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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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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

 

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