The Southport Corridor in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood takes its name from the burgeoning commercial strip along Southport Avenue. Its laid-back atmosphere and prime location — bounded by Belmont Avenue on the south and Grace Street on the north — have long attracted families and young professionals. This family-friendly neighborhood has never been known as a huge food destination, but that all changed in 2023. Three new spots from renowned Chicago chefs, including Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat Diner, moved to the area, adding to the abundance of locally owned boutiques, restaurants, bars, and cafés.
Today, the Southport Corridor is known as its own little restaurant row. The diverse array of offerings includes traditional Argentine empanadas, Neapolitan pizza, top-tier sushi, authentic Vietnamese cuisine, and two of the best brunches in the city. Here’s how this little strip on the North Side became one of Chicago’s go-to dining districts.
Oldie but Goodie
For the past 20 years, Southport has been known for Southport Grocery & Cafe, which has gained a loyal following for its all-day breakfast and lunch menu, not to mention its city-famous bread pudding pancakes.
Chicago’s Unofficial Empanada District
There are several restaurants in Southport that offer empanadas. In 2016, 5411 Empanadas chose Southport for their fifth Chicago location, and the neighborhood was dubbed “Chicago’s unofficial empanada district.” At 5411 Empanadas, you’ll find an array of Argentine baked empanadas, including classics like ham and cheese and new-age versions with bacon, dates, and goat cheese.
A Slice of Pizza Heaven
In 2015, the Southport Corridor experienced an influx of really good pizza. First came Corridor Brewery & Provisions, a craft brewery and restaurant from the folks behind DryHop Brewers in East Lakeville. The pizza-centric menu features artisan thin-crust pies that are fired in a clay hearth oven and topped with a bounty of housemade and locally sourced ingredients. Later that year, beloved pizza spot Coalfire expanded its Chicago footprint by opening its second location in Southport.
Shortly after Corridor Brewery & Provisions and Coalfire came to town, hospitality veterans Billy Lawless of Gage Hospitality Group and Ryan O’Donnell of Ballyhoo Hospitality collaborated to open Coda di Volpe, bringing VPN-certified Neapolitan pizzas to the neighborhood. All of Coda di Volpe’s pies are made with high quality ingredients imported from Italy, and they’re cooked in a Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven.
Both Lawless and O’Donnell have always been fond of the Southport Corridor, each having called the neighborhood home. “The Southport Corridor continues to evolve and grow each year without losing its neighborhood feel,” Lawless says. “Over five years ago when we first opened, there was a void of more upscale dining options. The neighborhood support has been a huge pillar to our success throughout the years.”
4 Star’s Southport Takeover
Four Star Restaurant Group first opened in Southport back in 2012 with Crosby’s Kitchen, a family-friendly spot with a menu that highlights Midwestern comfort food. After falling in love with the neighborhood, 4 Star announced that two new concepts would be coming to the area. In 2016, Tuco and Blondie brought a crowd-pleasing menu of tacos, fajitas, and margaritas to town. One year later, Ella Elli opened, a date-night destination with a menu featuring Mediterranean-inspired small plates.
Post-Pandemic Dining Scene
After pandemic-era dining restrictions were lifted, Southport’s dining scene experienced another growth spurt. In 2021, Michelin-approved Sochi Saigonese Kitchen brought Vietnamese cuisine to the neighborhood, while award-winning modern Jewish deli Steingold’s of Chicago relocated to the Southport Corridor from North Center.
That same year, James Beard Award-winning Boka Restaurant Group announced their plans to open three restaurants in the 120-year-old building most recently home to Southport Lanes.
“We love the Southport Corridor and are thrilled to be able to provide three unique concepts to this neighborhood,” Boka Restaurant Group’s Chief Operating Officer, Ian Goldberg, says. “Southport is such a family-focused area and our goal is to make it as easy as possible to enjoy high quality food options for the entire family.”
In February 2023, GG’s Chicken Shop was the first of the three to open its doors in the Southport Lanes space. This casual counter-service spot comes from chef Lee Wolen of Michelin-starred Boka and Alla Vita. Over the years, Wolen has become somewhat of a legend when it comes to poultry (his roasted chicken at Boka and his chicken parm at Alla Vita are renowned city-wide). Now, diners can get Wolen’s famous chicken dishes in the Southport Corridor — and they can order them for delivery on DoorDash, too.
In March 2023, Boka opened Itoko, a sushi and robata restaurant from Momotaro chef Gene Kato. “Itoko,” which means cousin in Japanese, refers to the restaurant’s connection with Momotaro. Though more casual than its older cousin, Itoko’s menu still showcases the best ingredients and the high level of technique that Kato has become known for.
In April 2023, celebrity chef Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat Diner moved off Chicago’s Randolph Restaurant Row and officially joined GG’s Chicken Shop and Itoko in the Southport Corridor. Little Goat originally launched in 2012 and quickly garnered a large and loyal following thanks to Izard’s creative takes on comfort food classics. At Little Goat 2.0, diners can expect to find many Little Goat staples as well as several new dishes showcasing bold and unexpected flavor combinations — many of which are also available for delivery on DoorDash.
PHOTO CREDIT: Joel Mott on Unsplash