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.

With Kim Conte, Miriam Gottfried, Penny Pollack, Jeff Ruby, and Nathaniel Zimmer
Photography by Leonard Gertz

There’s a certain look a dining critic gets when a compelling menu item turns out to be as good as it sounded. It’s a goofy grin that says, “Hey, I didn’t think I could be surprised anymore.” In the past year, our reviewers tasted roughly 5,000 dishes and still found themselves flabbergasted. Sometimes perfection popped up in unexpected places, such as in Flamingo’s fish tacos; other times the spark came from exotica like Riccardo Trattoria’s hearty tripe Florentine. The true pleasure of the quest, though, lies in the discovery of stunning creations—beer jam-glazed quail with aged Gruyère at Vie comes to mind. Here are 124 such revelations. In the words of a not-so-great poet, eat ’em and smile.


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Lamb Wellington from One Sixtyblue

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF

GREEN GARLIC SOUP WITH WILD MORSELS
Aigre Doux
Who knew garlic could be so mild and soothing? Aigre Doux’s confident servers pour a creamy, subtle green garlic broth tableside over a little mound of chopped fresh morels to make a palate-pleasing soup. For diners who love both morels and subdued garlic essence, it’s sensational—when chef Islam can get his hands on enough green garlic to make it. 230 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9400 [$12] 

POLENTA FRITA
Al Primo Canto
Deep-fried polenta sticks are the highlight of this sleek new Brazilian spot. The crisp, golden-hued beauties could easily be mistaken for hefty french fries, yet they taste like a cross between corn pudding and hush puppies. A dusting of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano contributes just the right garnish. Could easily make a meal of these, and you can, but they are also one segment of a $30 all-you-can-eat feast. 5414 W. Devon Ave.; 773-631-0100 [$4/side]

PINEAPPLE WITH BACON POWDER
Alinea
Another Grant Achatz dish that’s so amazing looking, you just stare at it gaga. Served on a paddle and shaped like a miniature pillow, it’s constructed out of dried pineapple coated in smoky bacon powder and black pepper, then covered with a thin crust of pineapple “glass.” Follow instructions and pop the whole thing in your mouth; you’ll be glad you did. 1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110 [$195 tour menu]

CRAB RANGOON
Always Thai
These delicate cream cheese and faux crab-filled gems make others seem overly thick and leaden. Served whistling hot, the light melt of cheese blends perfectly with flaky, nearly transparent wrappers. For an extra splash of flavor, dunk into accompanying sweet-sour sauce. Eight to an order, but we bet you’ll want more. 1825 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-929-0100 [$5] 

GOLDEN CUPS
Amarind’s
Pop-in-the-mouth Thai treats look almost too adorable to eat. Don’t let that stop you. The crisp-battered, dainty petal-like cups come stocked to the top with a colorful medley of corn, peas, shrimp, cilantro, and shiitake mushrooms. Count on plenty of action in each bite. 6822 W. North Ave.; 773-889-9999 [$7]

PANNA COTTA
Anteprima
This Piedmontese standard literally means “cooked cream,” but one too many lumpy panna cottas threatened to put us off the trail for good. Then we found Anteprima’s flawless version, a terrific, creamy dome of smooth vanilla that all but disappears on your tongue. We’re back. 5316 N. Clark St.; 773-506-9990 [$6]

GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS AND FINGERLING POTATO SALAD
Aria
Aria captures the essence of Mediterranean cuisine within the confines of one plate. Delicate, feathery mizuna is topped with warm potatoes and perfectly crusted octopus with supremely tender flesh. Preserved lemon brightens the dish, and the earthy tang of black truffle vinaigrette adds the perfect finishing touch. Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus Dr.; 312-444-9494 [$14]

THAI BITE-SIZED SALAD
Arun’s
This tiny dish may pack more flavors and textures per square inch than any other in Chicago. A fresh betel nut leaf is topped with toasted coconut flakes, bits of dried shrimp, ginger, lime, shallots, peanuts, and slices of Thai hot chili peppers. The friendly waitress warned us about the superhot chilis, then instructed us to add two spoonfuls of pungent caramelized tamarind-coconut sauce, wrap it up, and eat it in one big bite. It’s an amazing mouthful. 4156 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-539-1909 [$85/12-part dinner] 

ROASTED SQUAB
Avenues
Deep-red rare squab breast is pan-seared with a basting of butter and thyme. Then it’s sliced and arranged with truffled ricotta topped with shaved truffles and a salad of wild Washington State huckleberries and micro greens seasoned with light honey vinaigrette and truffle oil. A sensational presentation from a sensational restaurant. The Peninsula Chicago, 108 E. Superior St.; 312-573-6754 [$17/tasting portion]

ROASTED RED PEPPERS
Azucar Tapas Restaurant & Cocktail Bar 
What do you get when you roll an artfully cut, roasted, and peeled red pepper around an earthy blend of Mahón, tetilla, and manchego cheeses, mushrooms, and herbs? A shareable plate of elegant comfort food. The lemon chickpea purée and a fennel-parsley salad add to the yum factor: a clear-cut case of more is more. 2647 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-486-6464 [$9] 

EGGPLANT PARMESAN
Ballo
Lovers of lightly battered and fried, melt-in-your-mouth, marinara-topped, oozing-with-mozzarella baked eggplant, unite. And declare this congenial River North hangout your headquarters before the rest of the city gets in on your secret. 445 N. Dearborn St.; 312-832-7700 [$18] 

TEMPURA GREEN BEANS
Bin Wine Cafe
Not eating enough vegetables? Add this appetizer to your diet. Crisp string beans are lightly fried in golden tempura, zested with lemon rind, and served with a side of rich aïoli made with citrus zest and a bit of honey to cut the bitterness. It’s an excellent source of iron and vitamin C, and more than satisfies the USDA-recommended daily fat intake. 1559 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-486-2233 [$8/two people; $13 for four]

ROASTED CHICKEN
Bistro Campagne
Those who deny the superiority of organic products obviously have not feasted on chef Michael Altenberg’s organic roast chicken in savory wild mushroom ragoût topped with some of Chicago’s best onion frites. The chicken, with its pristine, juicy flesh and layered fat content, is so popular that Altenberg is afraid to take it off the menu lest he face a revolt by angry customers. 4518 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-271-6100 [$19]

 

Plate from CB2

 

 


Pheasant hot dog from Hot Doug’s

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF

SHORT RIB RAVIOLI
Bistro Monet
There are people who love Bistro Monet—we’ve overheard them lavishing praise on the chef on their way out the door. We’re not so swept away, though there’s no denying the appeal of his short rib ravioli. Dressed in mushroom cream sauce with a splash of Madeira and topped with a barely there layer of melted Gruyère cheese, the al dente pasta hides ultratender strands of meat. It’s retro Franco-Italian, in the best possible way. 462 Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn; 630-469-4002 [$10.50] 

VEAL SWEETBREADS
Blackbird
Chef de cuisine Michael Sheerin’s thick slab of sweetbreads is rendered perfectly browned and crisp outside, moist and tender inside. He serves a giant lobe with ribbons of frizzled carrots (from Green Acres Farm), preserved lemon-hazelnut yogurt, candied caraway, and soft red beets. A wonderful way to get your DCA: daily cholesterol allotment. 619 W. Randolph St.; 312-715-0708 [$13] 

CALIFORNIA SUNSET MAKI
Blu Coral
We’re tired of overly precious maki inventions that look more like anime fantasies than food. This one manages to be both gorgeous and mouthwatering, a circle of salmon and salmon roe over snow crab meat with sweet miso sauce that resembles an edible red twilight over the Pacific. 6320 S. Rte. 53, Woodridge; 630-719-8808 [$13] 

VEAL CHEEKS
Boka
Homemade wasabi mustard sauce tops one veal cheek roulade; red wine/horseradish mustard jazzes the other. Once you dig in, the sauces seep into the impossibly tender meat, mix splendidly with the purée of runner beans, and serve as a warm dressing for the grilled treviso (radicchio) on the plate. It’s hard to decide which morsel to save for last. 1729 N. Halsted St.; 312-337-6070 [$24]

THE SUN ALSO RISES
Bourgeois Pig Café
This popular sandwich at Lincoln Park’s perennial coffeehouse doesn’t conjure up bullfights and fiestas, but it’s a culinary work of genius in its own right. Smoked turkey, melted Swiss cheese, hummus, and red onion are grilled to perfection on crusty, thick sun-dried tomato bread. It’s somehow impossible to replicate at home—trust us; we’ve tried. 738 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-883-5282 [$8]

MOULES MARINIÈRES
Cafe Matou
Sweet and silky mussels get an accent of rustic spice after they’re cooked in pinot noir, lending a rounder and deeper flavor than what you get with more commonly used white wines. Star anise contributes a hauntingly exotic herbal tone. This is simple bistro fare transformed into a serious dish. 1846 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-384-8911 [$10.25] 

WOOD-ROASTED ARTICHOKES
Cafe Spiaggia
Tossed with parsley, garlic, lemon, and roasted bread crumbs, the tender, earthy sections of slow-roasted small artichoke hearts come just slightly browned and totally enjoyable. It’s a classic Italian dish executed perfectly. 980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750 [$12] 

FRIED CHICKEN
Chalkboard
There are plenty of reasons to visit Gilbert Langlois’s genteel and Southern-ish boîte in Lincoln Square. Just make sure someone at the table orders the fried chicken, cracklin’ good, unbelievably juicy on the inside, and served with blessedly unreinterpreted sides—buttermilk mashed potatoes, collards, and a creamy white gravy—that hit the nail square on the head. 4343 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-477-7144 [$19]

GRILLED RED PLUMS
Charlie Trotter’s
Twenty years in, Charlie’s vegetable tasting menu still amazes. Here’s a perfect example, which you’d be lucky to find on hand: Grilled red plum halves star with a supporting cast of poached elephant garlic, amaranth, Swiss chard, and Thai long pepper-infused merlot. The dish brilliantly breaks all expectations about fruits and vegetables, grains and spices, and does so deliciously. 816 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-248-6228 [$130 vegetable dégustation] 

PAN-SEARED WALLEYE
Chef’s Station
Set on a bed of sweet peas with corn ragoût and grilled scallions, two juicy, lightly browned fillets are delicately flavored under their restrained cloak of sweet paprika beurre blanc. A scattering of crisp fried spinach leaves completes the picture. 935 Davis St., Evanston; 847-570-9821 [$28] 

COGNAC-FLAVORED MONKFISH LIVER
Chiyo
Often called the “foie gras of the sea,” monkfish liver displays fatty richness similar to that of its terrestrial counterpart. Chiyo presents it as ann-kimo, poached in Cognac and served in a martini glass with pickle garnish—smooth and decadent, yet not at all fishy. 3800 W. Lawrence Ave.; 773-267-1555 [$8]

PORCINI RISOTTO
Coco Pazzo
Chicago is full of places palming off mushy, soupy rice casseroles under the name of risotto. But this is the real deal: A fine, firm, nutty texture showcases the flavor of earthy fresh porcini accented with Parmigiano-Reggiano. 300 W. Hubbard St.; 312-836-0900 [$24] 

QUINOA-CORN JOHNNYCAKES
Crofton on Wells
Amid her meaty American menu, Suzy Crofton always includes nice, creative vegetarian selections. We’re die-hard carnivores, but whenever we see the delightful quinoa and corn johnnycakes, the size and shape of silver-dollar pancakes, with chanterelles, sweet corn emulsion, and poblano oil, we go vege for the evening. 535 N. Wells St.; 312-755-1790 [$12]

MO MO DUMPLINGS
Curry Hut
Nepalese cooking isn’t exactly the in cuisine around town, but Curry Hut’s Indian menu includes authentic dishes from this remote Himalayan country. Delectable mo mo dumplings of spiced minced chicken reflect a Chinese influence via Tibet, but the accompanying mustardlike Nepali achar sauce delivers a kick more like Indian chutney. 410 Sheridan Rd., Highwood; 847-432-2889 [$8] 

RABBIT BRAISED IN ROOT VEGETABLES
Custom House
Custom House braises the boneless leg and thigh of a Swan Creek Farms rabbit in root vegetables with pearl onions and serves them in a cast-iron pot with mustard spätzle. Brilliant. Adding to the contrasting textures and tastes is a side of boneless saddle of rabbit wrapped in thinly sliced house-made bacon. 500 S. Dearborn St.; 312-523-0200 [$26]

TROPICAL FRUIT SPRING ROLL
D & J Bistro
You might be tempted to order a bistro classic such as profiteroles or crème brûlée, but then you’d be missing out on one of D & J’s tastiest desserts. Passion fruit mousse is rolled with fresh strawberries in rice paper and topped with refreshing mango coulis and a raspberry drizzle. Completely unexpected and disarmingly pretty, this hits the spot. 466 S. Rand Rd., Lake Zurich; 847-438-8001 [$6.50]

 

Plate from Willow

 

 


Toffee sugar cookies from Sarah’s Pastries & Candies

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF

BONE-IN FILET MIGNON
David Burke’s Primehouse
Filet is always the blandest beef on a steak-house menu, its virtues being tenderness and leanness. The “South Side” filet mignon at Burke’s is different: a noticeably marbled 20-ounce specimen dry-aged for three weeks in the salt-tiled aging room downstairs. It’s cut higher up on the hip than most filets and includes a huge bone that bolsters the flavor. Only two come from each steer, and one should be yours. The James, 616 N. Rush St.; 312-660-6000 [$44]

WHITE SHRIMP SEVICHE
DeLaCosta
So dedicated to seviche is DeLaCosta, it devotes a whole bar to the stuff. The best consists of split Ecuadorian white shrimp swathed in zippy charred tomato sauce and cilantro on avocado slices. And instead of tortilla chips you get sides of corn nuts and popcorn flavored with esplet, a Spanish pepper. The crunchy accompaniments are weird, but oddly appropriate. 465 E. Illinois St.; 312-464-1700 [$12]

SAUTÉED CALF’S LIVER
E. J.’s Place
Funny thing: Sometimes it’s not the beef that you dream about at a steak house. At E. J.’s, hefty slices of tender sautéed calf’s liver, beautifully browned, with thick slices of bacon and a pile of sautéed onions, bow to no hunk of aged beef. 10027 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; 847-933-9800 [$25.50] 

PUMPKIN TAMALE
El Sueño
Snobs may pooh-pooh the supersweet, from-a-can pumpkin-pie filling, but the tamale itself is admirably light, and nobody can say a word against El Sueño’s thick, smoky toma-tillo salsa. Put the two together and you’ve got a haunting New World marriage of sweet and savory. 9850 Milwaukee Ave., Des Plaines; 847-298-9090 [$4.50] 

GINGER STOUT CAKE
Entourage
Steak-house desserts take a deliciously different turn with this unusual cake, made with oatmeal stout and layered with candied pineapple. It’s topped with a coating of stout-flavored rice pudding and coconut macaroons. 1301 American Ln., Schaumburg; 847-995-9400 [$10]

COLORADO RACK OF LAMB
Everest
We had a hard time singling out one dish at Jean Joho’s 40th-floor standout, but these three plump chops, cooked medium rare, were impeccably tender and tasty. A side of mint pistou elevated the proceedings, as did potatoes roasted with lardons and pearl onions, and a separate pour of lamb jus. For a kicker, there’s a silky-smooth garlic flan. Beautiful, luscious, and not overfussy. 440 S. LaSalle St., 40th floor; 312-663-8920 [$79/three-course menu]

SCRAMBLED EGGS AND SHRIMP
Evergreen
This is not designed as a breakfast dish, though it would be welcome on a fantasy Chinese brunch menu. Eggs are softly scrambled in a little corn oil with lots of small peeled shrimp. That’s all there is to it, but a visit for lunch or dinner is incomplete without a plate of these on the table. 2411 S. Wentworth Ave.; 312-225-8898 [$11.25] 

COD CHEEK PO’ BOY
The Fishguy Market
Fish cheeks, in case you’ve never indulged, are among the most marvelous of the sea’s fruits—perfectly portioned morsels that marry their texture and flavor with that of a scallop. Here, they’re deep-fried in the lightest of jackets and stuffed into a rémoulade-slathered soft roll. Couldn’t be easier; could hardly be better. 4423 N. Elston Ave.; 773-283-7400 [$9] 

FISH TACOS
Flamingo’s Seafood Restaurant
A good fish taco is hard to find in the city, let alone the suburbs. So Mt. Prospect residents should thank their stars for this Mexican seafood spot, where they can get three fresh, perfectly cooked fillets, each on its own pair of corn tortillas, elevated by a squiggle of chipotle mayo, a sprinkling of pico de gallo, and a mound of chipotle-tinged jicama slaw. 1590 S. Busse Rd., Mt. Prospect; 847-364-9988 [$16] 

CAPRESE SALAD
Follia
The two rounds of fresh buffalo milk mozzarella on every order are shipped express from Italy. They’re tangy, with gossamer shells encasing a softer interior; herbed olive oil, a small sliced tomato, and a sprig of basil merely reassert the glory of these heavenly orbs. Simple and dreamy. 953 W. Fulton Market; 312-243-2888 [$16] 

TORTA LAVA
Francesca’s on Taylor
Molten lava cakes are a dime a dozen, but Francesca’s decadent dark chocolate version is refreshing in more ways than one. It not only oozes warm chocolate sauce from the center; it’s also paired with raspberry sauce, fresh berries, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. This one gets serious props for creativity and cleansing the palate. 1400 W. Taylor St.; 312-829-2828 [$6]

FLAN DE MIEL Y FLORES
Frontera Grill
As ubiquitous in Mexican restaurants as tortillas, flan takes the edge off a spicy meal. But Rick Bayless’s creamy version incorporates complex-yet-delicate floral overtones of lavender honey and then anchors it in intense blackberry salsa. A perfect ending to a peerless Mexican meal. 445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434 [$7.50]

DEVILED EGGS
Fulton’s on the River
Long cherished as an indulgent picnic treat, deviled eggs don’t get much more opulent than these. Five of them arrive drizzled with white truffle oil and topped smartly with osetra caviar. An appetizer this good threatens to make the rest of the meal mundane by comparison. 315 N. LaSalle St.; 312-822-0100 [$15] 

OSSO BUCO
Gabriel’s
A superb version of an Italian classic, the long-braised and fork-tender shank is served on a bed of aromatic golden risotto flecked with saffron, and surrounded by a pool of rich veal sauce. The whole production is top-notch, and the small fork provided for marrow is a nice touch. 310 Green Bay Rd., Highwood; 847-433-0031 [$33.75] 

MUSSELS IN VINDALOO SAUCE
The Gage
This savory concoction is about as far from traditional mussels marinara as you can get. A generous bowl holding more than two dozen plump mollusks gets a real punch from the smooth, brothy sauce, and after the mussels have been emptied from their shells, a server brings a spoon to finish what amounts to spectacular vindaloo seafood soup. 24 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-372-4243 [$10] 

PAPAS RELLENAS
Habana Libre
A specialty of Havana, these billiard ball-size rounds of breaded and golden-fried fluffy mashed potatoes come grease-free. The hefty balls are stuffed with seasoned ground beef. They’re HL’s forte: Real Cuban comfort food, done right. 1440 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-243-3303 [$3]

APPLE FRITTERS
Hopleaf
You could drink at Andersonville’s beloved Hopleaf for years and never know these deep-fried fellows existed. The reason? They don’t appear on the menu. But once you’ve had the pleasure of biting through crisp batter into the sweet, steaming flesh of thick-cut Granny Smith apples, you’ll be able to think of little else. 5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851 [$7] 

HALF & HALF
HotChocolate
Caffeine junkies and hot chocolate addicts are not always one and the same. But for those who can’t get enough of either, this aptly named concoction—a 50/50 blend of espresso and dark-as-night hot chocolate—is like mainlining both. Imagine biting into a chocolate-covered espresso bean, but without the crunch. 1747 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-1747 [$6]

PHEASANT HOT DOG
Hot Doug’s
Doug Sohn’s “Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium” is already a local legend, as the long lines attest. The exotic daily specials are a big reason; a favorite in the past year is the goji berry pheasant sausage served on a bun with jerk mayonnaise and cheese-stuffed sweet peppers. If Sohn runs it on a Friday or Saturday, you can double up with a side of terrific duck-fat fries. 3324 N. California Ave.; 773-279-9550 [$7] 

MINI FILET SANDWICHES
Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House
This may be the only thing on Rush Street that qualifies as small. Miniature cuts of melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon are finished with a touch of butter and sandwiched in soft white rolls, perfectly soggied by well-seasoned jus. It’s an upscale twist on the slider that can curb even the most killer attack of the munchies. 1024 N. Rush St.; 312-640-0999 [$12]

GRILLED VEGETABLES
Il Covo
Look for grigliata di vegetali e scamorza on the menu. That’s Italian for grilled vegetables and scamorza—and that’s exactly what you get: grilled radicchio, grilled asparagus, warm, crusty cheese in the middle, and balsamic drizzled all around. It’s as straightforward as it sounds, but man, this appetizer rocks. 2152 N. Damen Ave.; 773-862-5555 [$13]

CHILLED TOMATO SOUP
Il Fiasco
Puréed tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and a crunchy cucumber dice are about all you need to know about this party-in-your-mouth soup. Oregano and basil pull the garden-fresh flavors together, and a splash of white wine vinegar adds a touch of class. One more detail: It’s a summer thing, so tape this page to your refrigerator. 5101 N. Clark St.; 773-769-9700 [$4]

CHICKEN RESHIMI KEBAB
India House
It’s hard to find a version of this North Indian mainstay juicier or more flavorful than the one at India House. Six or so pieces of boneless white chicken are simmered in buttercream and cashew nut paste, then skewered and baked in the tandoor. Served off the skewer, the tender morsels capture the complex essence of the cuisine. 59 W. Grand Ave.; 312-645-9500 [$15]

 

Plates from CB2

 

 


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

 

 


Yellowfin tuna sashimi salad from Jane’s Restaurant

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF

FANNIE’S KILLER FRIED EGG SANDWICH
M. Henry
Now, this is the way to start your day. Fry two eggs, fluffy and over-medium, and encase them in slices of rustic sour boule (a round white bread). Throw in some smoky applewood bacon and perfectly ripened tomato slices. Crumble Gorgonzola and fresh thyme on your sandwich, and enjoy. Or just go to M. Henry and order one. 5707 N. Clark St.; 773-561-1600 [$8.25] 

DUCK LEG DUM
Marigold
Similar to a confit in texture, this North Indian duck is cooked dum-style (pot roasted) and served with wonderful, big spiced green beans stir-fried in a kadhai (Indian wok) and a zingy tomato chutney. Generous enough for an entrée, here it’s disguised as an appetizer. 4832 N. Broadway; 773-293-4653 [$11] 

ESCARGOTS
May Street Market
The undulating white plate is your first hint that this is not a typical dusty version of the French classic. A recessed area in the plate’s center holds plenty of plump, juicy snails and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms swimming in a deep, deep burgundy shallot thyme sauce. A bonus: In the soup, and high-and-dry on the sides, are yummy yellow corn fritters. 1132 W. Grand Ave.; 312-421-5547 [$14]

STUFFED LAMB
Maza
It’s not on the menu, but this frequent special is possibly the most satisfying item of Lebanese fare offered by owner/head chef/server Joe Kuri. He cooks tender cubes of savory lamb in red wine and allspice and serves them over rice with toasted pine nuts and almonds. One whiff of this intoxicating, aromatic dish and you’ll never bother with the menu again. 2748 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-929-9600 [$16]

EMERALD ISLE SKILLET
Meli Cafe
Greektown would probably not be anyone’s first guess as a primo hash-house locale, but this bright and spiffy morning spot dishes up a doozy. Sizzled and served in a long-handled skillet, clumps of juicy, just-salty-enough beef mingle delectably with crisp, tender diced potatoes and nubs of onion. Two eggs—your way—add décor and flavor. Mix it all up for best results. 301 S. Halsted St.; 312-454-0748 [$9] 

CHILLED SOUP DUO
Michael
The Tao of Michael is a big, shallow bowl with a yin/yang design separated by a delightful warm crab cake. On the yin side is a thick, creamy tomato soup; the yang is an equally thick fennel concoction. Apart, they’re pretty good, but get both on the same spoon and the flavor deepens exponentially. Get part of that crab cake on there, too, and you’ll see stars. 64 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka; 847-441-3100 [$11]

HUEVOS RANCHEROS
Milk & Honey Café
On weekends the line outside Milk & Honey is halfway around the block, but it’s worth it for a crack at this steaming south-of-the-border brunch favorite. Scrambled eggs, black beans, tortilla strips, and salsa are served casserole-style under a blanket of baked Cheddar and Monterey Jack with a zesty side of chipotle crema. And order a fresh, crusty chocolate-and-toffee scone to tide you over while you wait. 1920 W. Division St.; 773-395-9434 [$6.25]

HONMAGURO OTORO SASHIMI
Mirai Sushi
Ignore the ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce: This smooth, creamy fatty bluefin tuna slides down the throat like butter. It’s meaty, succulent, and slightly sweet, but like most other delicacies it doesn’t come cheap—at $12, it’s double the price of some other sashimi selections. But that buys you two sizable chunks of some of the finest seafood in Chicago. 2020 W. Division St.; 773-862-8500 [$12] 

SUMASHI MUSHROOM SOUP
Mizu
Shiitake, oyster, eringi, and enoki mushrooms float in a steaming bowl of clear sienna-colored broth. Big deal, you think. Well, it is. Somehow the innocuous-looking soup possesses amazingly deep and rich flavors, and the real-deal mushrooms put the Green Giant to shame. 315 W. North Ave.; 312-951-8883 [$4.50]

YELLOWFIN TUNA TARTARE
MK
Made with eco-friendly yellowfin tuna, this round cylinder of minced fish tartare is not your typical tuna tartare. Topped with a whitecap of soft celery root rémoulade and garnished with a relish of whole Moroccan oil-cured olives, herbs, and olive oil, every component of this dish is delicious, yet works with the others in harmony. It’s an MK classic. 868 N. Franklin St.; 312-482-9179 [$15]

RASPBERRY SOUFFLÉ
Morton’s
Dessert soufflés are notoriously difficult to make, but at Morton’s the raspberry number is a masterpiece of fruity confection, delightfully eggy and airy and quivering tall above the dish. Plated tableside, it’s presented with a scoop of rich Marsala whipped cream. One Westbrook Corporate Center, Westchester; 708-562-7000 [$14.50]

ROYAL FAMILY DOSAI
Mysore Woodlands
As long as your arm, this astounding South Indian folded rice-and-lentil crêpe comes astride two side-by-side platters. Nicely browned and light, crisp outside and slightly spongy inside, it’s stuffed with lots of aromatically spiced potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peas, and carrots. It takes a table of four to have any hope of finishing one—so grab three friends and get to Devon. 2548 W. Devon Ave.; 773-338-8160 [$12] 

EL CORAZÓN
Nacional 27
Margaritas and sangría pale in comparison to this sexy crimson cocktail. Tequila walks a tightrope between fruity sweetness (from pomegranate and passion fruit) and spicy heat (from a rim of salt and peppercorns). This impressive balancing act deserves a friendly word of caution: It’s hard to have just one. 325 W. Huron St.; 312-664-2727 [$12]

FROG LEGS
Niche
They’re crisp, they’re ungreasy, and they’re unlike any frog legs you’ve ever had. First off, there’s that tangle of yuzu (citron) vinaigrette-dressed baby spinach they’re resting on. Then you’ve got four tasty dipping sauces for the juicy meat: teriyaki glaze, spicy mustard, yuzu sweet chili, and passion fruit ginger. An inspired treatment. 14 S. Third St., Geneva; 630-262-1000 [$8]

PAN-SEARED HAWAIIAN KAJIKI
NoMI
When it comes to fish, fine Chicago restaurants are forever trying to out-exotic one another. NoMI’s pan-seared Hawaiian kajiki, known elsewhere as blue marlin, is the pinnacle. White-fleshed but similar to tuna in flavor, the thick square of firm, juicy fish is over celery root purée, under tagliatelle of celery, and truffle jus is all around. Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-239-4030 [$42]

 

Plate from Material Possessions

 

 


Deviled eggs from Fulton’s on the River

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF

LAMB WELLINGTON
One Sixtyblue
Executive chef Martial Noguier wraps thick medium-rare lamb loin medallions in savoy cabbage—a nod to Alsace—and then in thin crisp pastry. The whole shebang comes on a purée of sweet potatoes with cipolline onions and roasted garlic. An excellent retro dish done with finesse. 1400 W. Randolph St.; 312-850-0303 [$32]

CHAI TEA FRENCH TOAST
Orange
This dessert-like breakfast doesn’t skimp on the sugar. Golden, ricotta-stuffed slabs of chai tea-infused French toast are bathed in an intensely sweet chai-tea reduction sauce and topped with caramelized apples. Syrup is not only unnecessary—at this point, it’s a liability. 3231 N. Clark St.; 773-549-4400 [$9]

FRIED OYSTERS
Phoenix
You know those big scary oysters you can get in Chinatown? Here’s what the chefs at Phoenix do with them. They perfectly bread and fry them crisp on the outside, somehow managing to keep them juicy and full of ocean flavor inside. There’s no shame in using a knife and fork for these beasts. 2131 S. Archer Ave.; 312-328-0848 [$12]

EGGS BENEDICT
Prairie Grass Cafe
This version of the tired brunch staple is an excellent demonstration of how to update a classic. Two well-poached eggs wobble atop a layer of vibrant sautéed spinach; smoky-salty nuggets of premium Nueske’s bacon season the dish from the inside out; and the roasted-tomato hollandaise hits a tangy, unifying high note. 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook; 847-205-4433 [$10.50]

SHANGHAI-STYLE WHOLE CATFISH
Red Light
Red Light’s signature seafood offering takes the concept of “fish fry” to a whole new, lifelike level. Chef Jackie Shen batters and deep-fries an enormous whole catfish, then presents it dorsal-fin-side up in a way that suggests it might swim right off your plate. Filleted tableside, the lush, steaming meat is well matched with an aromatic red vinegar sweet-and-sour sauce. 820 W. Randolph St.; 312-733-8880 [$34]

TRIPE FLORENTINE
Riccardo Trattoria
You’d be hard pressed to find this classic Tuscan dish at any other restaurant in  Chicago. Thin strips of veal honeycomb tripe are braised with onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, garlic, white wine, a smidgen of smoked bacon, and basil. Topped with grated Parmesan, this rendition exemplifies true Tuscan heartiness, right in the heart of Lincoln Park. 2119 N. Clark St.; 773-549-0038 [$16]

GINGERBREAD PEAR CAKE
Sage Grille
The idea of the pineapple upside-down cake, an American classic, gets turned sideways with this gingerbread and pear upside-down cake. Moist gingerbread topped with glazed poached pears and golden raisins comes with cinnamon crème anglaise and fresh pear sorbet. After a few bites, you’ll never look back. 260 Green Bay Rd., Highwood; 847-433-7005 [$8]

JICAMA PANCAKES
Salbute
When Salbute’s chef Edgar Rodriguez ran out of spuds while making potato pancakes for his nieces at home, he reached for the next best thing—jicama—and his signature dessert was born. Light and fluffy, these delicate, sweet, and starchy pancakes pair beautifully with purple tomatillo sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. All accidents should turn out so well. 20 E. First St., Hinsdale; 630-920-8077 [$9.50]

CRAB CAKES (also in entrée portions)
Sam & Harry’s
A world better than at most steak houses, these thick, crabby crab cakes are held together with aïoli—no filler—and served with sharp and addictive lemon tartar sauce. They come in appetizer and entrée portions, and you might be tempted to order both. Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center, 1551 N. Thoreau Dr., Schaumburg; 847-303-4050 [$14/appetizer; $28/entrée]

CAPPELLACCI
Sapori Trattoria
Six gorgeous, rustic, hand-formed pasta packets, bursting with lighter-than-air pumpkin filling, would likely taste delish on their own. Throw in fried sage leaves, sautéed pine nuts, and a dice of cara-melized squash on a plate awash in burnt butter sauce and accept the fact that you have no willpower. 2701 N. Halsted St.; 773-832-9999 [$17]

TOFFEE SUGAR COOKIES
Sarah’s Pastries & Candies
Big squares of sweet—but not too sweet—chewy goodness move toffee out of the candy case and onto the cookie plate. They come plain or tantalizingly half dipped in chocolate. Do what you want, but there’s really no contest. 70 E. Oak St.; 312-664-6223 [$16/pound]

 

Plate from CB2

 

 


Tropical fruit spring roll from D & J Bistro

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF

ROTISSERIE CHICKEN
Semiramis
Before hoisting his fowl onto the rotisserie, Beirut native Joseph Abraham soaks them for a day in a potion of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cayenne pepper, and thyme. The outcome is sublime—crackly skin shrouds moist, tender, lemon-zipped flesh. Head to this Albany Park BYO early, as the chickens often stop clucking by 7 p.m.—or be smart and call ahead to reserve one. 4639 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-279-8900 [$7] 

GOAT CHEESE MOUSSE
Sequel
Chef Matthew Sayers, over from Les Nomades, created this sweet-tart flavor bomb. Snowy goat cheese mousse tops off sweet lemon pastry with fresh strawberries surrounded by rich and unusual Oloroso sherry sabayon. It’s one of those desserts that make you want to picture-message your friends to make them jealous. Curb your high-tech enthusiasm and just eat it. 44 Yorktown Convenience Center, Lombard; 630-629-6560 [$9]

CLAMS IN BLACK BEAN SAUCE
Silver Seafood
Equal parts earthy and oceanic, this huge pile of tender clams bathe in a smoky sauce made of fermented black beans, soy, garlic, ginger, and hot pepper slices. The dish is a complex union, and an example of the fresh, authentic Cantonese-style cooking that sets Silver Seafood apart from 99 percent of the Chinese American spots out there. 4829 N. Broadway; 773-784-0668 [$12]

BRISKET SANDWICH
Smoque BBQ
The pit masters at this neighborhood joint smoke their meat for 15 hours, then dust it with a seasoned spice rub. Moist, tender, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, the sandwich comes sliced or chopped. Go for the sliced—but ask for plenty of burnt ends to be mixed into the succulent stack of meat. Then pour on the vinegary, homemade North Carolina-style sauce, roll up your sleeves, and eat the crispies like popcorn as they fall out of the brioche-like bun every time you pick it up for your next bite. 3800 N. Pulaski Rd.; 773-545-7427 [$6.45]

SHORT RIBS
Sola
Flavored with hoisin, lemongrass, and soy sauce—unexpected Asian touches that work wonders—Carol Wallack’s boneless short ribs rest atop bursting sesame snow peas and shredded mushrooms. For meat lovers who get bored with a 40-ounce porterhouse, this intricate dish is pure beef pleasure. 3868 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-327-3868 [$24] 

TUNA MELT
Southport Grocery
Based on a unique mixture of albacore tuna, white beans, feta, olives, and red onion, topped with a roasted tomato slice, and covered in rich Grassfield’s chive Gouda (available in the café’s adjoining grocery), this updated comfort classic belies its ordinary name. It comes with a light artichoke salad doused in a vegetable marinade, and the whole shebang will leave you unabashedly licking your plate clean. 3552 N. Southport Ave.; 773-665-0100 [$9]

ANTIPASTO DE MELANZANE
Spacca Napoli
Yeah, Spacca is a pizzeria, and a great one, but try the eggplant appetizer, which is fried, sliced into wide ribbons, and sautéed in a house-made marinara sauce with basil leaves. The result is a rich combination of sweetness and smoky depth with a hint of peppery zing and a sharp acidic edge. 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.; 773-878-2420 [$4.50] 

SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA WITH LOBSTER
Spiaggia
For years, Spiaggia has offered the long, thick handcrafted guitar (chitarra) string pasta in various guises; this version outshines them all. Sweet, beautiful lobster claw and chunks of tail meat get tossed with garlic, house-dried cherry tomatoes, and wild arugula. The whole composition shows a lot of, um, pluck. 980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750 [$29]

BARRAMUNDI WITH GNOCCHI
Spring
Only recently seen on Chicago fine restaurant menus, this Australian fish sports an exotic Aboriginal name and beguiling flavor. Spring’s treatment is perhaps the best, pan-searing the white flesh, dressing it up with punchy and elegant Maine lobster curry, and serving it alongside soft potato-Parmesan gnocchi with cilantro pesto and citrus. Another of chef Shawn McClain’s stunners. 2039 W. North Ave.; 773-395-7100 [$32]

SMOKED TROUT SALAD
Sushi Wabi
So much attention is lavished on Sushi Wabi’s flashy monster maki rolls that it’s easy to skip over this sleeper. Generous pieces of firm, fresh smoked trout are folded in light mayo flecked with sweet, crunchy Fuji apples—plus a side of crispy won ton chips, ideal for scooping. 842 W. Randolph St.; 312-563-1224 [$8]

DUCK LEG CONFIT SALAD
Sweets & Savories
An American bistro-style gem, this salad takes savory pulled duck leg confit and pairs it with fennel, baby frisée, and Belgian endive. The clincher is the terrific Indiana goat cheese added to the well-conceived composition, which hints at just how good a chef David Richards can be. 1534 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-281-6778 [$14]

GOAT CHEESE BISCUITS
Table Fifty-Two
Served piping hot in a mini cast-iron skillet from Art Smith’s wood-burning oven, these soft and flaky homemade biscuits are an incredible start to the meal. Ask for seconds, but not thirds—such an auspicious beginning only hints at the wondrous (and filling) Southern creations to follow. 52 W. Elm St.; 312-573-4000 [free]

TORTILLA SOUP
Taquería Moran
Unassuming little Logan Square beanery, popular with hipsters and Latino families alike, brews a mean pot of sopa. Chock full of crunchy tortilla strips, Chihuahua cheese, and flawlessly ripe slices of avocado, the tomato-based vegetarian broth is gently spiced but surprisingly robust. Stir in the swirls of sour cream for extra zest and richness. 2226 N. California Ave.; 773-235-2663 [$4] 

SEAFOOD PAELLA
Taste of Peru
When it comes to paella, we’re purists. That means seafood only. T.O.P.’s is packed with a delicious blend of clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, squid, and tiny scallops. The pea-speckled, saffron-colored rice has the deep, savory flavor that comes from being slowly cooked in broth, and red peppers add the perfect crunch. 6545 N. Clark St.; 773-381-4540 [$10 to $20/market price] 


VIETNAMESE PAN-FRIED RICE NOODLES
Tay Do
The name hu tieu xao rau cai tau hu may not exactly roll off your tongue but it will get you a plate of incredible noodles. They’re flat, wide, slightly chewy, and best of all, sautéed until crisp and caramelized around the edges. They’re sublime on their own but even better when partnered with tender tofu strips and a lively array of snow peas, broccoli, carrots, and straw mushrooms. Make it easy on yourself: Just ask for #130. 1232 Bloomingdale Rd., Glendale Heights; 630-462-8888 [$7]

 

Plate from Crate & Barrel

 

 

 

KEY: STARTERS | ENTREES | DESSERTS | OTHER GOOD STUFF


SALMON EN MOLE VERDE
Tepatulco
Mexican food lovers know that Geno Bahena is the mole master, but even he rarely puts the classic sauce together with salmon. This time, Bahena figured out a prep that works: Garlic-marinated king salmon takes on a scintillating green mole made from tomatillos, cilantro, epazote, chile serrano, and pumpkinseeds, and we predict the outcome will stand the test of time. 2558 N. Halsted St.; 773-472-7419 [$17]

ANTIPASTI MISTI
Terragusto
Begin with the minted zucchini and carrot salad and make your way around this platter of unique and fresh bites: sweet peppers, eggplant, mozzarella di bufala with pesto, hard-boiled eggs, and salami specially smoked for the restaurant by Paulina Market. When served with crostini and your choice of wine (Terragusto is BYO), you’ll forget you’ve ordered an entrée. 1851 W. Addison St.; 773-248-2777 [$24] 

SMOKED SALMON AND POTATO PIZZA
Tin Fish
Colin Turner paves a crispy potato crust with smoked salmon and sour cream, throws on capers and red onion to doll it up, and calls it pizza. He can name it anything he wants, as long as we can find it on the menu. 18201 S. Harlem Ave., Tinley Park; 708-532-0200 [$9]

TOMAHAWK CHOP
Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood
This whopping 40-ounce dry-aged rib eye for two has a heavy, protruding footlong bone; hence, the name. The meat comes as seven juicy, beautifully marbled slices (who gets dibs on the seventh slice?) seasoned with Tramonto’s signature sea salts, toasted black pepper, and butter. There’s also an option of French sauces but, really, who needs one? Westin Chicago North Shore, 601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling; 847-777-6575 [$75]

PANCETTA AND ARUGULA PIZZA
Trattoria 225
Not every pizza here hits the mark. But there’s nothing not to like about this brick-oven pie, from the lightly scorched organic whole-wheat crust to the thinly sliced rounds of pancetta and the pile of fresh arugula in the middle. If every neighborhood had a pizza like this, the world would be a better place. 225 Harrison St., Oak Park; 708-358-8555 [$13] 

PINEAPPLE RUM SOUP
Tru
Fruit soups appear as often as flourless chocolate cakes these days, but Gale Gand’s pineapple rum soup inhabits a higher plane. It delivers the brightness of a fine tropical cocktail but with far more finesse, and its passion fruit and mango gelée soothes the chilled soup while a scoop of pink peppercorn-pineapple sherbet adds rich nuance. 676 N. St. Clair St.; 312-202-0001 [$15; $95 three-course menu]

FLATBREAD
Turquoise
Freshly baked twice daily in their kitchen, warm, fragrant slabs of Turkish pide greet customers seconds after they sit down at this stylish Roscoe Village retreat. It’s hard to resist downing the entire basketful before drinks even show up. Crusty, chewy, and seasoned with salt, this bread tastes dandy unadorned—and irresistible when dipped into a pool of the smooth, earthy house-made hummus. 2147 W. Roscoe St.; 773-549-3523 [free]

PASTITSIO
Venus
This Cypriot take on mac and cheese is cooked to order just as soon as a customer gives the go-ahead. Extra-long tubular noodles, bits of tomato, and Asiago cheese are layered atop clusters of nutmeg- and cinnamon-scented ground beef. Capping it all  is a blanket of browned and blistered béchamel custard sauce. Formidably rich, yes, but oh, so worth it. And it’s great reheated the next day. 820 W. Jackson Blvd.; 312-714-1001 [$15] 

PISTACHIO-CRUSTED VEAL CHOP
Vermilion
If you doubt that Latino and Indian should fuse, then dig into this luscious chop boasting complex yet restrained spiciness. The nut-crusted veal chop is roasted in hierbos de olor (fragrant Latino herbs) and served on channa saag (masala-seasoned spinach mixed with garbanzos) with a side of chickpea flour-coated chaat onion rings. 10 W. Hubbard St.; 312-527-4060 [$29]

BEER JAM-GLAZED QUAIL
Vie
Bronzed from the house-made beer jam glaze and surprisingly tender, Vie’s wood-grilled quail lies invitingly on a bed of wilted, shredded white cabbage. Even better, it’s accompanied by grape-size marinated white turnips and melted Pleasant Ridge Reserve aged Gruyère, a single-herd cow’s milk cheese—a dazzling combo of refined and earthy flavors. 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs; 708-246-2082 [$14]

PAPPARDELLE WITH TURKEY MEATBALLS
West Town Tavern
It may be light on the pasta, but you won’t miss it on this autumnal dish: It comes loaded with perfectly cooked fall mushrooms, roasted butternut squash, and generous meatballs. Tarragon seasons the vegetables while shallots help flavor the turkey, and the unique addition of mint sends the taste buds soaring. It’s a dish you’ll want to cozy up to. 1329 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-666-6175 [$18.50] 

COUSCOUS SALAD
Winston’s Market
Sweet golden raisins and toasted almonds give texture and a traditional Mediterranean flair to this hearty side dish. Color, acidity, and spice come from tiny cubes of red onion and a slightly sweet red bell pepper, and minced herbs emphasize the freshness of the other ingredients. But it’s the dressing—a seamless blend of olive oil, sherry vinaigrette, and honey—that pushes the envelope. 3440 N. Southport Ave.; 773-327-6400 [$9/pound]

WAGYU BEEF
Yoshi’s Café
Yoshi’s chatty waiters bring out five uncooked beef brochettes, a mini hibachi with a blazing cooking stone, and an unnecessary side bowl of yuzu-ponzu dipping sauce. They instruct you to toss the beef on for 15 seconds, flip it over, and pop it in your mouth, still sizzling. The beef is not actual wagyu from Japan, but who cares? It’s tender, nicely salted, peppered, and oiled—and delicious. 3257 N. Halsted St.; 773-248-6160 [$20] 

BLUENOSE GROUPER


Zealous
A macadamia nut crust gives beautiful texture and a savory edge to this tender, sweet, and mild fish. Pineapple vinaigrette counters with a bit more sweetness and the perfect acidic tang, and a stunningly creative side of earthy hash from cubed taro root, sautéed to a crisp with delicate little rock shrimp carries this stellar entrée to the next level. It’s surf-and-turf to the highest degree. 419 W. Superior St.; 312-475-9112 [$28]

 

Prop Stylist: Jennifer Levant   Food Stylist: Janice Bell  Food Stylist Assistant: Lisa Kuhl  Hair and Makeup: Chelo  First Assistant: Kate Cole  Second Assistant: Popo  model: laura gleason/ford chicago

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