Chicago is often described as a city of neighborhoods. Having lived in the Windy City for most of our lives, we know that one of the benefits of all those neighborhoods is the ethnic cuisine they offer.
Whatever global cuisine you’re looking for, you’re likely to find it in abundance. Because Chicagoans take their food seriously, many Chicago restaurants offering ethnic cuisine are owned by people who treasure and serve authentic flavors from around the world.
Here are some of our favorites and the reasons why we love them.
Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio
You may know Sarah Grueneberg as a runner-up on Top Chef. But Grueneberg also held a Michelin star at Spiaggia and was named Best Chef in the Great Lakes at the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards.
After spending considerable time in Italy perfecting the art of Italian cooking, she opened Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio to share her talent with hungry diners. When you visit, you’ll see that the patrons are enjoying every bite. And it’s no wonder, because the food is nothing less than spectacular.
The burrata e ham is a gorgeous appetizer. The pasta is made on-site, which means it’s fresh every time. You might want to go all out and order the ragu alla Napoletana, a hearty mixed plate with fusilli pasta, sausage, meatballs, and a tomato braised pork shank that will blow your mind.
The Berghoff has quite a history. It was a beer stand at the Chicago World’s Fair, received the first liquor license in Chicago, and has been a family-owned restaurant for more than a century. The restaurant feels like a traditional German beer hall, and the menu reads like a list of Germany’s greatest culinary hits.
Start with a beer and a Bavarian pretzel. Then enjoy your choice of schnitzel, sauerbraten, sausages, or dumplings. You can’t go wrong with any of the traditional German plates. And be sure to save room for dessert — the apple strudel, black forest cake, and German chocolate cake ensure that you’ll never leave this fun place hungry.
Tango Sur, an Argentine BYOB spot, has been a local favorite for decades. It’s a casual little joint that people just love. The appetizers are fantastic. The empanadas come with a variety of fillings, and the salads have distinct ingredients like hearts of palm and Argentine cheese.
While there’s plenty to keep vegetarians happy, the real deal here is the meat. The short ribs, skirt steak, and boneless strip on the grill are all fantastic.
You can bring your own bottle of Argentine wine, which will complement your meal perfectly. When the weather is nice, you can sit on the patio and easily pass the time enjoying great food with friends.
A cozy neighborhood restaurant that serves up some of the most delectable Turkish dishes in Chicago will always grab our attention. That’s why Turquoise Restaurant is such a find. Chef Ezgi Bozdas has personalized this place with creative cuisine that is fun to look at as well as to eat.
Perfect for vegetarians and carnivores alike, there’s something for everyone on the excellent menu. For starters, try the lahmacun (Turkish pizza). Or go big and share a combination platter with favorites like hummus, falafel, su borek, and more. The salads and kebabs are fresh and filling, and you can pair your meal with a sweet and refreshing Turkish raki.
90 Miles Cuban Cafe
Before we traveled to Cuba, we had to get an authentic taste of the cuisine. It’s kind of like listening to music by a band before you head to the concert. Luckily for us, Chicago boasts a number of great Cuban spots. One of our favorites is the multilocation 90 Miles Cuban Cafe.
Entrees like ropa vieja beef, chuletas fritas pork chops, and camarones al ajillo shrimp strike a perfect Cuban chord. We’re also crazy about the yucca fries and sweet or savory plantains. Coffee lovers will not want to miss the triple-shot colada or the cortadito that adds steamed milk.
Another great spot for an authentic Cuban sandwich and coffee is Cafecito in the heart of downtown. There might be a line, but the food is totally worth the wait.
When we hear the music, smell the food, and admire the decor, we feel like we’re in the Mediterranean. Greek Islands is an unwaveringly classic Greek taverna owned by Greek brothers who know what tasty Greek dining is all about. One of our favorite Chicago restaurants, Greek Islands is almost never without a crowd — and for good reason.
The yogurt, eggplant, and garlic dips taste like someone’s yiayia (grandma) made them. For a special treat, try the saganaki, a flaming cheese dish invented in Chicago to delight the crowds — which it still does today. All our Greek favorites are on the menu. Pork on the spit, oregano chicken, moussaka, and spinach pie are just a few. Create your own combo or feed a whole crowd with a meal served family-style.
If you love Greek seafood, hop across the street to Santorini Restaurant for a quieter experience with feasts from the sea.
Tiffin The Indian Kitchen
When an Indian friend takes you to an Indian restaurant, they know what they’re doing. A tiffin is a container used to hold food, and Tiffin The Indian Kitchen provides guests with plenty of containers full of Indian flavors to try. Tiffin shines as an authentic eatery in the heart of Chicago’s Little India district on Devon Avenue.
South Indian dishes, Indian-Chinese dishes, tandoor dishes, vegetarian dishes, and dishes featuring rice, protein, and Indian bread abound. We love the garlic naan and Tiffin special biryani, a rice dish with a little of everything. Order a mango lassi to drink, and finish with pistachio ice cream before you happily roll on home.
Fogo De Chao
If you haven’t been to a Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria, try Fogo de Chao in Chicago. Carnivores will be in heaven with this all-you-can eat feast of grilled meats. You receive a chip with a green side and a red side. Turn the green side up, and the servers will come with skewers of beef, pork, chicken, and sausage. Take what you want, and when you need a break, turn the red side up.
One of the best parts of this Brazilian experience is the market table and feijoada bar. Seasonal salads, vegetables, cheeses, soups, and traditional Brazilian black bean stew are just a few items on the endless buffet. Don’t forget to order a caipirinha from the bar to whet your appetite.
Another great churrascaria is Texas de Brazil. Arrive hungry, because you’ll be full when you get home.
MingHin Cuisine has several locations in the Chicago area, including one in Chinatown. If you’re looking for a Chinese restaurant that will feel and taste like a trip overseas, give this cheery spot a try. A Michelin Bib Gourmand winner for several years in a row, MingHin has what we can only call an absolutely massive menu. It has the Chinese food we love as well as dim sum and Japanese offerings, too. The salt and pepper fish is to die for. Pretty much anything you think you might want will be on the menu for you to try.
There are a couple of other Chinese spots worth noting. Cai is upstairs in a shopping mall just outside the Chinatown gates. The food is fantastic, and dining in a group is easy and fun, with everything on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table.
Or head downstairs in the same mall to Lee Wing Wah for a neighborhood spot folks know and love. The noodle dishes are supreme, as are the potstickers and, well, everything else. The servers are not big on chit-chat, but that’s okay, because all we want to do is eat and eat and eat.
To be honest, we weren’t too familiar with Peruvian food when our friends invited us to meet them at Tanta. Now we can’t stop thinking about it. Peruvian cuisine combines indigenous Incan with European and Asian influences. This results in incredible flavors in thrilling combinations.
Rice and potato dishes with pungent sauces, vegetables, and proteins with citrus and spice combinations create an explosion in your mouth. Try the chef’s specials like the seafood rice or pork belly tamal. The place is loud, and the vibe is electric. Go when you’re energized, hungry, and ready to be wowed.
Chicago is a land of plenty when it comes to ethnic eats. These are just a sampling of the best we’ve enjoyed. We know you’ll find some of your own!
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