Muffuletta at Publican Quality Meats
Best food and restaurants in Chicago
1416 S. Michigan Ave., 312-663-1278
In a town where the burger competition is stiff, the $14 stunner at chef Kendal Duque’s City Tavern deserves a standing ovation. Made with aged strip loin, the patty has a deeply beefy taste and a satisfying texture–the meat is chopped, not ground. Caramelized onion, bacon, cheddar, and sauce poivrade complete the savory package, and the potato bun soaks up every drop of jus. Hie thee pronto to this new saloon in the South Loop before the entire city descends.
Fat Willy’s Rib Shack
2416 W. Schubert Ave., 773-782-1800
The baked four-cheese macaroni at Fat Willy's can be had as a side to a slab of ribs for an extra buck. But this is not the time for responsible choices. Get the $11 appetizer: The gigunda bowl, top-heavy with brûléed Romano, Parmigiano, cheddar, and fontina, will make you forget every high-brow, truffle-laced, lobster-loaded crock you ever thought was special. The four-cheese party clings to every single tube of ziti, right to the bottom of the heap.
1571 Sherman Ave., Evanston, 847-864-3396
We sucked down our weight in blended ice-cream drinks, from simple to over-the-top gourmet. The shakes at Edzo’s, a hamburger shop, topped them all. Using Kemps vanilla and canned whipped cream, the chef/owner Eddie Lakin has created a roster of dreamy novelties, such as a spicy Mexican chocolate shake, one that tastes like salted caramel, and, in summer, a weekly farmers’ market fruit infusion–served with the extra from the mixing cup on the side. Yay!
Publican Quality Meats
825 W. Fulton Market, 312-445-8977
The gold standard for muffulettas–layered hero sandwiches oozing with olive salad–is still made at Central Grocery Co. in New Orleans. The ham muffuletta at Paul Kahan’s gourmet deli sports melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto cotto, radish and snap pea salad, kicky giardiniera, and, of course, olive relish, delightfully squished between housemade tomato focaccia. The next best thing to the legendary NoLa original is alive and well in the West Loop.
939 N. Orleans St., 312-890-2165
Montreal gave us poutine–the insane jumble of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy–a few years back. And BadHappy, Chicago’s first poutinerie, has gifted us with RedNeck, the most gut-busting version imaginable: an unholy bomb of shreddy-tender barbecued pork, battered okra, coleslaw, and a heap of macaroni and cheese–blanketed with PBR gravy. The whole thing sounds like a joke about hillbillies, but we’re too busy stuffing our faces to laugh.
33 W. Randolph St., 312-432-0500
Much has been made of the fact that Nellcôte mills its own flour in-house, which sounds like a strictly food-wonk detail. But it produces a whole-wheaty, blistered, and dusty-bottomed crust with an addictive doughy chew, which provides the perfect plush bed for all nine of the menu’s glorious pizzas. And the kitchen’s light hand with top-notch ingredients–Périgord black truffles, Genoese pesto, smoked guanciale–is the softest goodnight kiss.
1664 N. Ada St., 773-697-7069
“Chocolate” at Ada St. looks deceptively simple–just an egg-shaped scoop of fudgy mousse. But then you notice it’s sprinkled with sea salt crystals. And drizzled with Tuscan olive oil. And served with gently toasted ciabatta. Turns out it’s a thick spreadable ganache made out of semisweet dark chocolate. “The idea of serving salt with chocolate is something [the executive chef Michael Kornick] picked up in Italy,” says the chef Zoe Schor. We don’t care about its origins. We just want more.
59 W. Hubbard St., 312-595-0800
Lobster has always been luxe and delish, but some genius at Paris Club finally figured out how to make it affordable. The wizards in the kitchen created lobster crostini, and now for $10.95 you can have an amazing combination of superfresh seafood chunks and soft scrambled truffled eggs sprinkled with feisty chive snippets. The two well-stocked slices of toasted baguette make glorious finger food, but you can upgrade the experience by knife-and-forking it.
800 W. Randolph St., 312-929-4580
Pork mania has been raging for close to four years now–pretty much since The Publican unleashed a menu filled with everything from pig’s foot terrine to pork pie to the now ubiquitous charcuterie plates. Since then we’ve pigged out all over town on braised pork belly, lardo, rillettes, house-cured sausages, and bacon ice cream. In fact, we thought good old pork chops had become extinct. Then we found Au Cheval’s 32-ounce pork porterhouse–an enormous hunk of meat even by Chicago standards–roasted to deliriously tender, juicy perfection.
Bang Bang Pie Shop
2051 N. California Ave., 773-276-8888
The combination of pie and coffee is hard to resist, especially when the two come together at a sunny storefront bakery café as charming as this new one in Logan Square. The owners–Dave and Megan Miller and Michael Ciapciak–put out a limited selection of pies weekly (the chocolate silk was a recent standout) and hand-roast beans from Veracruz, Mexico, for their aromatic, smooth coffee. Another reason to hang out? The impossibly light and pillowy biscuits.
Nhu Lan Saigon Subs
602 W. Belmont Ave., 773-857-6868
In recent times, Saigon Sisters, Bun Mi Express, and Del Seoul all entered their subs in the local banh mi race. But Nhu Lan, one of the city’s earliest purveyors, still rules and, to the delight of its devotees, opened a Lake View location in April. You’ll never find tofu more robust than the sesame-seed-studded variety in the lemongrass tofu sandwich. It’s just one of the shop’s many choices–taken together the best banh mi this side of, well, Lincoln Square, where Nhu Lan’s first shop continues to shine.
Photography: (Muffaletta) Anna Knott; (lobster crostini) Anjali Pinto Photography; (pie) Anna Knott; (mug) Caoimhe McDonnell