 1434 W. Chicago Ave.
West Town Bakery & Diner
I am a huge fan of retail store/restaurant as well as the bakery/restaurant. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting “double duty” out of a culinary experience. West Town Bakery & Diner understands this, too. In addition to its decadent bakery, they are inviting you to join them for breakfast and lunch at their adjoining diner.
Can you say dangerous?
Seriously, just try finishing one of the lovely dishes in the diner and then make your way past the eye-popping cakes and pastries in the bakery on the way out, without caving to your sweet tooth. You’ve been warned!
West Town Bakery & Diner is located at 1916 W. Chicago Ave.
One of the lovelier, “easy-to-miss” Italian restaurants in Chicago is A Tavola. It’s located in what appears to be a house, so you might walk right by it. That would be a shame because this wonderful Italian spot has been in business for over 20 years!
The menu at A Tavola is not too large and it is does some classics like veal saltimbucca, osso bucco and gnocchi very well. In fact, the gnocchi is so highly regarded that A Tavola is selling it to-go in packages.
A Tavola is located at 2148 W. Chicago Ave.
You’re all set, folks! Hop the rails to Chicago’s West Town neighborhood and check out these nine awesome restaurants. How many have you tried? Do you have a favorite place to eat or drink in West Town? I would love to hear all about it! Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA Blue Line or the #66 Chicago bus to these tasty spots in Chicago’s West Town. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!