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F&W's Chicago Food Obsessions

Food & Wine · Guide to Chicago · created over 3 years ago

Our editors reveal 25 not-so-guilty pleasures.

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    Baby Back Ribs at Lillie's Q in Chicago, Il

    Chef Charlie McKenna, who has won big on the competitive barbecue circuit, makes five kinds of sauces to go with his meat. His signature dish is baby back ribs rubbed with a secret "Carolina dirt" spice rub.

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    Belly Dog at Belly Shack in Chicago, IL

    Chef Bill Kim’s Asian-Latino food comes fast and casual in a stripped-down setting under the Blue Line El tracks. Hot-and-sour soup studded with hominy evokes the Mexican soup posole. Kim also uses noodles in unexpected ways, like tucking crispy egg noodles in the bun of Chicago's beloved hot dog.

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    Brisket at Smoque BBQ in Chicago, IL

    Former tech guy Barry Sorkin traveled the country researching regional barbecue before opening this mostly Texas-style venture with similarly meat-obsessed partners. The BYOB joint’s 15-hour-smoked brisket comes sliced or chopped, on a plate, in a sandwich or by the pound, but baby back loyalists can get racks of sauced ribs.

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    Brunch Dog at Franks 'N' Dawgs in Chicago, IL

    Hot Doug’s competitor in the gourmet tube steak domain makes wieners in-house for an array of oddball signatures. For the Brunch Dog, a split bun gets stuffed with a breakfast sausage, smoked bacon, a fried egg and maple mayo.

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    Burger at Edzo's Burger Shop in Evanston, IL

    Both smashed-patty advocates and proponents of thick, medium-rare burgers share turf here, where house-ground beef can be pressed crisp on a griddle or served in a fat half-pound portion that’s chargrilled to temperature. Stacked, the thin, 4-ounce patties recall In-N-Out, but Edzo’s offers upgrades like aged chuck from family-run Dietzler Farms in Wisconsin.

  • Carne Asada Tacos at La Pasadita Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    Norteño music (a kind of Latin polka) plays over the sound system at the three La Pasadita locations (all on one Chicago block), which serve delicious carne asada tacos.

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    Cheeseburger at M Burger in Chicago, IL

    Hamburger, cheeseburger, M Burger, Hurt Burger—so leads the Seussian menu at this tiny burger joint from the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group. The Hurt Burger comes with spicy barbecue sauce and Pepper Jack cheese, but the best combo is a classic cheeseburger with a thick shake.

  • Cherry-Berry Pie at Hoosier Mama Pie Company in Chicago, IL

    Former Trio pastry chef Paula Haney launched her bakery in 2009, but she still has a stand at the Green City Market, where she buys much of the produce for her stellar pies like cherry-berry.

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    Chicago-Style Hot Dog at Hot Doug's Inc in Chicago, IL

    Specialty sausages like the Salma Hayek are named after celebrities at this hot dog institution, but purists stick to the Chicago-style dog with trimmings like celery salt, along with a side of duck-fat fries.

  • Chorizo Tacos at La Ciudad Mexican Grill & Cafe in Chicago, IL

    Mexico City–born brothers Hugo and Armando De La Rosa opened this sleek, red-walled taqueria where soft corn tortillas have simple fillings like chorizo with onion and cilantro.

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    Classic Cupcake at Sweet Mandy B's in Chicago, IL

    Owner Cindy Levine nailed the key elements of a cheery American bakery: A sunny yellow exterior, whoopee pies and peanut butter cookies on vintage cake stands, and cupcakes generously frosted in bright pink, blue and yellow hues—with sprinkles. President Obama is said to have served the nostalgic cakes for Joe Biden’s 66th birthday.

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    Create Your Own Cupcake at Molly's Cupcakes in Chicago, IL

    The Lincoln Park bakery encourages cupcake mania with fun details like letting customers create their own cake-and-frosting combos before settling into swing seats hanging by the bar. Molly was the owner’s elementary school teacher, who baked for her students’ birthdays.

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    Custom House Burger at Custom House Tavern in Chicago, Il

    Available only on the lunch and bar menus, the Custom House Burger combines ground pork, short rib and sirloin in a patty topped with aged cheddar cheese, shaved onion and house-made steak sauce. The behemoth is presented in a sourdough brioche bun.

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    Deep-Dish Pizza at Burt's Place in Morton Grove, IL

    At this landmark Chicago pizzeria, Sharon Katz enforces the strict call-ahead reservation policy and husband Burt works the oven, pulling out pies with a lighter crust and less cheese than most Chicago deep-dish pizzas.

  • Havarti Burger at Duchamp Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    Chef Michael Taus's cheeseburger, layered with Havarti and tomato remoulade, comes on a dill roll based on his Czechoslovakian grandmother's recipe

  • French Toast at Jam in Chicago, IL

    Here's how Charlie Trotter alum Jeffrey Mauro makes his supersonic French toast: He dips thick brioche slices in a vanilla-and-malt-spiked custard. Then he slowly cooks the slices sous vide in a hot-water bath so that every inch of the brioche absorbs the custard. Just before serving, he caramelizes the French toast in a hot pan then serves it with marinated fruit, sweet citrus-flavored whipped cream and a sprinkling of pink peppercorns.

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    fried chicken at Harold's Chicken Shack in Chicago, IL

    Founded in 1950 by “Fried Chicken King” Harold Pierce, the chain thrives on a simple model: White or dark meat plunged in oil to order, and served with hot sauce.

  • Lemon Cheesecake Cupcake at Swirlz Cupcakes in Chicago, IL

    This cupcake shop’s special display case angles a rotating arsenal of double-frosted flavors—along with gluten-free and vegan options—toward ogling customers. A play on lemon cheesecake features vanilla cake baked with Graham crumbs in the wrapper, filled with lemon curd, topped with cream cheese buttercream and crowned with a flower-shaped flourish of lemon frosting.

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    Margherita Pizza at Coalfire in Chicago, IL

    J. Spillane has earned a reputation as one of the best pizza-makers in town, personally tossing, stretching, topping and baking each pie in the 800-degree coal-fired oven. The thin-crusted, lightly charred Margherita is excellent, as is the Fiorentino, topped with hot Calabrese salami and red peppers.

  • Mexican Chocolate Gelato at Black Dog Gelato in Chicago, Illinois

    In a teeny Ukrainian Village storefront that's decorated like a "pink explosion," according to one staff member, pastry chef Jessica Oloroso blends some 20 flavors of gelato and sorbet daily. Malted vanilla and Mexican chocolate work well in house-made sugar or fudge cookie sandwiches. Oloroso’s former colleague at Scylla, chef Stephanie Izard, loves the Salted Peanut gelato.

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    Pistachio Doughnut at Doughnut Vault in Chicago, IL

    Gilt Bar owner Brendan Sodikoff started selling big, fresh doughnuts out of a charming brick storefront in the spring of 2011, and lines continue from early morning until the handful of flavors sell out. Outside, there’s a big communal table for eating old-fashioned, chocolate-glazed and pistachio-covered rings, with $1 cups of coffee.

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    Pizza at Great Lake in Chicago, IL

    Husband-and-wife Detroit natives Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza run their cult pizzeria with erratic hours and no reservations. Lessins masterfully chars pies in his 650-degree gas oven to achieve an ethereally crisp crust. Some toppings—like Mona cheese on a spinach pie—are added when the pizza is just taken out.

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    Pork Belly Tacos at Big Star in Chicago, IL

    Highlights of the supercool "honky tonk" taqueria from Blackbird's Paul Kahan (an F&W Best New Chef 1999) and chef Justin Large include excellent pork-belly tacos and greasy-good queso fundido (a glorious melted-cheese appetizer studded with chorizo).

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    Seoul Sassy Fried Chicken at Crisp in Chicago, IL

    The quick-service joint turns out a half-dozen versions of Korean fried chicken, by the half or whole, in paper-lined baskets. Seoul Sassy birds are dipped in a garlic-ginger-soy blend, dusted with flour and then double-fried for a mysteriously greaseless finish. The Plain Jane’s golden, almost translucent coating is the hallmark of the genre.

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    Superdawg at Superdawg Drive-In in Chicago, Illinois

    The 12-foot-tall fiberglass hot dog couple on the roof is an homage to founders Maurie and Flaurie Berman, high school sweethearts who married in 1947. The all-beef hot dogs come on a heap of crinkle-cut fries.