The LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurants list is a terrific resource of overwhelmingly low-end, nitty gritty dining— the result of the LTH hive mind sorting through the city’s millions of hot dog stands and takeout Thai joints and deciding, these are the ones you need to visit over the ones next door to them that look just like them. Picking those places has usually gone smoothly, but the fly in the bun bo hue has come later, when the job became culling the ones that have gone downhill, or just don’t seem that great any more, in order to keep the list up to date. Discussion over whether or not to renew places has tended to consist of people popping up in dormant threads to say that they still love such and such place, even though the last comment from anybody in the thread was them saying the same thing two years earlier in the previous renewal discussion. Which makes, by lenient LTH standards, this fall’s renewal session a downright bloodbath, with one in five of the spots up for renewal getting the ax.
Twelve spots were voted off the list by the GNR committee— including, ironically, some of the best-known names on it; Moto and Schwa, for instance, which had a season of LTH enthusiasm but are no longer front and center in discussion, or Kuma’s Corner, which we argued two (or maybe four) years ago didn’t need any help being discovered any more. Others have changed (Deta of Deta’s Cafe has moved back to Montenegro, significantly lowering the place’s charm); others no longer seem best in their class (La Oaxaquena, La Pasadita, Xni-Pec, Peoria Packing). And some, well, nobody’s been there in forever (Berwyn’s antique Czech joint Klas, Cuban hangout Cafeteria Marianao, north shore spots Il Mulino and La Casa de Isaac).
We could have still found a few more on this list to retire, not least the site’s namesake "Little" Three Happiness, which more than ever seems the epicenter of what’s not happening in a newly vibrant Chinatown. But on the whole it’s a strong list of real world food from neighborhoods all over the region (running as far as the northwest Indiana pizza place Stop 50), and along with the full list of GNRs (only about half the list is up for renewal in any year), ought to be in the hip pocket of anyone interested in food in Chicago.
Al Bawadi Grill– Flavorful meats grilled over lump charcoal, fresh Motawma (garlic-potato spread), and all the other Middle Eastern classics. Consistently of the highest quality.
Al’s No. 1 Italian Beef (Taylor Street location only)– Taylor Street stand serving classic Chicago Italian beef and charcoal-grilled sausage.
Argo Georgian Bakery– Delicious breads and a range of dumplings and savory pastries all done to perfection. Be sure to try the hachapuri, and get them while they’re hot.
Bar DeVille– A quiet, comfortable corner bar (except on Friday & Saturday when the atmosphere can be quite different), that just happens to serve some seriously excellent cocktails. Great ingredients - both whiskeys and mixers, traditional or innovative, just world class.
Barbara Ann’s Bar-B-Que– South side BBQ joint serving excellent ribs and arguably the city’s best hot links.
Bari– An icon for great, Italian subs, and a pretty decent deli, too. But the sandwiches are the draw, from the light summery Caprese to the juicy Italian sausage and meatball subs to the classic Hot Italian.
Birreria Zaragoza– Be welcomed into a warm, family business where they specialize in one thing, and do it to perfection. Culinary fashions come and go, but the Mexican tradition of Birria (goat stew), Tatemada in this case, is long, storied, and deliciously done here.
Chuck’s Southern Comforts Cafe– South suburban Burbank’s best restaurant by a country mile, a Frontera alum dishing up high-class comfort food.
Coalfire Pizza– A genuine coal-fired oven is responsible for the tasty char on Italian and New Haven-style thin crust pizzas at this Grand Avenue newcomer.
D’Amato’s Bakery-- Tiny, vintage storefront, oozing charm. Signature breads from baguettes to foccacia, tasty sheet pizza, and pastries. Who’s next?
Delightful Pastries (Lawrence location only)– Excellent Paczki and pierogi are just a start. Dobra is a dedicated and talented baker whose cakes and pastries, savory and sweet, Polish or not, are an irresistible treat.
Depot American Diner– American diner classics beautifully made from scratch, no shortcuts, in a revived old diner space on the Chicago-Cicero border.
Ed’s Potsticker House– Northern and northeastern Chinese restaurant off the beaten path in Bridgeport.
Fabulous Noodles– Chinatown-quality authentic Chinese in a Lisle mini-mall.
Freddy’s Pizzeria– Cicero deli offering housemade Italian-American dinners, sausages, pizzas, gelato and breads.
Gaetano’s Cafe– Trust Chef Gaetano and let him share today’s creations - he has been pleasing diners for years. Italian with inspiration, and a great deal for a creative and delicious meal.
Ginza– More in the spirit of the side streets of Tokyo than the glitz of River North, serving excellent sushi, and hot dishes (but we love the fish best). Traditional Japanese in every sense.
Great Lake– Extraordinarily good pizza made with simply perfect dough, excellent toppings and near perfect technique. Call ahead, though, as hours and wait time can vary.
Hoosier Mama Pie Company– They have been selling pies to local restaurants and at Green City Market for years, and now you can buy them every day. Grab a cup of coffee and a piece of pie or two and be sure to take some home too.
Huaraches Dona Chio-- A hidden gem off Clark in Andersonville, serving a range of antojitos, but the large, fresh huaraches - homey, earthy masa with tasty toppings - should not be missed.
J.P. Graziano Grocery– If you love Italian cooking… impeccable products, great selection, and knowledgeable, friendly staff.
Katsu– On an obscure stretch of Peterson, pristinely fresh and beautifully prepared sushi, sashimi and cooked dishes.
Khan BBQ– Devon Avenue Pakistani restaurant offers grilled meats which sizzle with charcoal flavor and pungent eastern spices.
Lao Sze Chuan– Chinatown Mall restaurant (and suburban sibling) serving seemingly endless menu of Western Chinese specialties.
Laschet’s Inn– Authentic German food, beer and gemütlichkeit in the old German St. Ben’s neighborhood.
Manny’s– Cafeteria serving old school Jewish deli classics to a democratic crowd ranging from machers to meshugas.
Mario’s Italian Lemonade– Legendary Taylor Street Italian ice stand (opposite GNR honoree Al’s) provides one of summertime Chicago’s most vibrant street scenes.
Naf Naf Grill (Naperville location only)– Authentic, fresh, Israeli food in a little fast food spot made homey and welcoming by the hard-working staff and the great food. Fresh pita and many other little touches make it clear they are serious about the food they deliver.
Nhu Lan’s Bakery– Delicious Bahn Mi and other Vietnamese specialties served by extremely outgoing and helpful proprietors. If you have not yet sampled the glory of these Vietnamese sandwiches, there is no better place in Chicago for an introduction.
Northwestern Cutlery– Quite simply, the place to buy knives and get them sharpened in Chicago. Nothing fancy, except the knives.
Old Fashioned Donuts– The anchor of its little-visited Roseland neighborhood on the southeast side, this place cranks out fresh doughnuts and breathtakingly rich apple fritters.
Paradise Pup– Fans line up at this tiny spot opposite a forest preserve in Des Plaines for fresh-ground burgers full of smoky grilled flavor.
Pastoral– High quality cheese and very knowledgeable staff combine to make this a very good choice for cheese shopping. They also offer some good charcuterie and sandwiches, but the cheese is the draw.
Podhalanka– A hearty Polish working-man’s spot, easily overlooked on fast-gentrifying Division Street.
Riviera Italian Imports– West side Italian deli offering outstanding housemade sausages and sandwiches, including the “Will Special” (named for LTHForum member “YourPalWill”).
Sabatino’s– Sinatra-era Italian-American fine dining restaurant serving Chicago classics like Chicken Vesuvio.
Shui Wah (Dim Sum only)– Serious Dim Sum and tea service, prepared to order. Reliably high quality, and darned good.
Smoque BBQ– An instant hit in its underserved Old Irving Park neighborhood, offering smoky brisket, ribs, pulled pork and good sides in an easygoing atmosphere.
Sol de Mexico– Mexican sitdown restaurant in the west side Craigin neighborhood, renowned for its complex moles, from yet another branch of the Bahena family.
Spice House– A vast range of top quality spices and herbs, all of impeccable freshness. An invaluable resource for any cook.
Spoon Thai– Lincoln Square Thai restaurant famous for “secret menu” of brightly authentic Thai dishes.
Stop 50 Woodfired Pizzeria– Authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, topped with homegrown herbs, in the Chicago vacation-home community of Michiana Shores, Indiana.
Sun Wah BBQ– Roasted duck, chicken and pork are the stars on display in the window at this Uptown temple of Chinese barbecue.
TAC Quick– Chic Uptown Thai spot serving eye-opening authentic grilled meats and Thai curries.
Tampopo– Generous and friendly owners, pristine ingredients, solid, traditional Japanese cuisine, and terrific Udon and Ramen. Delicious, friendly and a bargain.
Tank Noodle (Pho Xe Tang)– Bright and welcoming Argyle Street spot serving excellent versions of Vietnamese soups such as pho and entrees.
That’s-A-Burger– Fresh ground beef (or turkey) and a crazy range of toppings come together to deliver a delectable, advanced seminar on burger design and execution.
”Little” Three Happiness– Outstanding Chinatown hole-in-the-wall (from which LTHForum takes its name).
Uncle John’s Barbecue– The former pitman at GNR honoree Barbara Ann’s serves up delectable rib tips and hot links with a hint of sage at this South Side BBQ hut.
Vie– A great chef with a strong commitment to regional and seasonal flavors brings a downtown foodie outlook to suburban Western Springs.
Wiener and Still Champion– First-class dogs, grilled burgers and freshcut fries, and hand-dipped corndogs are the highlights of this Evanston stand.