I’ve been going to Greektown in Chicago my whole life. Some of my best memories come from times I spent there with friends and family, at the restaurants and bars, while working there for over four years, parades, festivals, and more. In this entry, I’ll talk about my favorite places to eat and visit. I’ll be brutally honest in some cases and some will disagree with me, but you can trust me on my judgement – I’m Greek!
Greektown runs a few blocks down Halsted Street in the Near West Side. Most of the action is between Madison Street to the north and Van Buren Street to the south. The corners at Monroe and Van Buren streets are even marked with two mini Greek “temples”.
The original Greektown ran a few blocks to the south. It used to be a much bigger area full of Greek homes and businesses and had the highest population density of Greeks outside of Athens. This historic home of the Greeks in Chicago was known as the Greek Delta and was at the corners of Halsted, Harrison, and Blue Island. The population scattered to the suburbs in the 1960s after the city destroyed the Delta and neighboring Little Italy to build the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Eisenhower Expressway, and the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Tour of Greektown
I’ll start from the north and work my way down south. At the end, I’ll put together a ranking of my favorite places:
First, Pegasus has a nice rooftop terrace with decent food. It’s not the best in Greektown but they put together a very tasty meal. I prefer going to Pegasus in the summer when the terrace is open, but the bright interior in the main dining room makes you feel like you’re on a Greek island. It’s been open since 1990.
Next door at the corner of Halsted and Adams is Santorini. This restaurant has excellent food all around but specializes in fish and seafood. The interior decor (this is a recurring theme) makes you feel as if you were in a traditional Greek island home. I recommend giving Santorini a try any time of year.
Greek Islands, across the street from Santorini, is by far the best traditional Greek restaurant not only in Chicago but in the entire USA. I can say that with confidence after visiting popular Greek restaurants in New York, Detroit, and other cities. It wasn’t the highest grossing Greek restaurant and top 100 in the country in 2015 for nothing! For traditional Greek food and seafood, it has been the restaurant of choice for my family and the majority of my friends ever since I can remember.
You can’t go wrong with any of their meals. I used to go at least three times a week for lunch (I worked upstairs) and had just the daily soup and a horiatiki salad (traditional Greek village salad). For meals with family and friends, we usually do it “family style” and order a bunch of appetizers. Our favorites are the octopus dishes, both cold and grilled, fried calamari, fried zucchini, fried eggplant, skordalia (pungent garlic mashed potatoes), taramosalata (Greek caviar), tiropita (cheese pastry), and spanakopita (spinach pastry). For soup, I prefer the avgolemono (lemon rice), fakyes (lentils), and fasolada (navy beans).
For individual dinners, I love the kokkinisto (braised lamb), lamb chops, baby octopus, and moussaka.
Next door is Athena. They have a gorgeous outdoor terrace and I prefer to eat there in the summer, but even in colder months it’s a decent place to go. It used to be much more pleasant with a view of the skyline, but the construction of the Arkadia Tower across the street killed that. The food is usually very good but any time I order something with chicken it’s been hit or miss. Sometimes the chicken is dry or the flavor isn’t there. When I go, I prefer family style appetizers or lamb dishes. They’re excellent.
Rodity’s used to be much better but it’s way past its prime. If I have to go there, the lamb dishes are good. Otherwise, I don’t bother.
Down and across the street a bit is Spectrum Bar and Grill. This may not show up on the radar of many people visiting Greektown, but this sports bar is a nice surprise with their amazing Cypriot treats. Try the sieftalia (Cypriot meatballs), both in individual form and as a pita sandwich. The halloumi cheese is also great. Other foods include regular American style appetizers and sandwiches, pizza, chicken, steaks, and more. They’re open until 3am on weeknights and great for late night eats. They also have occasional live entertainment including blues every Saturday and frequent Greek music.
Mr. Greek Gyros
Across the street is Mr. Greek Gyros. 24 hour Greek and American fast food including gyros, souvlaki, sandwiches, platters, rib tips, fries, and lots of other greasy delicacies. Never healthy but always delicious for lunch or after a night at the bars. On Saturday nights after the bars close, the line is often out the door.
Meli Café, at the southeast corner of Jackson Boulevard, is an extremely popular breakfast and lunch spot. Yes, they have great food and I’ve been there several times, but I will NEVER eat there again. First of all, some of the dishes are horribly overpriced. Secondly, service can be rude and obnoxious at times. If you want to eat there, be my guest, it’s delicious, but in my opinion it’s not worth the price.
Next door is Meli’s sister establishment, 9 Muses. I’m happy to eat there any time. They have good Greek food, some with a modern twist, and at pretty reasonable prices. It’s gone a bit downhill over the years, such as not giving the same amount of trimmings or eliminating them completely from a meal, but it’s still good. They have amazing pork souvlaki and decent village salads. Try a traditional Greek frappé coffee drink to wash down your meal.
9 Muses is also a place I’ve spent many Saturday nights as it transforms into a Greek nightclub. I used to hate going there in the early 2000s because the doorman was a prick and would often turn my group of friends away with the excuse “private party” even when we were meeting friends there, or “over capacity” when it was clearly empty, but I guess they started needing the money near the end of the decade. The nightclub is a place I have a love-hate relationship with. Sometimes I’m excited to go and see old friends, other times I dread stepping foot inside because nothing has changed since I first started going.
Across the street is one of my favorites, Artopolis. This bakery-café serves some of the best gourmet sandwiches and salads in Chicago and also has an excellent creation of their own – artopitas, which are pastries filled with either meat or vegetables and/or cheese. They’re delicious. Artopolis also serves great wood-fired pizzas. For sandwiches, I prefer the Tequila Pollo or Turkey Melinzana. For salads, I usually go with the Greek Country, Mediterranean, or Field Greens.
Artopolis also has a wide array of traditional Greek pastries and other desserts along with a small market selling Greek products, wines, and liquors. My absolute favorite dessert is the bougatsa, but I also enjoy the rice pudding, walnut tart, and the many Greek cookies they make. They all go well with a Greek coffee or frappé.
Gone But Not Forgotten
The Parthenon, which permanently closed in September 2016, was a Greektown staple. This legendary restaurant brought flaming saganaki to the world in 1968, the owners were among the friendliest people you can meet, and for 48 years was one of the most popular restaurants in Greektown. It definitely wasn’t my favorite place to eat, but I always respected the history and contribution to the Greek restaurant scene in Chicago.
The Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop, also permanently closed, served Greektown’s best Greek pastries and desserts since it opened in 1974. It survived a devastating fire in 2010 that started at Costa’s Restaurant and took out the pastry shop, a Greek grocery store, and Greektown Music. It was one of the neighborhood’s most beloved shops.
On Jackson Boulevard are two newer places that burst onto the scene and have been welcomed with a good following. Sister restaurants Philly’s Best and Gyro-mena share an entrance and both serve great tasting fast food with a little attitude. Philly’s Best has the best Philly cheesesteaks outside of Philadelphia. You can choose your type of bread, onions or not, and if you prefer cheese whiz. Try the cheesesteak egg rolls. They also have sandwiches, pizza by the slice, and other treats.
Gyro-mena has some of the best authentic Greek gyros in town, and you get to build your own! This place gives you several options of how to create the perfect personalized gyro. They also have delicious Greek fries and gyro rolls (egg rolls with gyro meat inside) which are interesting.
Athenian Candle Company
For non-food related attractions, there’s Athenian Candle Company, which sells hand dipped candles and Greek Orthodox religious items. It’s been around since 1922 and is the only original Greektown business still in existence.
National Hellenic Museum
Finally, there’s the National Hellenic Museum where I worked from 2006 to 2010. After being in small spaces since its creation in 1983, the NHM moved into a new 40,000 square foot building in 2011. It’s the only national institution dedicated to preserving the Greek immigrant experience and the contribution Greek Americans have made to the United States. The museum has several interesting exhibits related to its mission and many exciting events throughout the year. Admission is US$10 for adults and US$8 for seniors and students. Kids from ages 3 to 12 are US$7. It’s open every day except Tuesday.
For festivals, there are two major ones that occur in Greektown every year. The first is the Greek Independence Day Parade, usually in April but sometimes closer to actual Greek Independence Day on 25 March.
The other is the Taste of Greece. This is one of my favorite events in Chicago. Halsted Street is transformed into a Greek village with all the restaurants opening booths and selling their specialties, with chairs and tables in the street to enjoy them. The air is filled with the smells of roasted lamb and oregano. Vendors sell Greek goods, music, religious items, games, and more. Greek bands perform and people dance in the street. Fortune tellers read your Greek coffee cups. It’s simply a lot of fun. The Taste of Greece usually takes place the third weekend every August.
My Greektown Restaurant Rankings
- Greek Islands
- 9 Muses