Ever since the oldest Muslim organization in the United States was founded in Chicago’s Near North Side in 1906, the city has played an important role in Islam’s growth in America. In 1922, at 4448 S Wabash Avenue, the nation’s first Ahmadi mosque
was completed; Chicago was then the movement’s national headquarters until 1950. With such a heritage, it’s no surprise that Chicago has some great halal restaurants, serving everything from zabihah halal meat burgers to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine.
The Halal Guys
The Halal Guys began in 1990 with a New York City hot dog cart. The business took off due to the huge amount of Muslim cab drivers looking for halal food, and they’ve pioneered their own style of American halal, a blend of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. Today they have two locations in Chicago, one on North Wabash in the Loop and another on West Division Street in Gold Coast, serving chicken, beef and falafel sandwiches and platters with hummus, baba ganoush and their famous white hot-sauce.
Taza means ‘fresh’ and this lunch spot in the Loop serves some of the freshest and most classic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes in a fast but friendly environment. Favourites include a bed of hummus topped with chicken shawarma, a vegetarian combination of dolmeh, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh and salad, and the ‘kifta kabob’—charbroiled, ground, tender beef and lamb, minced onions and parsley. As is to be expected, the cafe gets busy with city workers at lunch time.
Restaurant, Indian, $$$
Husband and wife, Falguni and Ali Dewjee, founded Bombay Wraps in 2010 to bring the best of the street food they grew up with in India to Chicago. It has since expanded to include two locations, one in the Loop and one in Streeterville, as well as a food truck and catering service. Dishes come wrapped in a flaky paratha or whole-wheat roti, or unwrapped with rice or salad, they include beef kabobs and lamb curry. Halal options are helpfully highlighted on the menu.
Restaurant, Mediterranean, $$$
This counter-service restaurant serves fast and flavorful authentic Mediterranean cuisine. Unsurprisingly, its speciality is its handmade chapati flat breads; you can have them as part of a breakfast wrap with a gyro omelette, or stuffed with falafel or meat shawarma and zesty chutney. Wash it down with a cardamom chai tea or something from their juice bar. Take away and catering are available, and they use only 100% zabihah meat.
Cafe, Mediterranean, $$$
If you can find the Oasis Cafe, you will be rewarded with some of the best Mediterranean food in Chicago. A hidden gem, (it’s located inside Wabash Jewelers Mall), this cafe offers generous portions for a great price considering its downtown location. Be warned however, it has limited seating. Daily specials from Monday to Saturday include spinach pie, Moroccan couscous, kushari (an Egyptian dish made with, amongst other things, brown lentils) and chicken pastilla – filo dough stuffed with chicken, carrots, green peppers and onions.
Olive Mediterranean Grill
With three locations in Chicago and one in Evanston, as well as catering options, Olive Mediterranean Grill has become a staple for meat eaters and vegetarians looking for a substantial but healthy fast-food option. The menu is made up of soups, signature sandwiches and plates of falafel, shawarma and kabobs, all served with Persian yogurt, chickpea salad and their signature garlic sauce. Be sure to ask about which meats are halal before ordering.
Deli, Cuban, $$$
Moving away from the Mediterranean and Middle East, over in West Town is Nini’s Deli, a family-owned and completely zabihah halal deli serving its own spin on Cuban cuisine. A highlight is the plantain, which comes sweet or savoury, on sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly, or guava jelly. Other sandwiches come loaded with grilled turkey, slow-cooked shredded beef, or beans and cheese. There can be a line, but the service more than makes up for it.
For those seeking an American classic, the Chicago chain Epic Burger has offered “a more mindful burger” since 2008. They use Creekstone Beef, a fully zabihah halal beef-processing company, and all their ingredients are free from artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and all other additives. You can match your meat or vegetarian option with a particular bread, and extras include cheese, avocado and a fried egg.