At the heart of Chicago's Haitian community lies Kizin Creole, a restaurant that offers locals much more Haitian culture than the kind that comes on a plate. In addition to serving the sun-kissed foods of the Caribbean, the spot also serves as a community center, promoting Haitian art, language, and music to anyone interested in taking part. Diners at the restaurant get to share in that cultural experience with every bite, whether they order plantains or a flaky pastry pâté stuffed with chicken, beef, cod, or sauteed vegetables. On the weekend, the chefs cook up more complex dishes, such as konsonmen—a traditional Haitian soup made with local vegetables—or the mildly spicy pumpkin soup special, guaranteed not to turn back into a pumpkin at midnight.
As night falls on the corner of Lawrence and Central in Jefferson Park, Central Kitchen and Tap's towering sign blazes to life with a neon invitation to "stop in" and shining arrows helpfully pointing the way. The vintage-inspired fixture wouldn't look out of place beside a roadside eatery from the 1950s, and it perfectly conveys the restaurant's spirit before diners even step through the front doors. Central Kitchen and Tap manages to walk a fine line between two ambiances by combining the counter service and charming booths of a casual diner with the full bar and assorted televisions of a neighborhood pub.
The family-friendly tavern welcomes everyone and this is readily apparent in the menu of American classics, which also includes the occasional international treat. Roasted chicken, slow-cooked ribs, and grilled pork chops seem directly inspired by home-style recipes. However, the selection also features dishes such as saffron-tinged Spanish rice with grilled shrimp and a traditional pasta bolognese with braised beef marinara. In between bites of comfort food from home and abroad, diners can also enjoy a refreshing pint of beer or a glass of wine.
A large chalkboard hangs over the central bar and counter section, laying out the entire menu in neat handwriting. Small black-and-white photographs line the walls beside the slate-blue booths, although the televisions also keep guests' attention by playing various sports broadcasts. For the children or the young at heart, the diner features a couple of arcade games that allow patrons to pass the time in exchange for a few quarters.
Breakfast for dinner, dinner for breakfast, lunch for lunch—when it comes to meal time, there are no restrictions at Lucky Grill. But instead of just sticking to American comfort favorites like most diners and Uncle Sam, Lucky's cooks bring on the variety with traditional Greek, Irish, and Italian dishes, in addition to the American classics. The Irish breakfast loads plates with rasher bacon, black-and-white pudding, and grilled tomatoes, while italian sausage or feta gives the traditional eggs and toast or crispy sandwich a Mediterranean spin. Later-day options include sandwiches and burgers, as well as broiled chops and pasta dishes.
A pair of Rogers Park natives opened the Grill Inn in 2008 to serve their neighbors tender ribs, juicy chicken, and 12 specialty burgers made with fresh-ground chuck. A striking portrait of celebrated Illinois native and inventor of fire Abraham Lincoln oversees a dining room of granite-topped tables loaded with gyros, barbecue-slathered chicken, and the signature Murphy's melt, a loaded burger stacked between two grilled-cheese sandwiches. Sunlight streams onto guests seated on the patio during warm months as they wash down hearty meals with a generous lineup of 25 import and domestic beers.
Before customers even stroll through the front door, Sakris Cafe promises something big: the world’s best omelet. The claim is written in bold letters across the front sign of the beloved Evanston breakfast and lunch joint. But the eatery’s line cooks are always eager to take on the daunting task, having turned out omelets, such as The Disaster Special—homemade ground beef, Armenian sausage, cheese, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms—since 1965. Their sandwiches perhaps deserve a place on the front sign as well, thanks to unique creations such as the chorizo- and cheese-packed Loretta. Other than the hearty breakfast and lunch menu, Sakris is also known around town for its speed and prices; “190 North” highlighted the restaurant in 2010, praising the chefs’ ability to “whip up a meal in just under a few minutes [for] eight bucks.”
Maher Chebaro styles himself a kind of cultural envoy for falafel. After running the show at several high-end restaurants in Chicago and Beirut, the gustatory evangelist opened up shop at Falafill, a decidedly accessible eatery, to broaden the fried chickpea ball’s fan base. There, diners stuff artisan pitas with classic, curry, and seasonal falafel, alongside a staggering array of vegetarian sundries from the mezza bar. The buffet packs in an array of Levantine staples, such as hummus, pickled turnips, and eggplant, as well as a handful of delightful oddities. These odd offerings include wild cucumbers and taratour—the house-made tahini infused with sweet paprika and chopped parsley that the eatery calls ’the mother sauce of our kitchen." The whole process was so fun that, tucked into its positive review, Time Out Chicago couldn’t resist offering up its own blueprint for building a "kind of perfect" sandwich.