Most diners wouldn't think to drive west down Lake Street in search of good grub. Not so far beyond the Loop the street enters what used to be one of the most vibrant manufacturing areas in the country—but now serves as a tough reminder of the rust belt's economic fortunes over the last several decades: vacant lots, shuttered factories and storefronts, and windowless convenience stores lie in the shadows of the roaring Green Line. Yet the heart of the west side never stopped beating, and tucked in a sunny space just east of the wondrous Garfield Park Conservatory
is one of the best places to get southern food in this northern town. Everything I've had at Inspiration Kitchens
has been delicious, including the catfish, flatbreads, and crawfish beignets. But it would be a crime not to start with the fried green tomatoes, lightly battered and bursting inside. Even better, Inspiration Kitchens serves a higher purpose: along with its sister restaurant in Uptown, it trains the formerly homeless and impoverished for careers in the food business.