Slideshow: Staff Picks: What's the Most Underrated Restaurant in Chicago?

Athenian Room
Athenian Room

Vegetarian Salad at Athenian Room [Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"Athenian Room is one of those unique neighborhood restaurants that is busy every night of the week. While that may mean it's not exactly 'underrated,' I'd venture to say it's better than most of the Greek Town establishments and simply isn't recognized enough for its exceptional food. The gyros are incredibly flavorful, fresh and never greasy and served on pillowy pita. The tzatziki is thicker than any I've ever had and I always have to ask for more. The french fries might be the most underrated thing on the menu—they come 'Greek style,' which means the thick-cut steak fries are soaked in oil, vinegar, lemon and spices, yet somehow remain crispy. They also have an incredible kalamata chicken. If you weren't convinced already, even Tina Fey loves it." Tessa McLean

Athenian Room, 807 W Webster Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 7730-348-5155

La Lagartija
La Lagartija

Shrimp Taco at La Lagartija [Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"Isn't the very nature of my job to write about places I think deserve more attention? Oh well, no matter how many times I mention La Lagaritja—and it is quite a few—I always feel like it deserves more. Chicago has numerous other Mexican restaurants deserving of praise, including a few like La Chaparrita and La Casa de Samuel that are among my favorite restaurants anywhere. While La Lagaritja might not be on those levels, it is a great all-around taqueria that—and this is very important—also happens to be close to downtown. So why doesn't it get more love? Perhaps because it doesn't play the over-sized margarita game (though it recently did get its liquor license). Regardless, all of the tacos are worth ordering and the salsas are top notch." Nick Kindelsperger

La Lagartija, 132 S Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60607 (map)

Mr. D's Shish-Kabob
Mr. D's Shish-Kabob

[Photograph: Titus Ruscitti]

"While the love has slowly started to come, Mr. D's in Montclare is still grossly underrated in my book. To me it's the perfect example of a Chicago-style fast food shack. From the atmosphere and looks to the proprietors and clientele, Mr. D's is classic Chicago. All the regular menu items you'd expect to find are offered, and then there's also a couple house specialties. The Italian beef, char-grilled burgers, hot dogs, chili dogs and Polish sausages are all above average, but for me it's the shish kabob and steak sandwich that need to be included when any best sandwich in the city list is being made. I'm partial to the shish kabob, which might be my most eaten item in the city. Included with each wonderful option are what I consider to be the best fries in town. Long fresh-cut spuds are perfectly fried every time and always come served with a smile. You won't find many one time customers, they're always coming back for more." Titus Ruscitti

Mr. D's Shish-Kabob, 6656 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60707 (map); 773-637-0042

Shokran
Shokran

[Photograph: Amber Gibson]

"I only recently discovered Shokran, the only authentic Moroccan restaurant in town (at least to my knowledge) with distinctly different dishes than more broadly categorized Middle Eastern restaurants. No falafel here, but plenty of lamb, couscous, and spices. The location just east of the highway on Irving Park Rd doesn't exactly garner foot traffic and it's cash only, but the food is so incredibly flavorful and affordable, with generous portions. Plus, it's BYOB and easy to find parking. Sit in the back room tucked around the corner and feel like you're dining in a Bedouin tent. Order the veggie sampler, chicken bastilla (a phyllo dough pastry that's sweet and looks like dessert but is filled with chicken) and lamb fez. Our waiter told us that the hummus and feta on one of the salads are the only non-Moroccan concessions on the menu. Shokran is a restaurant rooted firmly in tradition where the waitstaff and cooks are so happy to share their knowledge, delicious food and love of their country." Amber Gibson

Shokran, 4027 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago, IL 60641 (map)

Joong Boo Market
Joong Boo Market

The Dumpling Stand at Joong Boo [Photograph: Mike Gebert]

"My attempts to convince friends to go to Joong Boo are often unsuccessful. My argument for the intimidated usually goes something like this: There are dumplings outside, miso-rich doenjang jjigae inside, heaps of cheap seafood and produce, every kind of rice and noodle under the sun. And even if you're not into Korean food, Joong Boo's secret is that it stocks what amounts to the latest foodie trends—for cheap. Riding the gluten-free wave? Koreans have been doing this for ages, so you find rice flour, potato starch, and other flour substitutes for far cheaper than Whole Foods. Pickling at home? You can get sacks of gorgeous sea salt for just a few bucks. Into the ramen resurgence? There's a whole wall of the packaged stuff to start experimenting with." Lindsey Howald Patton

Joong Boo Market, 3333 N Kimball Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (map); 773-478-5566

The Rocking Horse
The Rocking Horse

Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich at The Rocking Horse [Photograph: Joe Roy]

"'Most underrated restaurant in Chicago' is a pretty tall order—but I can do my neighborhood, Logan Square. I'm always surprised by how few people are eating dinner at The Rocking Horse. It's the quintessential neighborhood bar and grill: the wings are great, they have waffle fries, and you know how we feel about their Buffalo chicken wrap and fried chicken sandwiches. Plus, after particularly slow service one day for lunch, our apologetic server gave us a free shot of Chicago's most underrated liqueur, Malört. If that doesn't have you lining up at the door, I don't know what will." Joe Roy

The Rocking Horse2535 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-486-0011

Gaudi Cafe
Gaudi Cafe

[Photograph: Mike Gebert]

"For years Gaudi Cafe has been a backup for me for a certain situation. As in, 'Damn, can't get into Little Goat, hey, I'm sure we can get into Gaudi.' Or 'Damn, I'm not spending any more to park downtown, let's just go to Gaudi.' It is unfair to just see a solid, likable place as a backup, but whatever brings in my business, I guess. Gaudi is run by two Mexican sisters who are, honest to God, named Betty and Veronica, and it's the kind of place that normally I don't like because the menu has some of everything—burgers, wraps, salads, soup, tapas and so on. Which usually promises mediocrity across the board. But everything has always been pretty good; the coffee is good, the chilaquiles are probably my favorite version in the city, and they're nice people and it's brightly decorated and it's reasonably priced. Basically, it's everything you want from a neighborhood spot. For years it was on Ashland but it just found a new neighborhood on Grand near Bari and D'Amato's and Two. Which means it's about three minutes from downtown now. Check it out on a hard day when you want someone to be nice to you and make you feel a million miles from the office." Mike Gebert

Gaudi Cafe, 1147 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); (312) 733-9528