20 Tips for Dining in the Bad Neighborhoods of Chicago

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People sometimes think I’m crazy for venturing out to some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago just for good food. I don’t quite understand why it’s such a hard concept to comprehend. I love food and I will go anywhere to find the best this city has to offer. I have never been hassled by anyone while on a culinary adventure, so there’s really nothing to be scared of as long as you follow a few simple guidelines for venturing out to the ghetto. I won’t deprive myself of soul food in Austin, barbeque in Greater Grand Crossing, or tacos in Little Village just because the areas have a high crime rate. As a living, breathing resident of the south side of Chicago, I can tell you first hand that the south side really isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. In fact, Bridgeport, Armour Square, Archer Heights, Hyde Park, Mt Greenwood, and Beverly are pretty nice neighborhoods for the most part.

Every Chicago food blog I have come across seems to only talk about restaurants downtown or on the north side. For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you have probably noticed my obvious bias towards only writing about places in the suburbs or south and west sides. Let’s face it, unless you are willing to throw hundreds of dollars on fine dining restaurants plus another $13 for parking, eating out downtown really isn’t worth it. I am only interested in writing about affordable places real Chicagoins dine at, no matter how bad the neighborhood is. With that being said, it would be a great idea to follow these rules of the street when dining out on the south and west sides of Chicago.

1)    Don’t make an ass out of yourself.
Be cool, be quiet, and don’t draw attention to yourself. If you draw attention to yourself, you will get unwanted attention from street thugs and police officers. Remember, cops are not your friend in Chicago. You are about as safe around cops as you are in an alley full of bums.

2)    Don’t wear anything flashy.
If you walk around looking like money, someone is going to try taking that money from you. Dress very casually and don’t wear any expensive jewelry. Also avoid bringing a purse.

3)    Don’t show anyone money.
This one may be common sense, but never pull out your wallet in the street. Never show anyone how much cash you have. Don’t even give any money to bums because they will probably take the money and rob you at knife-point for the rest of your cash.

4)    Wear neutral colors.
Make sure you know what gangs are in the area you are dining at. Make sure you know their gang colors and that of their rivals and don’t wear them! If you don’t know much about local gangs, check out the Chicago Gangs website.

5)    Don’t look nervous or scared.
Gang bangers and street thugs are like dogs and bees. They will only mess with you if you seem scared or nervous around them.

6)    Don’t stare at anyone.
Never stare straight at a person. Don’t even look them in the eye as you pass them by. It is ok to take a brief glance, but avoid eye contact. Just look forward as if you see right through them. If you make eye contact or stare, you might get messed with.

7)    Walk briskly.
If you walk slow, you will look like a big target for muggers. If you walk too fast, you will look scared. Walk briskly and muggers won’t mess with you.

8)    Always watch your six.
Make sure you always know who is behind you. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you hear foot steps behind you, make sure you glance behind you briefly to make sure you aren’t being followed. If it seems like someone is following you, make your way to the nearest busy intersection where there are lots of witnesses.

9)    Avoid all law enforcement.
Do not make friends with the pigs. Do not look at the pigs. Do not talk to the pigs. Do not feed the pigs. Chicago has a very corrupt police force, and they frequently harass and beat on innocent people. You also don’t want to look friendly with them because gang bangers will attack you thinking you are working with the police. Gangs do not fear cops, so they definitely will not fear you for making friends with cops.

10)    Watch out for alleys.
Before you cross by any alleyway, briefly scan it to make sure there isn’t a shady character standing around the corner. I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but definitely do not walk down the alley unless it’s your own alley.

11)    Give them what they want.
In case you do run into trouble, do what they want. If they want your wallet, give them your wallet. Defending yourself in Chicago is pretty much illegal, so don’t try running, threatening them, or disarming them. Remain calm and cool. As soon as they are done robbing you, call the police (which is useless). Also call all of your banks and credit card companies to cancel your accounts.

12)    Don’t walk around texting or calling people.
Both are illegal in Chicago anyway, but don’t call or text while walking around at night. The distraction will make you a prime target and you won’t see it coming.

13)    Pay attention to the weather.
Crime is seasonal in Chicago. When the weather is bad and it’s light outside, crime drops significantly. If it’s a nice summer night around midnight, all the thugs and gangs will be out and about.

14)    Don’t buy anything from anyone on the street.
Frequently, you may have people walking up to you trying to sell something whether it’s drugs, tickets, electronics, or jewelry. Don’t buy any of it. All of it will be stolen goods and once you show them your wallet, they will either steal it from you or raise the prices on everything.

15)    Don’t get too drunk.
If you plan on getting blitzed at a bar or restaurant, take a taxi cab home. If you are seen staggering down the street, you will be an easy target for thugs and cops. Chicago cops love harassing and beating on drunks, so don’t allow yourself to be a victim.

16)    Don’t ask for directions.
Make sure you know where you are going before you leave. If you stop to ask for directions, you will probably be directed to a trap.

17)    Lock your car.
Always make sure you lock your vehicle and don’t leave any valuables in it. If you leave it unlocked, there is a good chance you will find your car on bricks in Little Village.

18)    Stick to the main roads.
Only drive on main roads. If you drive on side streets, your chances of getting mugged or carjacked are much greater.

19)    Avoid certain neighborhoods.
Unless you are as adventurous as I am, there are some neighborhoods you should avoid altogether. On the west side, avoid Austin, Lawndale, Garfield Park, Douglas Park, and Little Village. On the south side, avoid Back of the Yards, Gage Park, Englewood, Grand Crossing, Chatham, Pullman, Roseland, and Auburn-Gresham.

20)    Never walk alone.
This one may be common sense to most, but never walk the streets alone. Make sure you always have at least one other person with you.

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8 thoughts on “20 Tips for Dining in the Bad Neighborhoods of Chicago

  1. Well after reading your safety recommendations I am more scared than ever to visit Chicago. You sound like one of the Liberal Elitist that hates cops or any kind of authority.

  2. The neighborhood where I spent my formative years are listed first in your “must-to-avoid” category. Do us a favor…stick to creates and canapes in Lincoln Park and don’t sully our sidewalks.

      • Actually, I live on the south side in a bad neighborhood. I wrote this post to educate people on what not to do when they dine out in bad neighborhoods. I absolutely hate Lincoln Park, Lake View, and most of the north side, which is why I have very few posts on this blog from the North Side.

        • I actually liked this post. Is true that after reading, it rather makes you think is better to not go to any of those neighborhoods but I do visit them a lot as part of my job and so far, I’m still living. I get your point on trying to make people more aware of their surroundings. Moreover, even though I don’t think all cops are bad, many members of the Chicago Police Department have a reputation of being corrupt. Thanks for the tips!

    • It hink this is supposed to be a “how to” guide for suburbanites, that probably would try to score a knock-off rolex from the less-than legit street vendor.

  3. I would like to give back to one of the poor communities on the west side of chicago. For example opening up a bakery. Can anyone give me sure tips to open a safe business. Any tips would be appreciated.

    A.M.

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