The Run Down

The subject of this guide: chicken wings. The neighborhood: West Town. There is an above average amount of wonderful wings west of the river, and because the world is obsessed with rating things, we decided to break down our four favorite options and have an in-depth discussion about what each has to offer. Don’t just take our word, but give this chicken wing crawl a go and discover your own favorite.

1. BBQ & Buffalo @ Cleo's

2. Mango Ghost Pepper @ Output Lounge

3. Buffalo @ Five Star Bar

1. Cleo’s

Cleo’s is the classic versatile neighborhood sports bar in West Town. Soccer fanatics flock here. You can grab a quick bite after work or drink extra late. (It has a 4 a.m. license.) There’s not much about this place that will “wow” or surprise you, but it’s also an excellent standby option whatever you’re in the mood for.

Flavor: As a standard baseline, we decided to put each kitchen’s buffalo and BBQ wings to the test. Cleo’s succeeds in both arenas with a BBQ sauce that’s more sweet than tangy and buffalo wings that go easy on the heat and heavy on the flavor. Past experiences have taught us to veer away from the admittedly adventurous but ultimately unsatisfying teriyaki wings and that the honey habanero is where the spiciness is at.

Quality: Cleo’s wings are on the skimpier side of the ones we’re discussing here. They make up for their scrawniness with a consistent crispness though if a little crunch is your preference.

Price: The bar’s Monday night wing special, 45 cents a piece, is one of the best deals in the neighborhood. Any other night, six wings will run you just under $7.

2. Output

This place is what we refer to as a “bar bar.” What type of bar is it? Well, it’s just a bar. If anything, it caters to sports fans with a myriad of TVs and sports pennants lining the walls. It’s not team specific though and supports all Chicago sports based on the memorabilia strewn throughout the dining room. It’s certainly not cutting edge or conceptual, but it’s worth visiting for the wings.

Flavor: Output’s kitchen offers the largest selection of wings sauce of the four we’re comparing by far. Basics like buffalo and BBQ are joined by more exotic flavors including hot chipotle ranch, sticky mango ghost pepper and lemon pepper. And, truthfully, we’ve never tried one we didn’t like. For consistency’s sake, on our last visit, we tried a ten-piece split order of mild buffalo and BBQ wings. The toughest part was trying to savor the taste by rotating flavors one wing at a time, rather than barreling through each half all at once.

Quality: Output wings have never failed to be big and juicy. At times, they are slightly crispier than others but, typically, offer the perfect balance of taste and texture.

Price: Twelve dollars for ten wings is the standard here. Your best deal is the order of 50 wings for $52, averaging out to $1.04 per wing. We’re not necessarily recommending you tackle such a feat, but we’re not discouraging you either.

3. Five Star

Much like Cleo’s, Five Star is another traditional neighborhood hang, only this one’s for the folks living closer to Chicago and Ashland than Chicago and Damen. The bar’s prices are slightly greater but so are its cocktail and beer selections. It’s rock ‘n’ roll traits include a biker crowd, a pool table, lots of whiskey and Wednesday Wing Night when drumette will run you just 63 cents.

Flavor: At Five Star, it’s buffalo or nothin’. When there’s only wing sauce on the menu, we’re glad it’s a crowd pleaser—not too hot to drive away the average diner, but there’s still a dose of heat there.

Quality: Much like its flavor, Five Star’s wings leave little to be desired but also won’t blow you away. Much like the “classic neighborhood bar” void that Five Star fills, wings are a necessity (but not a priority) on the menu.

Price: Sixty-three cent wings means you can have a hefty meal for less than seven dollars. In this case, it’s a tasty one, too.