In business for 25 years and renowned for its slow-cooked barbecue ribs, the family-owned Nick's Barbecue maintains a culinary stable of more than 100 equally tempting items on its menu. Fall-off-the-bone barbecue baby back ribs cover fingers in a sweet signature sauce, dinner’s perfect complement to stylish sauce-colored outfits ($10.99). The barbecue pulled pork ($7.59) and half-chicken dinner ($7.45) team up tender white meats with three down-home sides, including mac ‘n’ cheese, potato wedges, barbecue baked beans, or mixed veggies. Two items that are as authentically Chicago as a silver bean riding the L train—the italian beef sandwich ($4.69) and the vienna all-beef hot dog ($2.15)—do their city proud as they tame the windiest of appetites.
Low and Slow BBQ Turkey grills its turkey-based burgers, ribs, and sandwiches in an open fire tickling pieces of apple, cherry, and hickory wood. Load up on healthy protein with the turkey jerk burger with a small side of fries ($4.75, $0.35 extra with cheese), or sharpen fangs on a combo plate of barbecue ribs and tips ($10.95 for a small; $15.95 for a large). Unconventional turkey tacos ($2.25) or the turkey Polishes ($5.95) confuse taste buds without upsetting them, and sides such as the soy-oil-cooked french fries ($1.35 for a small; $2.35 for a large) complement any plate, including license plates. With the small catering tray, customers receive a choice of 18 turkey ribs, 12 turkey hot links, or a comparable amount of turkey tips heaped up with a sizable serving of fries and wheat bread.
Bon a Pit’s menu takes a multipronged approach to appetites, prepping meticulously selected meats smoked in wood-burning ovens alongside fresh seafood and other barbecue fare. Like a staring contest with George Clooney, slabs of barbecued baby back ribs ($13.95 for half, $19.90 for full) smolder slowly in applewood seasonings, and the roasted veggie panini melt ($8.95) finds fresh veggies snuggling atop ciabatta bread beneath blankets of goat and provolone cheese. An inferno of flavorful flames licks the fresh dill atlantic salmon ($15.95), smothered with extra-virgin olive oil and homemade dill sauce beside an island of rice and toasty vegetables. Live musicians serve up blazing ballads alongside the delectable eats, which are enjoyed in a bright orange brick building.
As dusk begins to set in near the corner of Thatcher and North, a familiar site lights up the intersection—a towering chimney with blazing neon letters that read "Russell's." The iconic eatery originally opened its doors in the 1930s, and it remains unflinchingly committed to its deep neighborhood roots. "Russell's is more than a restaurant," claimed a 1999 feature in the Chicago Tribune, "it's a living piece of history."
This sense of history is most prevalent in the menu of slow-cooked barbecue and classic, home-style comfort foods. In addition to the signature barbecued-pork sandwich that appeared on the Food Network's Sandwich King, the menu also features slow-cooked beef and hearty slabs of ribs, all of which arrive with Russell's time-honored barbecue sauce. An assortment of familiar side dishes help complete each meal, including crispy onion rings, coleslaw, and brisket-scented oxygen.
It takes at least a day to prepare every meal at Smokin' Woody's. After it's sourced from a local, family-owned business, each piece of meat gets rubbed with a signature spice mix. Then it's left to sit in the kitchen overnight, where it absorbs all those the flavors and spreads gossip about who has the best marbling. Next, the meat is smoked in-house over crackling hickory logs, seared on a grill, and served with spoonfuls of sauce. This process may sound simple, but each slab of meat also has its own designated cooking time and prep techniques. The popular pulled pork, for example, is smoked for 12 hours before it's pulled by hand and paired with classic sides, such as baked beans and coleslaw.
The menu also spotlights expertly charred burgers, spicy pork sausages, and slabs of ribs. Those who want to sample multiple meats can order a combo meal or family dinner, bookended by a bowl of homemade smoked chicken noodle soup and a homemade dessert, such as apple pie or homemade coconut custard pie.
Framed movie posters and classic rock records line the peach and yellow walls at El’s Kitchen, a DePaul-area eatery that serves up American comfort cuisine alongside local and imported brews and handmade cocktails from the tidy wooden bar. The cozy interior shrouds diners in a web of free WiFi and the seasonal patio encourages outdoor fork duels during the warmer months. The menu brims with savory offerings in the form of whole-wheat mac ‘n’ cheese and El’s southern fried chicken. Youngsters revel in their choice of a trio of kid-friendly meals, and adults can swill sips of craft suds or fittingly monikered cocktails such as the azure-tinted Blue Velvet or the ’80s classic Breakfast Club.