124 Best Dishes

We scoured the city for the top offerings on Chicago’s world-class restaurant scene. From appetizer through dessert, from über haute pineapple rum soup to down-home juicy fried chicken, here’s your road map to the 124 yummiest dishes around.

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Spaghetti alla chitarra with lobster from Spiaggia

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF

PORK TRIO
Jack’s on Halsted
Jack Jones’s “pork tasting” pulls out all the stops by offering a three-way sampling of thyme- and shallot-infused grilled pork tenderloin, smoky Memphis-style pulled pork, and succulent, fall-off-the-bone baby backs. We generally prefer our ribs to put up a fight but the Asian spices and juicy texture more than compensate. Maple-sparked mashed sweet potatoes offer extra allure to this hog triptych. 3201 N. Halsted St.; 773-244-9191 [$20] 

BANANA BRIOCHE PUDDING
Jacky’s Bistro
Thick, eggy brioche, banana chunks, and swirls of caramel make this creative riff on classic bread pudding hugely satisfying. An added bonus: lovely, tart crispy citrus cookies as garnish. 2545 Prairie Ave., Evanston; 847-733-0899 [$7]

YELLOWFIN TUNA SASHIMI SALAD
Jane’s Restaurant
For raw tuna lovers accustomed to getting their fix in the form of tartare or sushi, this entrée-size salad is a dream come true. The ratio of fish to other ingredients is colossal: Generous slabs of gorgeous sashimi assume a starring role against an enjoyably spunky backdrop of avocado, red onion, and tomato in lime-ginger vinaigrette. 1655 W. Cortland St.; 773-862-5263 [$18]

COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS
Japonais
The pedestrian-sounding dessert seems out of place at a sophisticated sushi restaurant; but this playful take on traditional breakfast fare is a smart way to end the day. Channeling the best of both the East and the West, these doughy, chestnut-filled beignets are rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served warm alongside airy, mousse-like green tea semifreddo for dipping. 600 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-822-9600 [$9]

KIM BAP TE GIM
Jin Ju
If only all maki rolls were as good as this one. It’s a seaweed roll that’s been dipped in tempura batter, lightly flash-fried, stuffed with beef and veggies, and cut into eight thick pieces. And there’s something addictive about the burn of the dipping sauce, a dangerous combination of hot mustard and wasabi; best have a soothing sojutini at the ready. 5203 N. Clark St.; 773-334-6377 [$8.50]

FLORIDA STONE CRABS
Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
Sure, this is like recommending a burger at McDonald’s, but we can’t resist calling attention to them. They’re still the best, and they come with the original mustard sauce. Order the midsize claws at the midsize price—the jumbos, our waitress warned, are excessive: “Like fancy cigars and cars, just a lot of showing off.” 60 E. Grand Ave.; 312-379-5637 [$30] 

CARROT SOUP
Kaze
First thing: Use the rice cracker to scoop out and eat the Alaskan king crab meat, canapé-style. Then get ready for the dynamite carrot experience of your life. The small cup’s combination of puréed sweet carrot and white miso is rich and creamy, subtle and complex, delicate and peppery all at once. How do they do that? 2032 W. Roscoe St.; 773-327-4860 [$6]

FIG TART
Kevin
A crumbly cornmeal tart shell filled with chewy fig comes across as a gloriously nuanced version of the classic Fig Newton. A slightly sweet, slightly tangy mascarpone topping provides a light contrast to the density of the tart, as does the creamy ball of sour cream sorbet, while pecans provide a crunchy contrast. For the most memorable bite, dip some tart into the glistening pool of honey on the plate. 9 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0055 [$9]

TAMALE
La Humita
The corn-studded Ecuadorian riff on the tamale not only gives this cozy Avondale café its name but also turns up on every customer’s plate. Prepared directly from fresh corn (rather than masa) and mixed with queso fresco, it arrives enfolded in a steaming cornhusk. The result is moist, supple, slightly sweet, and thoroughly delicious. Want to notch it up? Request a hit of the feisty tree tomato-based salsa. 3466 N. Pulaski Rd.; 773-794-9672 [$2.50]

CINGHIALE BRASATO ALLA MAREMMANA (BRAISED WILD BOAR)
La Piazza
Hearty and packed with flavor, the tender, Chianti-infused meat falls apart at the touch of a fork. The boar mingles with a vegetable-laden mirepoix, which gives the dish a stewlike consistency, and the whole thing sits atop a soft polenta cake, which acts like a sponge to absorb the flavor of it all. 410 Circle Ave., Forest Park; 708-366-4010 [$24] 

VEAL KIDNEYS
La Sardine
Now don’t be put off. This bistro classic puts lots of chewy-tender bite-size nuggets of assertive kidney in a savory Madeira-informed Dijon cream sauce with a side of turned potatoes. Simply put, it’s a scrumptious dish that you might want to eat with a spoon to get all of the soupy sauce. Or ask for more bread to soak it up. 111 N. Carpenter St.; 312-421-2800 [$16.50] 

SZECHUAN SMOKED TEA DUCK
Lao Sze Chuan
You can have your mediocre Chinatown Peking duck; we’ll take this authentic Szechuan favorite. The rich, tender smoked tea duck isn’t the slightest bit greasy; its skin tastes great; and even the plum sauce is above average. Your tablemates will fight for it, so consider two orders to start. 2172 S. Archer Ave.; 312-326-5040 [$12] 

LICUADO
Las Tablas
Listed on the menu under “juices” or jugos naturales, this orchid-toned smoothie is the most soothing drink of the year. Subtly fruity and not too sweet, it’s like sipping a breeze from the tropics. The main ingredient is mora (blackberry) concentrate imported from Colombia, and be sure to request it con leche: Milk seems to add an extra dash of comfort. 2942 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-871-2414 [$3.50] 

ZUCCHINI-WRAPPED TILAPIA
Le Lan
Sensing an opportunity, Le Lan opened for lunch, and its French-Asian creations seem even more decadent in the light of day. Look into the seared tilapia wrapped in see-through zucchini slices, topped by a lovely vinaigrette sparked with diced sun-dried tomatoes, candied ginger, and flageolet beans. Substantial enough to satisfy, light enough that it won’t provoke a midday food coma. 749 N. Clark St.; 312-280-9100 [$16/lunch]

SOPES
Los Nopales
Cloaked with melted Chihuahua cheese, this duo of cornmeal-based cuties look like mini pizzas, but taste strictly south-of-the-border. From a handful of toppings, zero in on rajas con queso, a generous spread of roasted poblano peppers, and gobs of cheese all layered atop squat, thick disks of masa with a thin wash of frijoles. Rich, filling, and a lush alternative to the usual taco/tostada circuit. 4544 N. Western Ave.; 773-334-3149 [$2.50] 

CARPACCIO
Lovells of Lake Forest
With its heap of peppery arugula, shaved Parmesan, and citrus oil drizzle, chef James Lovell III’s classic carpaccio appetizer may look like any other, but its huge, beefy flavor sets it apart. Lovell goes the extra mile by dry-aging the meat himself and using New York strip loin instead of the traditional filet. You can taste the difference. 915 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest; 847-234-8013 [$15]

CHOCOLATE GÂTEAU
Lula Cafe
Lula’s ever-changing menu is stocked with hidden treasures—for example, the astoundingly good dark chocolate gâteau. It’s cut into two long slivers, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and flanked by rich crème fraîche ice cream sporting a wispy cocoa tuile. The cake is warm and decadent; its flavors, so pure. Seven dollars is a small price to pay for perfection. 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.; 773-489-9554  [$7]

 

Plate from CB2

 

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