Nestled just a few miles northwest of downtown Chicago, Skokie is living proof that you needn’t make the trip into a big city for first-class food. Its dining scene is about as diverse as you can get, offering local foodies everything from authentic Russian fare to modern Latin America cuisine. We’ve rounded up the best local restaurants in the Illinois suburb for you to try.
It was practically fate that owner EJ Lenzi would open a steakhouse one day. His late grandfather was none other than Eugene Michelotti, co-founder of Chicago’s oldest steakhouse Gene & Georgetti, and EJ’s Place – a local staple since 1997 – is carrying on the family tradition. Its supper club ambiance and menu full of classic surf ‘n’ turf and Italian dishes have secured EJ’s Place among the North Shore’s top restaurants, and with dishes like prime aged New York strip steak, homemade meat ravioli and fresh Lake Superior whitefish – plus an impressive wine list featuring top Italian and Californian vineyards – it isn’t hard to see why.
A Skokie dining institution for over 40 years, Herm’s Hot Dog Palace boasts some of the best hot dogs in town; so good, in fact, that the restaurant was inducted into the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame back in 2006. There are plenty of dogs on the menu, from regular and chili cheese to Polish turkey sausage and bratwurst, but Herm’s also offers a ton of other tasty, casual options including sandwiches, burgers, wings and dinner plates like barbecue brisket and fried chicken. Check out Herm’s mural of legendary Chicagoans and see how many famous faces you can spot while you eat.
Dating way back to 1949, the Charcoal Oven is one of Skokie’s oldest restaurants and though its founder Phillip Georgouses passed away in 2010, the restaurant remains a traditional family-run operation today with his daughter Maria at the helm. Its old-school ambiance – think black leather booths, white tablecloths and chandeliers – harks back to supper clubs of yesteryear, perfectly complemented by its menu of classic steakhouse fare, seafood dishes and Greek cuisine. Choose from dishes including New England baby lobster tails, prime bourbon steak or Greek-style chicken and pair with one of the Charcoal Oven’s fine Californian wines.
Bar, Restaurant, Continental, Russian, European, Wine, Italian, American, $$$
Kabuli palau | Courtesy Kabul House
American and continental cuisine is served with a Russian twist in Eastern European inspired surrounds at Zhivago. The restaurant and banquet hall features four different rooms, a charming seasonal patio and a full bar serving a range of Russian vodkas and wines from top-producing Eastern European regions. Its menu features plenty of classic Italian and American dishes like wild mushroom ravioli with Alfredo sauce and New York strip steak – but for a real taste of Zhivago, opt for one of it house specialties like the St Petersburg-style beef stroganoff or Moscow-style roasted duck with drunken sour cherry sauce.
Located in downtown Skokie, Kabul House serves classic Afghan cuisine with a contemporary twist in stylish, modern surrounds that pay homage to Middle Eastern culture. Since its owner, Afghanistan-born chef Abdul Qazi, opened the restaurant five years ago, it’s gotten a ton of praise, from rave guest reviews to Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition three years running. Whet your appetite with starters like mantoo (spiced ground beef filled dumpling with tomato meat sauce), but make sure you try the Kabuli palau – made with tender braised lamb shank, seasoned rice, caramelized carrot and raisins, it’s the national dish of Afghanistan and a must-try introduction to the country’s cuisine.
A meal at Libertad promises ‘a culinary adventure onto the Latin American landscape’ and that isn’t just a lofty claim; since it opened in 2011 the casual, modern and chef-driven restaurant has become one of Skokie’s hottest dining spots. Mexican-born executive chef Armando Gonzalez cooks up a storm in Libertad’s kitchen with inventively plated dishes like chicken barbacoa flautas with watercress, crème fraiche, queso fresco, salsa cruda and pickled onion, and mahi-mahi with butternut squash, Brussel sprouts, melon-bet relish and Anaheim chile salsa. Exquisitely crafted cocktails designed by renowned mixologists Adam Seger and Jenny Kessler offer the perfect refreshment.
Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, Steakhouse, Wine, Cocktails, Dessert, $$$
Chicagoland’s premier kosher restaurant Shallots Bistro boasts some of the most diverse cuisines in the area with a menu offering everything from classic steakhouse cuts and plenty of sushi, to eclectic dinner entrees with influences from as far and wide as the US, Italy and France. Provencal-style pan-seared chicken breast with herb gremolata and back ribs with signature barbecue sauce are just two mouthwatering examples. A strong wine list and classic cocktails make the perfect accompaniment to any dish, but save room for dessert; Shallots’ signature Black Hat (Belgian chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center served with seasonal sorbet) is a must-try.
Classic breakfast fare has a modern twist at Alexander’s Breakfast & Lunch – an urban dining inspired establishment opened in downtown Skokie in the summer of 2013. Fresh, seasonal ingredients and global influences come together in creative, made-from-scratch breakfast dishes like the Azteca hash (pulled chicken, tomato chipotle sauce, black bean chili and roasted potatoes topped with eggs, sour cream and avocado) and the Italian omelet with onion, herb-roasted tomatoes, bacon, mozzarella and walnut pesto. Sunday brunch features the likes of peach and almond French toast and chocolate chip bacon waffle. Breakfast is served all day, but more lunchtime-themed fare like sandwiches and salads are also served.
A hidden gem in the heart of Skokie, Yolo Mexican Eatery is a cozy little joint that’s been delighting local diners with its much-loved traditional Mexican cuisine for over six years. A stylish but welcoming space sets the scene for guests to enjoy tempting traditional appetizers like tacos marranos with achiote sauce, marinated pork, red onion, cilantro and pineapple, and classic mains like chicken mole made with the restaurant’s signature 32 ingredient black mole sauce. Yolo is BYOB with a small corkage fee, but serves a range of refreshing fruit-flavored waters made in-house daily.
First opened back by Ken Hechtman in 1979 as a deli grocery called Kosher City, Ken’s Diner & Grill has been a staple amongst Chicagoland’s kosher restaurants for over three decades. It’s a retro little joint with 1950s-style checkered floors and leather booths, with a menu full of classic American diner fare to match. Hearty sandwiches, salads and soups all feature on the menu along with sides like crispy steak fries, pickle on a stick and onion rings, but if you try just one thing, make sure it’s one of Ken’s legendary burgers. Available in varieties like the Buffalo (topped with mustard, ketchup, pickles and onion) and the Bay-Ken (all the usual toppings, crispy beef fry and sautéed mushrooms), they’re rumored to be the best in town.