When people visit the Windy City, the first things they want to eat are deep-dish pizzas, hot dogs, and Garrett’s popcorn. While these are all delicious options, there are plenty of cuisines available for any foodie, including some wonderful black-owned Chicago restaurants.
Last year during quarantine I came across the page of food blogger Jeremy Joyce black people eat on Instagram. Each day, it featured a new black-owned restaurant located in the Chicagoland area. The variety was endless, ranging from vegan, Ethiopian and Caribbean foods 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 myself.
There are more than 115 black-owned restaurants in the Chicagoland area. Although it will take some time to visit them all, here is a list, in no particular order, of my favorites and unique black-owned restaurants in Chicago.
Friistyle is Chicago’s unique take on Belgian-style French fries. Executive chef Chuck G created Friistyle’s signature dressing, boughetto, a twist on a mild barbecue sauce that’s the locals’ favorite fries condiment.
The delicious fries come with your choice of chicken, salmon, lamb, lobster or vegetables. If you like salmon, I recommend my favorite dish: the Jerk Salmon Frite. It comes with a braised salmon fillet, dill aioli and mango salsa on a bed of fresh French fries.
2. Cleo’s Southern On Cottage
Cleo’s describes their food as having a Creole twist on Southern classics served with a white table ambiance. The menu changes daily, but there are menu staples, such as wild seared Scottish salmon prepared with mango habanero. This dish looks spicy and it is the first thing I would like to try when I visit. Since 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 her nine-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, work together to create Chicago’s most unique gourmet hot dogs. The hot dog box The most famous dog is the Filet Mignon. Customers can substitute chicken, turkey and vegan dogs in some of the specialties. If you’re not feeling adventurous, the traditional Chicago-style all-beef Viennese hot dog (no ketchup!) is a menu staple.
The menu proposals 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 spiralized sweet potatoes, green butter leaf lettuce, hickory-smoked candied bacon bits and homemade chipotle maple mustard. My dog was vegan style, but just as delicious.
The Hot Dog Box operates in a unique area of Chicago’s premier shipping container market in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Containers are modified to each company’s specifications mimicking any ordinary brick and mortar storefront.
The market 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 life.
4. Demera Ethiopian Restaurant
Tigist Reda, the owner of Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, was born and raised in Ethiopia and has lived in Chicago for over 20 years. In 2007, she opened a restaurant serving traditional Ethiopian cuisine, handmade meals in family-style portions. Demera makes a Doro Wot (spicy) with an Amish chicken and a Berber spice. It is served boneless with a hard-boiled egg, ayib (farm cheese), and a garnish of vegetables. If you have room for dessert, try the Ethiopian-style tiramisu with ladyfingers dipped in homemade buma and brandy.
5. I can’t believe it’s not meat
I can’t believe it’s not meat recreates many of my childhood favorites like pizza puffs and Italian beef, but it’s all 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 the flavor and none of the consequences.
6. Emeche Pastry And Coffee
Owner and Dessert Extraordinaire Janelle R started baking alcohol-infused cupcakes in her NYC apartment for family and friends. After receiving more and more referral requests, Janelle decided to return to her hometown of Chicago and opened Emeche Pastry and Coffee. The name Emeche means tipsy in French and is a tribute to the cupcakes that started it all. The menu has many delicious choices, including the bourbon pecan pound cake and the mini pineapple upside-down cake. While known for its desserts, Emeche also offers breakfast and lunch.
7. Majani Soulful Vegan Cuisine
Majani Soulful Vegan Cuisine’s the owners have been a vegan husband and wife team for 20 years. The couple recreate Southern favorites in plant-based options. One of my favorite dishes is the barbecue cauliflower wingz. When planning your visit to Majani, you have three Chicago locations to choose from: South Shore, Pullman, and South Loop.
8. LiteHouse Whole Food Grills
LiteHouse Whole Food Grill offers healthy meals and vegetarian dishes. You start by selecting your choice of protein and pairing it with fettuccine, salad, burrito or wrap. Lighthouse Wholefood Grill also prepares a variety of signature pizzas. It was a tough decision, but I chose the jerk salmon over fettuccine.
9. Jasiman Jars
After helping a friend prepare desserts for his restaurants, Jasiman started selling pudding from doorstep. 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 at the South Loop store. When you arrive, you’ll think you’ve taken 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 started selling plates of food from her 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 haven’t visited either site yet, but my order will be the jerk salmon tips with fries. Street parking is available, but the Chicago location is on a busy street. There is paid parking nearby.
11. Goree Kitchen
the Gorée Cuisine Senegalese Restaurant prepares authentic West African dishes that incorporate and are influenced by North African, French and Portuguese ingredients. Fish, meat and vegetables are marinated or cooked in herbs and spices and poured over steamed rice or couscous and eaten with bread.
12. Herbal Junkie
Owner and Chef Bobbie Beaugard-Williams’ mission is to provide delicious plant-based foods without anyone having to give up their favorite comfort foods. herbal junkie is home to Chi-Town Vegan Cheesesteaks. With so many guilty pleasures to choose from, Williams has no trouble turning her customers into “Junk Food Vegans” or satisfying the taste buds of meat eaters.
13. Shawn Michelle’s homemade ice cream
Shawn Michelle 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 one-scoop sundae with lemon pound cake and bourbon butter pecan ice cream.
Sign up for Shawn Michelle’s Reward SMS to receive 5% off your first order, and you’ll be notified when they purchase a get a free weekend special.
Most restaurants featured are cashless and accept all major credit cards. Street parking is easy and available unless noted above. Hours of operation vary; check restaurant websites or Instagram or Facebook pages for updates or call before you go.