As they struggled to make ends meet by peddling fruits and vegetables from a truck, Mr. and Mrs. Ricobene never dreamed that their family’s name would one day be renowned throughout the South Side of Chicago. The couple first opened their own food stand in 1946, where they doled out sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas inspired by their Italian homeland. With the aid of their sons, they soon perfected their signature dish—the breaded steak sandwich, a meal that would one day be lauded by reporters from Chicago magazine as one of the best in the city. Today, Ricobene’s has expanded to multiple restaurant locations across Chicagoland, and chefs continue to whip up steak sandwiches in accordance with the original Ricobene family recipe. They fold ultrathin steaks into crusty Italian rolls before showering sandwiches in peppers, cheese, and meaty marinara sauce. The chefs draw culinary inspiration from both Italy and Chicago, seasoning wieners in celery salt and topping deep-dish pizzas with mozzarella. Meanwhile, out in the casual dining rooms, guests perch at wooden tables and admire the photographs of old Chicago that speckle the walls.
A graduate of Chicago State University, chef John Meyer opened the first BJ’s Market & Bakery in 1997, and used his son and daughter—Brandon John and Brianna Juanita—as the inspiration behind the restaurant’s name. Those familial influences are reflected on the BJ’s menu, too, which features a hearty selection of comfort dishes that John describes as a mixture of “soul food, Cajun food, and Southern food.” A winner in all three categories, the mustard-fried catfish rules as the restaurant’s signature dish, and as the designated speaker at its press conferences. Meanwhile, other specialty items such as rotisserie smoked chicken, smothered pork chops, sweet potato soufflé, and peach cobbler fill in the rest of a lunch and dinner menu that has earned extensive praise from the media, including Time Out Chicago, which noted, "while the food takes only minutes to arrive at your table, it tastes as if it were slowly, carefully cooked with love over a home stove."
Since opening in 1984, Buffalo Wings and Rings' hot wings have delighted diners in the form of meaty traditional wings, boneless hand-breaded wings, or lengthened tenders. Wings in 10 different flavors and six levels of heat populate the menu alongside burgers, desserts, and salads.
Ranked as some of the Best Barbecue in Chicago by CBS News, Honky Tonk Barbecue is the brainchild of pit-master, chef, and owner Willie Wagner. Within the Pilsen space, Wagner rubs and smokes his famous pulled pork for 17 hours, using the same recipe and technique that won him third place at the world Championship Barbecue Cooking contest in 2008. Barbecue-loving Midwestern crowds—and celebrity chef Guy Fieri—flock to Honky Tonk for not just the pulled pork, but also to sample bacon candy, beef brisket sandwiches, and bold slabs of dry-rub St. Louis ribs.
The chefs at Turkey Time celebrate their namesake bird with comfort fare made only from unprocessed, premium turkey. Standing in for fatty pork and beef, this healthy lean poultry finds a home in dishes such as barbecue turkey tips, turkey meatloaf, and smothered turkey chops. The bird lovers slow roast turkey legs until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender and smoke their own turkey breasts for salads and sandwiches. Sides of homestyle mac 'n' cheese, collard greens, and candied yams fill gaps in the plate, while house-made desserts, such as banana-custard pudding, seal in meals and protect sensitive skin from sunburn.
It’s a difficult task to pull off—taking a hodgepodge of recycled odds and ends and creating something entirely new. Simone’s Bar, however, has proven up to the challenge. An architectural potpourri of artifacts salvaged from around the city, the Pilsen bar is best known for the retired pinball machines that line its walls. These ancient tables lend a retro vibe to the bar area, where microbrews and cocktails take the place of pins on a recycled bowling lane. Other idiosyncratic elements include chemistry tables from nearby Westinghouse High School, conveyer belts from Chicago’s Fanny May Candies factory, and a chandelier molded from bicycle chains and rocking chairs. Combined with the solar panels on the rooftop, these repurposed knickknacks have earned Simone’s status as a three-star certified green restaurant. Simone’s décor may come from all corners of the city, but its food is influenced more by the bar’s immediate surroundings. Empanadas and a grilled cheese sandwich with Chihuahua cheese nod to Pilsen’s proud Mexican heritage, as do burgers topped with jalapenos and guacamole. The drink menu also has a local slant, highlighting Chicago brews and craft cocktails that would feel right at home in one of the galleries on nearby Halsted Street.