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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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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