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100 Best Things We Ate & Drank in 2011

Time Out Chicago · Guide to Chicago · created about 2 years ago

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  • Malloraca at Isla de Cafe in Chicago, IL

    Hunt down the malloraca, a Puerto Rican take on the monte cristo, from Isla de Cafe, which usually sets up shop in Humboldt Park.

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    Mole-Drenched Tamales at Tamalespaceship Food Truck in Chicago, IL

    You've got some stiff competition on the portable tamale front, Tamale Guy.

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  • Braised Lamb Sandwich at Hummingbird Kitchen in Chicago, IL

    The succulent braised lamb sandwich from Hummingbird Kitchen made it hard to believe it was from a food truck.

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    spam musubi at Homage Street Food in Chicago, IL

    The real deal presented itself as Spam musubi from Homage Street Food, one of our favorite food trucks of the year.

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  • Mathias Imperial Ale at Haymarket Pub & Brewery in Chicago, IL

    Unlike the other seasonal beers, you can still occasionally get the Mathias Imperial IPA at Haymarket.

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  • Horizon Fruit Ale at Half Acre Beer Company in Chicago, IL

    The ale that Half Acre brewed just for Next’s Thailand menu.

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  • ham on rye at Three Floyds in Chicago, IL

    Bug the brewers of Three Floyds’ to bring back this smoky Bukowski tribute of 2011.

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    Rocket Sauce at The Wormhole Coffee in Chicago, IL

    Rocket Sauce, the most refreshing iced tea known to sticky summer days, boosted with ginger syrup and fresh lime juice.

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    Pure Black at La Colombe Torrefaction in Chicago, IL

    We loved this deep, dark, bottled cold brew from newcomer La Colombe.

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    Coffee at City Provisions in Chicago, IL

    Cleetus Friedman, the owner of City Provisions, is a man who makes his own bagels, cures his own pastrami and harvests his own honey. So when we tell you the best thing we ate or drank at his deli was mug after consistently brewed mug of alarmingly rich, complex coffee, you’ll know this is one hell of a cup. Photo: Nicole Schneider

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    El Pirata at 25 Degrees Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

    The spiked shakes at this L.A. import (named for the difference between a medium-rare and well-done burger) are so thick, so boozy and so frickin’ delicious that even the burger-bored should get in here for these alone. The list doesn’t have a weak link, but El Pirata—made with coconut ice cream, Myers’s dark rum and fresh pineapple—wins for handing the old piña colada its ass on a silver platter. Photo: Jason Little

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    Bloody Mary at The Bedford in Chicago, IL

    Fucking foodies. Somehow they made fermentation a “hip” ingredient. That’s why you see kimchi all over the place, and why there is—no joke—a line of fermented sodas. But after drinking this Bloody, we were forced to eat (drink?) our words: The kimchi actually belongs in this drink. It adds a pleasant background of earthiness to what otherwise would be just tomato juice and spice. Looks as if those foodies aren’t wrong all of the time.

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    Oaxacan Old-Fashioned at Whistler in Chicago, IL

    This cocktail is not on the menu, but it’s a Paul McGee classic available by request. Here, the Whistler’s cocktail ace shows his genius by replacing the bourbon with reposado tequila and a super-smoky mescal, using agave nectar for the sugar cube and enhancing it with Mexican coffee bitters for warm cinnamon notes. Give it to a whiskey drinker (even a tequila hater) and we promise they won’t know what hit them.

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    Michelada at Big Star in Chicago, IL

    The exact DNA of the famed michelada at this perpetually packed urban honky-tonk is a mystery to anyone outside of the staff, but we’re certain of a few things: It contains Tecate, Cholula and Valentina hot sauces, and the Swiss-German seasoning Maggi. Oh, and we’re certain it is delicious, alleviates hangovers and might just cure cancer.

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    Bloody Margaret at Balsan in Chicago, IL

    If we could eat dinner at Balsan weekly, we would. But we’re broke writers, so instead we settle for brunch. The $19 set menu is a steal for the quality, so we tack on this gin-based Bloody, fragrant with thyme, lightened with cucumber and brought down to our level with a good old beer back.

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  • Maatje Herring Shot at Vincent in Chicago, IL

    Make way, tequila shots. We want to start every meal slurping a piece of sweet pickled herring followed by a shot of genever.

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    In The Rocks at The Aviary in Chicago, IL

    Despite the fact that this old-fashioned is injected with a syringe into an orb of ice that’s placed inside a glass, it’s one of the simpler cocktails at this high-concept lounge. It’s also our favorite, for how it seamlessly integrates tactile pleasure (“cracking” the rock) into a beautifully made drink. Photo: Christian Seel

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    Chestnut Doughnut at Doughnut Vault in Chicago, IL

    This is the doughnut all the pitiful doughnuts want to be. This is the doughnut all the good doughnuts hate. Because they all know, as we do, that it doesn’t get any better, any fresher, any more flavorful, any airier than this.

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  • Fruit Shortcake at Lillie's Q in Chicago, Il

    It may be half the price of most desserts around town, but this sweet-as-pie biscuit-and-fruit concoction (the fruit varies with the season) is good enough to go toe-to-toe with any of the fancier takes.

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    Sweet Potato Pie at Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato Pies in Chicago, IL

    The sweet spud shape-shifts plenty at this beloved Beverly bakery—as cheesecake, cobbler, cake topped with Marshmallow Fluff–like honey cream cheese frosting, even as soft serve. But it’s the most obvious treatment of all that wins us over: straight-up sweet-potato pie, as ideal as it is simple.

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    Cinnamon Bomb at Fraiche in Evanston, IL

    Why call this (admittedly tame-looking) pastry a “bomb”? Because this moist, cinnamon-dusted cake is unexpectedly addictive. And that’s dangerous. Photo: Jason Adrian

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    Chocolate Bouchon at The Girl And The Goat in Chicago, IL

    Few restaurants approach desserts and pig face with equal amounts of ambition. Stephanie Izard proves the exception to the rule, successfully incorporating foie gras as a decadent marshmallow “fluff” alongside a moist chocolate cake.

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    Oatmeal-Chocolate Bread at Real Kitchen in Chicago, IL

    This quick bread was a signature of Real’s opening pastry chef Andrea Correa, who has since left the high-end takeout spot. Correa was perhaps best known for helping with the desserts section of the el Bulli cookbook, but there was nothing molecular or fancy about these thick slices of homey, chocolate-studded cake. There was, though, something special about them. Photo: Jason Adrian

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    Alfajores at Lucila's Homemade in Chicago, IL

    The Italians have biscotti, we have doughnuts, and in South America, coffee’s companion is the alfajore, thick dulce de leche smeared between two shortbread cookies. And when it comes to alfajores, no one makes them better than Lucila Giagrande, which is why we follow her to cafés, farmers’ markets and anywhere there’s word of her specialty being sold.

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  • Salted English Toffee at BarnHouse Handcrafted in Chicago, IL

    Just when we thought Great Lake couldn’t get any better, former Julius Meinl pastry chef Nicole Stemler’s toffee—made with high-quality butter and cream and a generous amount of sea salt—lands on the pizzeria’s shelves.

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    Ice Cream Sundae at The Aviary in Chicago, IL

    Grant Achatz + whipped cream + Oreos + gummy bears + peanuts + unreal ice cream + maraschino cherries + a carafe of chocolate sauce = believe it.

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    pineapple upside-down cake at Floriole Cafe & Bakery in Chicago, IL

    How do you turn a dessert most associated with the Midwest, the ’70s and canned pineapple rings into something lovely and sophisticated? Step one: Become Sandra Holl, the chef-owner of this bakery.

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    Frozen Cucumber Mousse at Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    Executive pastry chef Bryce Caron has been at Blackbird only a few months, but he’s already proving why he belongs by turning items like the humble cucumber into this creamsicle-like dessert, which is both unexpectedly rich and surprisingly refreshing Photo: Jason Little

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    Chèvre Fritters at Perennial Virant in Chicago, IL

    Thanks to pastry chef Elissa Narrow, who joined the PV team this summer, now every time we bite into a fritter, we expect it to ooze gloriously with liquefied Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese.

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    Salted-Caramel Marshmallows at Katherine Anne Confections in Chicago, IL

    Katherine Duncan takes her masterful caramel and folds it into her light marshmallows sweetened with wildflower honey. You’ll never look at Jet-Puffed the same way again. Photo: Grant Kessler

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    Rau Câu Dừa at Ba Le French Bakery & Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    What’s that little rock in the cooler? That, my friends, is rau câu: stiff coconut custard flavored with grassy pandan leaf and poured into a skinned coconut shell to set. The first bite is odd, the second bite is awesome and the third bite competes with a muffled “thank you.” You’re welcome.

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  • Irish Bread Pudding at Poag Mahones in Chicago, IL

    If these thick slices of moist bread pudding were microwaved, this dish still would be pretty good. But the fact is the slices are griddled, giving the pudding crispy, caramelized edges—and giving you a reason to skip the rest of the workday and go take a nap.

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    Basque Cake at The Bristol in Chicago, IL

    Thankfully, this warm cake with a golden crust and soft middle is the only dessert pastry chef Amanda Rockman keeps on her menu year-round.

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    Baked Creamy Egg Yolk Buns at Cai in Chicago, IL

    The chef of Chinatown’s newest dim-sum contender claims 30 years of experience in the two cities most known for this traditional weekend brunch service: Hong Kong and Toronto. Xi Xin Lin has a way with most everything on his massive checklist, but these pillowy-soft buns are the standout, pulling open to reveal a warm, sugary, creamy core. Photo: Allison Williams

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  • Ham and Cheese Fondue at Gilt Bar in Chicago, IL

    Take a croque-madame. Now increase the cheese tenfold and melt it in a crock. Now fold in the ham, put the egg on top and relegate the bread to the side, for dipping. Now call your cardiologist.

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  • Ricotta and Honeycomb at DiSotto Enoteca in Chicago, IL

    Just when we thought we knew what to expect with ricotta, we encounter this version—richer and smoother than we could have imagined (it’s whipped with olive oil), paired with a hunk of sweet honeycomb and grilled bread.

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    steak tartare at Maude's Liquor Bar in Chicago, IL

    If you can find a better steak tartare anywhere in town, we’re buying. Photo: Colin Beckett

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    Forest Mushrooms at L2o Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    Founding chef Laurent Gras left. Michelin took away two of its stars. When we ate this wild and brooding mushroom dish at L2O, we couldn’t have possibly cared less.

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    Autumn Scene at Next Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    This stunning, intriguing, arresting, intricate, beguiling array of shoots and leaves is like a salad we want to live in.

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    Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad at Pump Room in Chicago, IL

    Crunchy with seeds, redolent with spices and enhanced with crème fraîche, this is proof there is such a thing as salad evolution. Photo: Joe Bankmann

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  • Blue-cheese-and-mushroom Beignets at Barrelhouse Flat in Chicago, IL

    We went for the cocktails. We came back for these meltingly rich puffs.

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  • Bhel Puri at Kamdar Plaza in Chicago, IL

    For those unfamiliar with the world of chaat—India’s genre of salty, sweet, sour and savory street snacks—consider this dish your rabbit hole. This heaping pile of puffed rice, chickpeas, onions and cilantro, drowned in a rainbow of chutneys, is dubbed “Indian nachos” by many, but it puts the Mexican version to shame.

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    Goat Arancini at Ceres' Table in Chicago, IL

    Fried rice balls often lend themselves to being hockey pucks. But in Giuseppe Scurato’s hands they are crisp and ethereal, qualities that are a foil for the meaty goat ragù inside. Photo: Nichole Schneider

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    Fried Onions with Lemon and Jalapenos at fish bar in Chicago, IL

    This is what happens when a chef opens a fish shack—you don’t get just fried onions, but rather an onion-lemon-jalapeño combo, a medley that balances the sweetness of the onions with acidity (the lemon), heat (the jalapeño) and lots of flavor (both). Photo: Jaclyn Rivas

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    Uni Avocado Toast at NoMI in Chicago, IL

    Chef Ryan LaRoche’s unlikely combination of briny sea urchin, smooth avocado, impeccable Mangalica ham and bright capers exhibits a keen understanding of flavor.

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  • Naem Khao Thawt at Dharma Garden Thai Cuisine in Chicago, IL

    Vegetarians have long been hip to the gems lurking at this unassuming Thai joint on Irving Park, but dig a little deeper (i.e., ask for the translated Thai menu) and you’ll find Northern specialties like this crispy rice salad with ham, a textbook example of Thai food’s ability to hit sweet, sour, salty and spicy all at once.

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  • Fava-bean Crostini at Avec Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    When you taste something as simple and as perfect as these slices of toast generously slathered with pureed fava beans at the peak of their season, you realize why everyone wants to imitate Avec. And just how inimitable Avec is.

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    Pommes Anna at Rustic House in Chicago, IL

    New chefs get all the attention. But when you eat something like this unassuming potato side dish—crispy and golden on top, tender and gratinlike underneath—you remember why you love seasoned chefs like Jason Paskewitz: because they know what they’re doing. Photo: Colin Beckett

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    Kimchi Bacon Cheese Fries at bopNgrill in Chicago, Il

    We never really understood the fuss over cheese fries…until we had these.

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    Onion Rings at Toons Bar & Grill in Chicago, IL

    What’s the big deal about onion rings? Like every aspect of Danny Beck’s beloved neighborhood bar, they’re executed with attention to detail—thick-cut rings dipped in beer batter, fried golden and sprinkled with salt. Simple but standout. Photo: Jason Adrian

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    Mozzarella Sticks at Roots Handmade Pizza in Chicago, Illinois

    You’ve got to give props to a mozzarella stick whose mozz is made in-house.

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  • Salad with Buttermilk Dressing at Great Lake in Chicago, IL

    It takes a lot for a salad to merit a spot on the 100 Best list. It takes an obsession with detail, an amount of scrutiny seldom applied to lettuce. It takes a superlative, creamy dressing. It takes Great Lake owners Lydia and Nick Esparza.

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    Spicy Ginger-Soy Beef Jerky at Jerky Queen in Chicago, IL

    It looks like dog food. It tastes like drugs. Spicy, chewy, umami-laced drugs.

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    French Fries at Pork Shoppe in Chicago, IL

    We’re not debating with the regulars who swear by the pork-belly pastrami at this Avondale barbecue joint; the stuff is delicious. But it’s the fries that stick with us: skin on, hand cut, deep brown, liberally salted and pretty much perfect.

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    Garlic Bread at Michael Jordan Steakhouae in Chicago, IL

    It was a close call between this side dish and pastry chef Hillary Rikower’s goat-cheese cheesecake. But it doesn’t matter what you pit it against—garlic-schmeared bread smothered in blue-cheese sauce wins every time.

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    Sturgeon Caviar at Tru in Chicago, IL

    Rick Tramonto invented the famed crystal “staircase” presentation, but Anthony Martin, the new sheriff in Tru town, created his own take on caviar: smoked sturgeon turned into a mousse and then, with the aid of gelatin, dropped into cold oil to form silvery-white pearls. Layered in a tin over buttery avocado puree, it’s ingenuity that elegantly brings this aging standard-bearer into the present day. Photo: Jim White

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    Motawma (Potato & Garlic Dip) at Al Bawadi Grill in Bridgeview, IL

    You’ve had baba ghanoush countless times. You’re over hummus, in all its flavored forms. You’ve even exhausted the pureed favas called foul. Move on to motawma, the ethereal whipped collision of garlic and potatoes that makes the trek to Bridgeview well worth it.

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    Calamari at Ruxbin Kitchen in Chicago, IL

    Ruxbin has always been good. But at some point this year, the restaurant flipped the maturity switch and the food became more sophisticated, more nuanced and yet no less approachable. Put this calamari stuffed with chicken and pork forcemeat and flavored with Korean chilies and peanuts squarely in that camp. Photo: Marina Makropoulos

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  • Pork Loin Tartine at Telegraph Wine Bar in Chicago, IL

    Realtors, rejoice! Yet another sign Logan Square is the hottest ’hood in the city: Now it has a wine bar—one with an easygoing feel, an esoteric list and an Avec vet who’s turning out glammed-up bruschetta piled with pickled pork loin, whipped feta, Bosc pears and juniper vinaigrette.

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    Soup at Bento Box in Chicago, IL

    Rick Spiros’s lacquered boxes filled with bulgogi and kimchi? They’re great. Rick Spiros’s herbaceous, spicy broths, such as this take on Vietnamese pho (we tried it with short ribs—now it’s made with braised brisket)? They’re life-sustaining. Photo: Nicole Schneider

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    Cioppino at Glenn's Diner in Chicago, IL

    Glenn’s is the type of place you should be able to walk into any night of the week for a burger and a beer. But, uh, good luck with that—getting seated here often means putting your name on a page-long wait list. Among the reasons people flock to the place is this classic San Francisco dish: a spicy broth sporting a rotating cast of fish (swordfish, sturgeon, arctic char), sweet shrimp and tender mussels. Photo: Angela Mejia

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  • Caldo Gallego at Cafecito in Chicago, IL

    It’s known for its sandwiches, of course, but lately Cafecito has added this soup to the menu. With white beans, potato, spinach, ham and chorizo, it’s every bit as smoky, porky and satisfying as the restaurant’s Cubano.

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    Pork Tom Yum at Next Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    Could Grant Achatz and Dave Beran pull off Thai food? The spice and sour and brightness of this deep and complex soup smacked all doubters right in the face with flavor. Photo: Christian Seel courtesy of Next Restaurant

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    Almond Soup at Takashi Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    When is a soup the most satisfying part of a midsummer meal? When it is as cool and smooth and balanced (sweet, acidic grapes; rich, savory almonds) as this one.

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    Posole Verde at Pozoleria Sanjuan in Chicago, IL

    In the world of soups, posole is king. The hearty hominy stew comes in the colors of the Mexican flag, but it’s the green that rules our winters, with its hunks of pork, grassy broth and mess of add-ins alongside. Photo: Angela Mejia

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  • Carne En Su Jugo at Taqueria Los Gallos #2 in Chicago, IL

    “Meat in its juices.” If this literal translation sounds anything less than delicious to you, you haven’t tried the best of the brothy stews from Jalisco, Mexico. Pinto beans, crispy bacon, radish rounds, avocado, raw onion and cilantro bob and weave among the oil droplets lining the surface of tender bits of, well, beef in its juices.

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    Scallops at Morso in Chicago, IL

    The accompaniments (corn-poblano hash on our first visit) change with the seasons. The flawlessly seared scallops are here to stay.

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  • Grilled Green Tea-Washed Mackerel Pike at Lure Izakaya Pub in Chicago , IL

    Please, we beg you, go to this Chinatown izakaya, or Japanese gastropub, now. If you don’t, we fear that chef-owner Kee Chan’s underappreciated ode to grilled seafood and modern Japanese small plates will suffer certain death—and then we can’t have this insanely good, expertly grilled, full-flavored fish again.

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  • Chef's Cut New York Strip at Mastro's Steakhouse in Chicago, IL

    A steakhouse is a steakhouse is a steakhouse. Unless it’s Mastro’s, the high-end chain that—preposterous as it may seem—had us woozy with its dry-ice martinis, warm butter cake, and expertly cooked and seasoned cuts of beef. Photo: Jill Paider

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  • Kimchi and Sausages at Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar in Chicago, IL

    Every Monday during the warmer months this year, Mike Marszewski fired up the grill at this Bridgeport bar run by his brother, Ed, and mother, Maria. Bobak’s sausages were tossed on the grill then pulled off to be topped with kimchi, sometimes made by the guys’ aunt and occasionally a chef such as Bill Kim. Like the brothers themselves, it’s a Polish-Korean mash-up and the best of both worlds.

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  • Braised Rabbit at Custom House Tavern in Chicago, Il

    Peas and rabbit. Is that some kind of twisted joke, serving rabbit with the very things it loves to eat (before it’s roasted)? Whatever. Executive chef Perry Hendrix can make any joke he likes—we’ll still follow him anywhere, particularly in spring, when he uses the lowly pea’s earthiness as a respite from this dish’s deep, meaty savoriness.

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    Duck Fat Yaki Soba Noodles at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar in Chicago, IL

    Frat boys and noodles—who knew they made such a good match? This is a bowl of everything you could ask for: thick, satisfying noodles slicked in mustard sauce, fatty morsels of duck and crunchy slivers of cabbage, all finished with the bright addition of ginger.

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    Home-fed Chicken Xiang-Xi Style at Lao Hunan in Chicago, Il

    Is Tony Hu at home feeding little chickens before bringing them here, his latest Chinatown spot, to be stir-fried with a sneeze-inducing array of peppers and Szechuan peppercorn? Doubt it. But we don’t care about the misleading translation when the result is one of Hu’s best signatures.

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    Goat-cheese Tortalacci at Autre Monde in Berwyn, IL

    Though any of the housemade pastas from this humble trattoria could have landed on this list, these pockets of delicate tortalacci stuffed with goat cheese and topped with a shaving of black truffle are like tiny, edible presents to Berwyn, to pasta lovers, to everyone lucky enough to get their hands on them. Photo: Jason Little

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    Swiss Chard Tortelloni at Due Lire Vino & Cucina in Chicago, IL

    Let us say right off the bat that these chard-stuffed pasta pockets—tossed in sage brown butter with smashed bits of roasted chestnuts—aren’t currently on the menu at this cute Lincoln Square spot. But we strongly encourage you to start a petition to bring them back. We pledge to sign it if you do. Photo: Angela Mejia

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    Juicy Lucy at The Anthem Bar - Ukrainian Village in Chicago, IL

    Oh, man, we do not need to remind ourselves how good this juicy, greasy, medium-rare burger oozing Velveeta cheese is.

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    Montreal-style Smoked Pastrami at Fumare Meats

    There is pastrami (thinly sliced, meagerly seasoned) and then there is the smoked meat of Montreal legend: thick, hand-cut slices, edges lined with cracked black pepper, the meat gorgeously marbled and fall-apart tender. Photo: Colin Beckett

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    Mushroom and Kale Pie at Pleasant House Bakery in Chicago, IL

    Art Jackson and Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson’s Bridgeport storefront is one of our favorite openings of the year: It’s understated, authentic and charming, just like this individual savory pie. Photo: Clayton Hauck

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  • Fried Chicken Dinner at Club 81 Too in Chicago, IL

    There’s no better place for a slice of small-town life than this 66-year-old Hegewisch bar/supper club. Dinner is served only Wednesdays and Fridays, and the kitchen closes at 8:30pm, but the limited window is worth hitting for some of the best fried chicken around (be sure to order it “all dark” for ultimate juiciness—breast meat tends to dry out when fried).

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  • Competition St. Louis Slab at Chicago q in Chicago, IL

    The crew at this fancy-pants barbecue establishment claims the difference between these “competition” ribs and the regular versions (essentially, what warrants the $9 upcharge) is these take two additional hours of labor because they’re pulled out of the smoker periodically to baste. We say pay those pit masters for overtime, because these bones are killing it.

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    Chilled Seafood Platter at Paris Club in Chicago, IL

    Leave it to the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group to find a way to turn a luxurious platter of fresh lobster, shrimp and scallop-uni tartare into a $15.95-per-person steal. Photo: Max Herman

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    Lamb course at Next Restaurant in Chicago, IL

    Since tickets to Next’s opening menu were so difficult to get, and since even a regular ticket didn’t guarantee receiving this course—available only on the even-more-rarefied Kitchen Table menu—and since there is no way to have this dish again (unless you count preparing it at home from the e-cookbook), it seems completely wrong to include it on this list. But it was the highlight of a meal that was itself a highlight of the year, so it’d be just as wrong to leave it out. Photo: Christian Seel

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  • Chef's selection steak at Roka Akor Chicago in Chicago, IL

    Slick, sceney and sexy has its price, but it is possible to get out of this Japanese steakhouse with your rent money intact. Go for the chef’s selection, a rotation of overlooked and often unknown cuts. They’re beautifully marbled, expertly grilled over Japanese binchotan charcoal, and the best value in the house.

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    Squid-ink Gnocchi in Carrot Broth at GT Fish & Oyster in Chicago, IL

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a seafood joint. “Fish & Oyster.” We get it. But chef Giuseppe Tentori is first and foremost an Italian, and as deft as he is at searing halibut, where the guy really shines is with pastas such as this rich yet delicate gnocchi. Which is fortified with squid ink and topped with shrimp, so, hey, maybe this is a seafood dish after all? Photo: Colin Beckett

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  • Bridge House Burger at Bridge House Tavern in Chicago, IL

    In a city where people are throwing pastrami and hot dogs on their burgers, this burger is rebellious in its restraint (just American cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato), classic in its conception (a double stack of thin patties) and on-point in its execution. None of that keeps it from being absolutely enormous. Photo: Jason Little

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  • Croque Madame at Lush Wine & Spirits in Chicago, IL

    With little more than a hot plate, a panini press and a deep fryer, Lush has developed one of the most craveworthy menus of drinking snacks in the city, though this sandwich—ham, cheese, béchamel, egg—is certainly no snack. It’s filling and rich enough to do you in for the night.

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    Macau Pork Belly at MingHin Cuisine in Chicago, Il

    Chef Wu Ming jumped into the Chinatown scene this year with stellar seafood and an awesome dim-sum lineup, but his most buzzed-about feat was making us care about pork belly again, accomplished by crisping the skin like candy and cooking the flesh into silky submission.

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    Triple S at SEADOG SUSHI BAR in Chicago, IL

    No. 1 on our list of guilty pleasures: this maki, whose combination of sweet potatoes, salmon and something mysteriously called “spicy dynamite sauce” is everything that is wrong with sushi. And it tastes so, so right. Photo: Jason Little

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  • Whitefish Sandwich at Small Bar Division in Chicago, IL

    Long live Justin White, the new chef who’s raising the bar on bar food one God-given fried-fish sandwich at a time. Photo: Jaclyn Rivas

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  • Chicken thigh pizza at Three Aces in Chicago, IL

    Everybody knows that thighs are the best part of a chicken. And everybody knows that, at the end of the day, there’s really nothing more satisfying than a well-made pizza. But it took chef Matt Troost to know to put the two together.

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    Moules et Frites at Leopold in Chicago, IL

    With a joint like Hopleaf in this town, it takes balls to make a big deal out of your mussels. But that’s what Leopold does, and guess what? These things just may be the tenderest, most delicious mussels Chicago has seen yet. Photo: Jaclyn Rivas

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    Full English fry at Owen & Engine in Chicago, IL

    Hands down, this British pub is putting out one of the best brunches in the city. If you have any lingering doubts that this place is the real deal, the full English breakfast—baked beans, fried egg, grilled tomato, bacon and expertly made blood sausage—will put them to rest.

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    Carrot-whole-wheat pancakes at Kingsbury Street Cafe in Chicago, IL

    For the best breakfast of your year, though, you’ve got to get to Kingsbury Street Cafe, a place that came out of nowhere to change the breakfast game with its tender, sweet and maybe (but probably not) healthy carrot-whole-wheat pancakes.

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    Almond Danish at Toni Patisserie & Cafe in Chicago, IL

    In the Loop, Toni Marie Cox opened an outpost of her Toni Patisserie, and the marble-replete space is a fine room in which to drink a cappuccino and eat one of Cox’s soft, sweet almond Danish.

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    Quiche at 2 Sparrows in Chicago, IL

    These guys put out a quiche that is closer in texture to a soufflé—and that’s a marvelous thing. Photo: Jason Little

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    Estrellados y Tampiquena at Mercadito Chicago in Chicago, IL

    When it comes to brunch, we don’t fuck around. We order steak and eggs, and we challenge you to find a better, more fairly priced version than this aggressively seasoned $12 skirt steak.

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    mashbrown at Bite Cafe in Chicago , Il

    The search for the perfect hash browns is a trail of disappointment. Fortunately, the path ends at the remodeled Bite, where a patty of skin-on potato mash is always fried to a golden crisp.

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    Bagel Sandwich at Nightwood in Chicago, IL

    We’ve latched on to one of the few always-present brunch items, this bagel with lush trout cream cheese and a fried egg? Or is it because it is the single best breakfast sandwich ever invented?

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    Fried Chicken and Waffles at Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, IL

    When Art Smith’s restaurant launched its brunch service, this highlight emerged: the chance to eat his incomparable fried chicken from the dinner menu, for breakfast—and this time getting to smother it with Burton’s maple syrup. Photo: Dave Rentauskas

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