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.
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.
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.
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.
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.