When people visit the Windy City, the first things they want to eat are deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and Garrett’s popcorn. While those are all delicious options, there are many cuisines available for every food lover to choose from, including wonderful Black-owned Chicago restaurants.
Last year during quarantine, I came across food blogger Jeremy Joyce’s page Black People Eats on Instagram. Each day he featured a new Black-owned restaurant located in the Chicagoland area. The variety was endless, from vegan, Ethiopian, and Caribbean to Southern comfort foods. His videos were informative and entertaining, and everything he tried made my mouth water. I knew I had to try them out for myself.
There are more than 115 Black-owned restaurants in the Chicagoland area. While it will take a while to visit them all, here is a list, in no particular order, of my favorites and can’t-wait-to-go-to unique Black-owned restaurants in Chicago.
Friistyle is Chicago’s unique take on Belgian-style pomme frites. Executive chef Chuck G created Friistyle’s signature dressing, boughetto, a twist on a mild barbecue sauce that’s locals’ favorite french fry condiment.
The delicious fries come with your choice of chicken, salmon, lamb, lobster, or veggies. If you enjoy salmon, I would recommend my favorite dish: the Jerk Salmon Frite. It comes with a jerked salmon filet, dill aioli, and mango salsa on a bed of fresh pomme frites.
2. Cleo’s Southern On Cottage
Cleo’s describes their food as having a Creole twist on Southern classics served with white-table ambiance. The menu changes daily, but there are staple items on the menu, such as wild-caught pan-seared Scottish salmon prepared with mango habanero. This dish sounds spicy and is the first thing I would like to try when I visit. Because the menu changes daily, I would suggest ordering one of the specialty creative dishes listed under “Some Newbies.”
3. The Hot Dog Box
Bobbie Morelli and his nine-year-old daughter Brooklyn work together to create the most unique gourmet hot dogs in Chicago. The Hot Dog Box’s most famous dog is the Filet Mignon. Patrons can substitute chicken, turkey, and vegan dogs in some of the specials. If you are not feeling adventurous, the traditional Chicago-style all-beef Vienna hot dog (no ketchup!) is a staple on the menu.
The menu offers change daily. One of my daughters and I ordered the Juneteenth Limited Edition Sweet Potato Jam Wagyu Filet Mignon Steak Dog. The dog came with fresh spiral sweet potatoes, green butter leaf lettuce, hickory-smoked candied bacon crumbles, and house chipotle maple mustard. My dog was vegan style, but equally delicious.
The Hot Dog Box operates in a unique area in Chicago’s first shipping container marketplace in the Bronzeville neighborhood. The containers are modified to each business’s specification mimicking any regular brick and mortar storefront.
The marketplace has limited outdoor seating, so I suggest ordering online and enjoying your dogs in your car.
Editor’s Note: Still not sold? Here’s why you need to try a Chicago-style hot dog at least once in your lifetime.
4. Demera Ethiopian Restaurant
Tigist Reda, the owner of Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, was born and raised in Ethiopia and has lived in Chicago for more than 20 years. In 2007 she opened a restaurant serving traditional Ethiopian cuisine, hand-eaten meals in family-style portions. Demera makes a Doro Wot (spicy) with an Amish chicken and berbere spice. It’s served bone-in with hard-boiled egg, ayib (farmer’s cheese), and a side of vegetables. If you have room for dessert, try the Ethiopian-style tiramisu with ladyfingers soaked in homemade Buma and brandy.
5. Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat
Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat recreates many of my childhood favorites like pizza puffs and Italian beef, but everything’s vegan. Chef Laricia Chandler Baker enjoys creating unique meatless dishes. I have a shellfish allergy. I ordered a vegan shrimp po’boy sandwich with all of the flavor and none of the consequences.
6. Emeche Cakery And Café
Janelle R, owner and Dessert Extraordinaire, started making alcohol-infused cupcakes in her New York City apartment for family and friends. After receiving more and more requests from referrals, Janelle decided to move back to her hometown, Chicago, and opened Emeche Cakery and Café. The name Emeche means tipsy in French and is a homage to the cupcakes that started it all. The menu has many delicious choices, including bourbon pecan pound cake and the mini upside pineapple bundt cake. While being known for their desserts, Emeche also offers breakfast and lunch.
7. Majani Soulful Vegan Cuisine
Majani Soulful Vegan Cuisine’s owners are a husband-and-wife team who have been vegan for 20 years. The couple recreates Southern favorites into plant-based options. One of my favorite dishes is the barbecue cauliflower wingz. When planning your visit to Majani, there are three locations to choose from in Chicago: South Shore, Pullman, and South Loop.
8. LiteHouse Whole Food Grill
LiteHouse Whole Food Grill offers healthy food and vegetarian options. You start by selecting your choice of protein and pair it with fettuccine, a salad, a burrito, or a wrap. Lighthouse Wholefood Grill also makes a variety of signature pizzas. It was a hard decision, but I chose the jerk salmon on fettuccine.
9. Jars By Jasiman
After helping a friend by making desserts for their restaurants, Jasiman started selling pudding out of their home. Jars by Jasiman sells premium desserts in 17 flavors of pudding, cobblers, and other baked goods. All desserts can be ordered online and picked up in the South Loop shop. When you arrive, you are going to think you took a wrong turn. Jars by Jasiman resides in a renovated storage unit. A favorite is banana pudding — with or without bananas.
10. Phlavz Bar & Grill
Phlavz Bar & Grill is owned and operated by Phil Simpson and Andrew Bonsu. Simpson began selling plates of food from his house. When he decided to expand the business, he partnered with Bonsu, who provides managerial direction. Phlavz has two locations, the original in Chicago on Maxwell Street and one in Orland Park in the southern suburbs. I have not visited either site yet, but my order will be the jerk salmon tips with French fries. Street parking is available, but the Chicago location is on a busy street. There is a paid parking garage nearby.
11. Goree Cuisine
The Goree Cuisine Senegalese Restaurant makes authentic West African dishes that incorporate and are influenced by North African, French, and Portuguese ingredients. Fish, meats, and vegetables are marinated or stewed in herbs and spices and poured over steamed rice or couscous and eaten with bread.
12. Plant Based Junkie
Owner and chef Bobbie Beaugard-Williams’s mission is to provide delicious plant-based foods without anyone having to give up their favorite comfort foods. Plant Based Junkie is home to the Chi-Town Vegan Cheese Steaks. With so many guilty pleasures to choose from, Williams has no trouble turning customers into “Junk Food Vegans” or satisfying meat eaters’ taste buds.
13. Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream
Shawn Michelle’s mission is to bring back the feeling of tradition and togetherness with their unique ice cream flavors and baked goods. Vegan options are also available.
A must-try item is the single scoop sundae with lemon pound cake and bourbon butter pecan ice cream.
Sign up for Shawn Michelle’s reward via text to receive 5 percent of your first order, and you’ll be notified about their buy one get one free Weekend Special.
Most of the restaurants featured are cashless and accept all major credit cards. Street parking is easy and available except where mentioned above. Hours of operation vary; check the restaurants’ websites or Instagram or Facebook pages for updates or call before going.