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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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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

 

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