The hallmark of Chicago’s culinary charm is its balancing act: Despite its influx of modern gastronomy temples and stable of James Beard Award–winning chefs, the city’s dining culture is still very much rooted in blue-collar values. Effortlessly blending populist hot-dog joints with prime-time steakhouses, the Windy City appeals to ballpark bros and modernist-cuisine obsessives alike.

And like any bonafide dining hub, Chicago has experienced major shifts in its culinary DNA, especially in regards to expansion. When pastry chef Mindy Segal opened her comfort-food haven HotChocolate 11 years ago, Bucktown and Wicker Park were among Chicago’s rising creative hubs. Today, the bustling neighborhoods, which have since paved the way for Logan Square and Pilsen, are crammed with restaurants and bars.

“I’ve always been impressed by how driven the Chicago dining scene is by chefs, ethnicities, and neighborhoods,” says Segal. Lee Wolen, executive chef/partner at BOKA, believes it’s the camaraderie among industry insiders that makes the dining culture so vital. “I love how the Chicago chef community is close-knit. No other city I’ve been to has as many friendly chefs. It’s not as cutthroat here; they make an effort to help each other out.”

It’s a sentiment we’ve heard before in other midwestern cities like Pittsburgh, whose chefs feel liberated to experiment in their hometowns rather than book it for the tried-and-true path of NYC. “They have the freedom to do it, so that’s a good thing. Because new restaurateurs aren’t afraid to bring different things to the table, there’s always something new happening,” Segal explains.

Chicago might be a city that takes its artichoke agnolotti and Berkshire pork chops with smoked vanilla seriously, but when the chefs cranking out these ambitious dishes are off the clock, it’s cheap chicken and late-night country-fried steak they crave. We asked 14 of the city’s best to reveal their favorite, no-frills spots to kick back.

Brian Jupiter

Executive chef at Frontier
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Dancen (5114 N Lincoln Ave, 773-878-2400)

Jupiter says: “The fire chicken with rice balls may be my favorite chicken dish in Chicago. It’s so spicy, but you can’t stop eating it. The rice balls are a must because they calm the heat. The place is open late, and the grill they cook the chicken on is at the bar.” (Photo: Yelp/SeaKyle C.)

Paul Kahan

Executive chef/partner at One Off Hospitality Group

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Semiramis (4639-41 Kedzie Ave; 773-279-8900,

Kahan says: “A great Mediterranean BYOB. The deluxe falafel sandwich is the best I’ve ever had. It’s a low-key place, and my wife and I like to go there in the afternoon when it’s quiet.” (Photos: Derek Richmond, Yelp/Richie D.)

Sarah Grueneberg

Chef/owner at Monteverde

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Devil Dawgs (767 S State St; 312-583-9100,

Grueneberg says: “People go for the dogs, but I love ‘The Clucker’ fried-chicken sandwich. It’s topped with crisp pickles, coleslaw, and sweet, creamy, spicy hush-hush sauce, all on a pretzel roll. They also make great homemade fries. I get them with cheddar-cheese sauce and hot green chiles. So good.” (Photo: Yelp/Amber A.)

Rick Bayless

Chef/owner at Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco, Tortas Frontera, and Frontera Fresco

Favorite under-the radar spot: Carnitas Uruapan (1725 W 18th St; 312-226-2654,

Bayless says: “Carnitas Uruapan is run by second-generation family owners completely enamored with the quality of their food, and they haven’t changed the place in years. I order the carnitas sometimes by the pound, and sometimes as tacos.” (Photo: Yelp/Carnitas Uruapan)

Mindy Segal

Chef/owner at Mindy’s HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Chicken Hut (3200 N Broadway, 773-868-1755)

Segal says: “When you walk past the front and see this huge grill with rows of chicken, you just have to go inside and try it. I order mine grilled with a side of this delicious rice that has corn and peas in it. Also, their hot sauce is killer.” (Photo: Yelp/Fedal F.)

Ryan McCaskey

Chef/owner at Acadia

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Steak N Egger (1174 W Cermak Rd; 312-226-5444,

McCaskey says: “I still love Steak N Egger for late-night diner food. It’s super cheap, greasy, and has massive portions. Somehow I find myself there after a night out for things like corned-beef hash, over-easy eggs, country-fried steak, a side of ham off the bone, milkshakes, and biscuits and gravy.” (Photo: Yelp/Jason D.)

Abraham Conlon

Chef/co-owner at Fat Rice

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Bai Café (3406 N Ashland Avenue, 773-687-8091)

Conlon says: “It’s one of the best ‘Uzbek’ cafes in Chicago, and it’s open 24 hours, which is perfect for late-night cheap eats. I always order the lamb soup with large pieces of vegetables in the most flavorful broth.” (Photo: Yelp/Shogu U.)

Lee Wolen

Executive chef/partner at BOKA
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Tabaq (1245 N Clybourn Ave, 312-944-1245)

Wolen says: “It’s a mix between a restaurant, cab stand, and mosque. I love that it’s open 24 hours a day, and no matter what time you stop in, the food is always delicious. My favorites are the spiced lamb rice with either chickpeas or spinach, and the cheese stew.” (Photo: Yelp/Maria L.)

Andrew Zimmerman

Executive chef at Sepia
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Rangoli (2421 W North Ave; 773-697-7114,

Zimmerman says: “Rangoli is good Indian food in very close proximity to my house. What more could you ask for? The tandoori chicken is fantastic. I also like the chicken vindaloo.” (Photo: Yelp/Elina F.)

Matthias Merges

Chef/owner at Yusho
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Chicago Kalbi (3752 W Lawrence Ave; 773-604-8183,

Merges says: “It’s Korean BBQ run by a Japanese staff. I love this place—cold beers and smoking hot charcoal grills in the middle of intimate tables. The menu is full of unexpected items such as large intestine in dandelion miso, sliced beef liver, and Japanese Kobe beef you grill yourself. When you order you receive a plethora of pickles, kimchi, sauces, and marinades for the table. It’s a great place to spend time with those who love to eat.” (Photo: Yelp/Tianji L.)

Curtis Duffy

Chef/owner at Grace
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Restaurant Veneno De Nayarit (1024 N Ashland Ave; 773-252-7200,

Duffy says: “I get crab legs every time. The menu is huge, and I hear the langoustines are incredible, but I’m sadly allergic.” (Photo: Yelp/Cheryl D.)

Kevin Hickey

Chef/partner at The Duck Inn and Bottlefork
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Top Notch Beefburgers (2116 95th St, 773-445-7218)

Hickey says: “I get a cheeseburger with grilled onions, fries, and a chocolate milkshake. It’s a great old-fashioned, greasy burger joint that does it right.” (Photo: Yelp/Dennis B.)

Jared Wentworth

Chef/partner at Dusek’s and Longman & Eagle
Favorite under-the-radar spot: MingHin Cuisine (2168 S Archer Ave; 312-808-1999,

Wentworth says: “A favorite dish of mine is the rolled rice noodles with XO sauce. They have an amazing array of affordable rice, noodle, and BBQ options, and if you’re ready to spend, they have everything from fresh live crab and shellfish, to foie gras and abalone steaks. Everything is prepared by very skilled chefs and is always super tasty.” (Photo: Yelp/Danni I.)

Tony Mantuano

Chef/partner at Spiaggia, River Roast, Bar Toma, and Terzo Piano
Favorite under-the-radar spot: La Fournette (1547 N Wells St; 312-624-9430,

Mantuano says: “What I like about this place, besides the incredible breads of Pierre Zimmermann, are the dishes that make you feel like you’re in Paris: saucisson sandwich, tarte-flambée baguette, an awesome croque-monsieur, and maybe the best croissants in the city.” (Photos: Galdones Photography, Yelp/An P.)