Best food and drink in Chicago
Clockwise from top left: bread from La Farine, cupcake from More, pierogi from One Sister, empanadas from Macondo, milk from Kilgus Farmstead, the beans at Asado Coffee, and the soft pretzel at Whole Foods



Best of Chicago 2010 »
Eighty-three winners in dining, arts & entertainment, shopping, and more

Get your Best of Chicago issue on your iPad or iPhone

Here, our favorites in food and drink. PLUS: Tell us in the comments below, do you agree or disagree with our picks?

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA GUSTO ITALIANO Of the myriad takes on this classic dish offered by Chicago’s red-sauce Italian restaurants, we favor the ultra-thin-cut variety, in which you get maximum breading within multiple layers. The rendition at Gusto Italiano, a low-key family favorite in a nondescript Glenview strip mall, defies all expectations: When it arrives at the table, the dish looks depressingly shellacked with a layer of melted mozzarella. But every bite tastes unmistakably and deliciously of eggplant. Although some of the restaurant’s other menu items are merely passable—the marinara, for instance, could be fresher tasting and less pastelike—we could spend a lifetime ordering just this one dish, plus the excellent house-made cannoli for dessert. 1470 WAUKEGAN RD., GLENVIEW; 847-729-5444, GUSTORESTAURANT.COM

CHARCUTERIE OLD TOWN SOCIAL Fatty, spicy, and tangy, Old Town Social’s charcuterie brings along strong nonmeat flavors, a sharp contrast to the meat-first taste of other high-quality house-made charcuterie around town, notably Mado’s. Surrounded by plates of cured and smoked meats, we were snacking and debating which strategy was superior, and suddenly we realized the plate from Old Town Social was empty. 455 W. NORTH AVE.; 312-266-2277, OLDTOWNSOCIAL.COM

NEW BRUNCH THE PUBLICAN Although several restaurants have introduced crowd-pleasing, even excellent brunches recently—Logan Square’s Longman & Eagle, in particular—none are better than the meal at The Publican in the West Loop, which combines swift, friendly service with dishes that manage to be simple yet spectacular. We especially love the crisp scone of the day, which is like a heavenly wedge of pie crust, and the red-wine-poached eggs, an herby interpretation of eggs Benedict that should become its universal replacement. The house bacon—caramelized mini-slabs of seared belly meat—is required eating. 837 W. FULTON MARKET; 312-733-9555, THEPUBLICANRESTAURANT.COM

WINE BAR ROOTSTOCK WINE & BEER BAR Small, sexy, and dim, with mismatched furniture, rotating art exhibits, and one of the best burgers in the city, Rootstock is just over a year old but feels like an institution. Its owners—Tonya Pyatt, Jamie McLennan, and Johnny Hap, all formerly of Webster Wine Bar—settled on Humboldt Park for their venture, and they chose wisely. The neighborhood is home to many of Chicago’s young food-industry workers, who line up at the bar late into the night for the thoughtful organic food and the small but focused list of family-crafted, affordable wines by the glass. 954 N. CALIFORNIA AVE.; 773-292-1616, ROOTSTOCKBAR.COM

SUBURBAN FARMERS’ MARKET EVANSTON FARMERS’ MARKET Some suburban farmers’ markets are more intimate or heavy on crafters, and a handful are newly minted to capitalize on the current organic food trend. But Evanston’s has an unbeatable pedigree: 35 years providing dazzling options to locavores. It’s a sprawling mixed bag of farmers, fiddle players, and fresh eggs, where you can get all the basics, plus exotic items such as cipollini onions, chioggia beets, grass-fed meats, or fresh goat cheese. A few of the seven flower and plant vendors will custom-style their bouquets. UNIVERSITY PLACE AND OAK AVENUE; SATURDAYS (7:30 A.M.–1 P.M.) FROM MAY TO NOVEMBER

FRIES DMK BURGER BAR Michael Kornick’s legendary truffle Parmesan fries deserve every superlative that’s been heaped on them over the past decade at MK. Kornick plays to his strengths at DMK, offering hand-cut russet potatoes with all kinds of possible distractions involving truffle cream, Wisconsin Cheddar, and smoked bacon. Stay strong and get yours sprinkled simply with sea salt and black pepper. They’re crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and perfectly golden brown. What more do you need? 2954 N. SHEFFIELD AVE.; 773-360-8686

BAKERY FLORIOLE Sandra Holl started her business in a shared kitchen in Logan Square to supply her Green City Market stall. That led directly to Floriole, a seriously good bakery in Lincoln Park. In this bright, multitasking space—bakery, coffee bar, lunch café—Holl turns cherry clafouti and chocolate-raspberry tarts into dreamy, creamy art forms but also does scones and banana bread with flair. Her canelés de Bordeaux may topple macarons as the latest trend, but her buttery, crumbly shortbread cookies totally take the cake. 1220 W. WEBSTER AVE.; 773-883-1313, FLORIOLE.COM

CUPCAKES MORE Are cupcakes license to eat small cakes topped with obscene gobs of buttery frosting? That’s what the countless cupcake bakeries we visited seem to bank on. Then we found More, where one elegant cupcake after another is displayed on plain wire racks in all their chic glory. The goods here deliver in sophisticated flavors galore: champagne, raspberry truffle, and the classiest cookies-and-cream you’ve ever tasted. 1 E. DELAWARE PL.; 312-951-0001, MORECUPCAKES.COM

SOFT PRETZEL WHOLE FOODS About eight months ago, the bakers at the Whole Foods Market in Lincoln Park unveiled a robust, chewy soft pretzel that they now can’t keep on the shelves. Dipped in baking soda rather than lye, this knot differs hugely from the kind you get at the ballpark: It’s thicker and crustier and has actual flavor, akin to French bread. A tip: If the pretzels are sold out in the bakery, try the coffee shop. 1550 N. KINGSBURY ST.; 312-587-0648, WHOLEFOODSMARKET.COM

BREAD LA FARINE Bread is like that little black dress—right for every occasion. Toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, baguettes with dinner, pudding for dessert. We love it crusty, sour, soft, warm, laced with olives, multigrain, or plain as can be. And we love that Rida Shahin does it all—and really well—in an old-fashioned storefront in West Town. Our flat-out faves are Shahin’s miche, a round, leathery, hearty-to-the-max French country bread, and his full-flavored, slightly salty, delicate-crusted ciabatta. No butter or olive oil, please. Why mess with perfection? 1461 W. CHICAGO AVE.; 312-850-4019, LAFARINECHICAGO.COM

EMPANADA MACONDO For us, the ideal empanada is a warm, flaky turnover stuffed to the seams with well-seasoned, fresh ingredients. That pretty much describes the goods at Macondo, where equally fine sweet and savory empanadas are handmade in the Colombian style from recipes three generations old. Queso con bocadillo—melted mozzarella with a sweet guava paste—is one pleasingly harmonious combination; all are a steal at two for $2.50. 2965 N. LINCOLN AVE.; 773-698-6846, MACONDOCHICAGO.COM

CUP OF COFFEE ASADO COFFEE COMPANY Coffee can be as complex as wine, but it must be meticulously prepared. Several coffee boutiques around town have switched to single-serving cups. Among this elite class, we give the nod to Asado, where the owner, Kevin Ashtari, roasts Ugandan Gibuzaale beans in a machine behind the counter and brews each serving in a porcelain dripper, stirring the grounds by hand as the water seeps through. 1432 W. IRVING PARK RD.; 773-661-6530, ASADOCOFFEE.COM

PIEROGI ONE SISTER Long and lean, these local dumplings, which are only available frozen ($7.99 for a dozen), have more in common with rustic hand-cut pasta than with pie dough soaked in butter. As for the innards, Iliana Regan—who throws underground dinner parties with ingredients sourced from her family’s Indiana land—creates fillings such as beer-braised lamb and fava beans with Parmesan. SOLD AT PROVENANCE FOOD AND WINE (2528 N. CALIFORNIA AVE.; 773-384-0699) OR CONTACT REGAN (773-598-0602, ONESISTERINC@GMAIL.COM)

MILK KILGUS FARMSTEAD Among the smaller, quality-focused dairies, milk can display dramatic differences in flavor. In fact, the real deal can taste so exotic it’s off-putting. Not so with Kilgus Farmstead’s sweet and creamy whole milk, which sports a surprisingly light mouthfeel and rich flavor. Taken from 90 Jersey cows outside Fairbury, Illinois, it’s like the milk you’ve been drinking all your life—only way, way better. AVAILABLE AT MULTIPLE LOCATIONS; KILGUSFARMSTEAD.COM

PLUS: Check out our picks for best dessert and beer


Photograph: Anna Knott