I don’t know about you, but I’ve hit the mid-winter rut, big time. You know that period when spring is just within reach but there are still those last few weeks of February/March to push through? Besides cozying up on the couch and binging on Netflix, one of the best tricks I’ve found to kicking the blues this time of year is eating foods that harken back to warmer times. And what is more sunshiny and comforting than a big bowl of bright, creamy, zesty guacamole? We scoured Chicago and the surrounding suburbs to find the best restaurant versions of everybody’s favorite dip. So grab a margarita, reach for the chips, and dig in to some of the best guac in town.
1531 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, 773-235-4039
In the pantheon of Mexican cuisine in Chicago, Big Star is always a good choice for consistently excellent food and bustling ambiance. Their take on guacamole is dead simple and really plays on guacamole’s spicy/citrusy side with lots of chopped white onion, Serrano pepper, lime, and cilantro. The best part of Big Star’s guacamole though is that you can get it quick. Just roll up to their to-go window, add on a bag of housemade chips, and snack away.
2800 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago, 872-315-3947
A newer addition to the local food scene, Mi Tocaya Antojeria has garnered immense praise for their inventive plays on authentic Mexican dishes. The guacamole is no exception and comes together in a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle called a molcajete. The base of the dip is a mash of garlic, salt, lime juice, and Serrano pepper, ground down fine to release all of the ingredients’ natural oils. Ripe avocado is then mashed in, but only briefly to maintain maximum chunkiness, just the way I like it.
2901 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago, 773-687-0300
Logan Square’s Masa Azul opened back in 2011 and has become a popular city spot for handheld Mexican street food and a hefty tequila list. The guacamole is simple and satisfying, combining avocado with red onion, Serrano pepper, lime, and cilantro. A must-order alongside their seemingly endless list of tacos and tortas.
1055 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago, 773-769-1004; 1010 Church St., Evanston, 847-905-1550
One restaurant tradition that I wish would make a comeback is tableside food preparation. It truly never gets old watching a pro put together a dish right before your eyes. That Little Mexican Café’s guacamole service always fills this void for me. Like many of their cohorts on this list, TLMC uses a molcajete to prepare the guacamole, mixing avocado with chopped garlic, onion, jalapeño, tomato, and lime. Dinner theater at its finest!
445 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-661-1434
You can’t mention Mexican food in Chicago without bringing up Rick Bayless and his epic restaurant empire. Even after 30 years in business, Bayless’ Frontera Grill (his debut restaurant) still churns out some of the most authentic and flavor-forward Mexican dishes anywhere. The guacamole is always a winner and a necessity at any Frontera meal. While “chef’s choice” flavors are added regularly, the classic recipe is always offered and features mashed avocado, tomato, green chile, and cilantro. Whether you’re just enjoying your own personal guacamole at the bar or adding it on to a full dinner spread, you can’t go wrong at Frontera.
1969 N. Halsted, Chicago, 312-951-2457; 158 W. Ontario St., Chicago, 312-337-8226; 520 N. Michigan Ave. 4th Floor, Chicago
Taco Joint is always a solid spot for quick, affordable Mexican street food. Guacamole is offered in two different preparations here: the traditional with tomato, red onion, cilantro, and Serrano pepper and the rojo, featuring a medley of “red” ingredients from sun-dried tomatoes, to roasted red onions, and a roasted red jalapeño salsa. With three locations to choose from in Lincoln Park, River North, and the Loop, Taco Joint is the perfect go-to for a speedy lunch/dinner or a leisurely happy hour with friends.
3908 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, 847-329-9810
Lincolnwood’s Wholly Frijoles is a bit off the beaten path relative to the rest of this list, but it’s well worth the trek for the colorful décor, impeccable table service, and, of course, the guacamole. Wholly Frijoles’ version is super simple and extra chunky, featuring a mixture of white onion, cilantro, and tomato. Paired alongside a towering basket of freshly fried tortilla chips, you’ve got the makings of a truly perfect snack.
108 W. Kinzie St., Chicago, 312-329-9555
If you’re looking for an extensive Mexican spread at any time of day, River North’s Mercadito is the place. Their guacamole offerings are as eclectic and expansive as the menu itself. In addition to their traditional recipe, combining onion, tomato, Serrano chile, cilantro, and lime, they offer a rotating selection of flavors that give new life to this humble dip. Two of their current flavors are mango, with jicama, chipotle peppers, and pico de gallo thrown into the mix for good measure, and toreado, which is a sort-of Asian-Mexican flavor hybrid combining tomatillo salsa, a chile puree (referred to as “tornado” puree), maggi sauce (an umami-heavy Asian seasoning sauce), and sweet key lime juice for extra punch. A great spot to bring a large group or celebrate a special occasion.
3018 N. Cicero Ave., Chicago, 773-282-4119
One of the more upscale spots on this list, Sol de Mexico is a must-try, and you can’t miss their complex moles and extensive tequila selection. No meal here is complete though without a side order of the “guacamole Tenochtitlan,” made to order with diced tomato, cilantro, Serrano chile, lime juice, and white onions. Paired with housemade tomatillo salsa and totopos (a Oaxacan variation on tortilla chips) you’ll feel transported to the heartland of Mexico with every bite.
Maddie LaKind is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago. Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers.