Yaki Beef Gyoza
at Monster Ramen
Chef-owner Katie Dong makes some of the juiciest fried dumplings in town at her new ramen joint. Each one of these ground-beef-stuffed delights takes a trip to the griddle and comes out perfectly crisped. The filling, which also includes ginger, garlic, and cabbage, delivers an explosion of flavors and textures. $7.95. 3435 W. Fullerton Ave., Logan Square — T.R.
Dark Chocolate and Pecan Banana Bread
at Mindy’s Bakery
For banana bread to make any best-of list, it’s got to be next level. Leave it to Mindy Segal. Her cakey offering comes in thick slabs, each swirled with a wide ribbon of bittersweet fudge and finished with pecan-studded streusel. $5. 1623 N. Milwaukee Ave., Bucktown — C.B.
at Coda di Volpe
When you find a roast chicken that speaks to you, it can be hard ordering anything else. For some of us, that’s the quandary at this restaurant better known for its pizzas and pastas. Its burnished half bird arrives trailing a scent of sweet smoke from the wood-burning oven, and its skin crackles with the flavors of its Calabrian chile and honey glaze. Fantastic pooled juices on the plate soak into roasted potatoes and spears of Broccolini. $26. 3335 N. Southport Ave., Lake View — J.K.
Purple Velvet Cupcake
at Jennivee’s Bakery
Red velvet owes its existence to a bottle of food coloring. Purple velvet relies on the charms of ube, the Filipino sweet potato that has a vanilla-like flavor. Gobs of ube mousse and young coconut make this a frosting lover’s dream. $5.50. 3301 N. Sheffield Ave., Lake View — J.K.
Charred Broccoli Salad
If a broccoli, onion, and raisin salad makes you nostalgic for picnics as a kid — and even if it doesn’t — you have to try Alex Gonzalez’s fancy twist on the retro staple. He chills charred broccoli, then tosses it with dill, shaved red onion, pickled raisins, and a creamy pepita dressing for a crunchy, tangy starter. $13. 2500 W. Chicago Ave., Humboldt Park — A.C.
Ceci Bean Cavatelli
When Boeufhaus reopened after an extended COVID closure, we beelined back for a dry-aged rib eye but left dreaming about this under-the-radar pasta. Brian Ahern dresses chickpea flour pasta with housemade merguez sausage, fried chickpeas, smoked paprika jus, and grated tangy caciocavallo cheese for a pasta that’s the ideal way to start a meal here. $18. 1012 N. Western Ave., Humboldt Park — A.C.
Carlos Gaytán has a way of making even the simplest dishes seem special. Take his mussels, which come in a decadent saffron beurre blanc, with nubs of dried chorizo and pickled jalapeño adding some richness and tang. The bowl includes warm pieces of housemade sourdough to soak up every last bit of broth. $24. 720 N. State St., Near North Side — A.C.
Wood-Grilled Berbere-Spiced Carrots
Jodi Fyfe and Devon Quinn moved their restaurant from the West Loop to Avondale this year, allowing them to expand an onsite greenhouse — and their menu. For this can’t-miss savory-sweet side dish, Quinn seasons carrots with berbere, the Ethiopian spice blend, then adds a goat cheese purée, honey, and ricotta salata. $12. 2734 W. Roscoe St., Avondale — A.T.
at Nine Bar
In a landscape dominated by fried chicken sandwiches, Elvis Mom’s grilled version stands out. His Cambodian-influenced offering features a ginger-lemongrass thigh topped with green papaya slaw and tucked into a brioche bun that’s swiped with some spicy mayo. It’s light, fresh, and just the right thing to snack on with some of the bar’s tropical-inspired drinks. $14. 216 W. Cermak Rd., Chinatown — A.C.
Not Your Everyday Caprese
at Bazaar Meat
José Andrés has miniaturized all four components of his caprese salad so they fit snugly onto one spoon. A jiggly pearl of liquefied mozzarella, a basil-blasted schmear of pesto, a partially dehydrated cherry tomato, and a postage-stamp-size pita chip. Slurped like a cold oyster, in one glorious spoonful, it’s cuter, creamier, squishier, crunchier, and more ingenious than any caprese that’s come before. $15. 120 N. Wacker Dr., Loop — P.G.
at the Graceful Ordinary
Chris Curren’s salmon is pure alchemy. Its skin is crispy as karaage, while its flesh is supple as conservas. How does he do it? Two baptisms by fire: first seared on an open-hearth grill, then finished in a wood-fired oven to seal in all its precious oils and omega-3s. The result, served with lemon brown butter, Old Bay okra, and celery root purée, smolders with unctuousness. $29. 3 E. Main St., St. Charles — P.G.
At Zubair Mohajir’s South Asian counter-service spot (he’s serving a tasting menu in the back), the THC Sando gets all the love. And while it is delicious, his take on the Filipino dish inaloban, a deeply flavored bowl of rice noodles dressed with turmeric-coconut sauce and topped with bok choy and seafood, also deserves attention. The day’s preparation may be clams or salmon — either way, it’s a soul-warming dish we’ll be back for this winter. $22. 1742 W. Division St., Wicker Park — A.C.
Sach Ko Ang
at Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining
The menu at this newcomer is filled with wonderfully fragrant dishes, but none stimulate your senses quite like the barbecue beef, which mother and daughter Sarom Sieng and Mona Sang make with small chunks of rib eye coated in lemongrass, red chiles, and the Cambodian spice paste kroeung. When the beef skewers hit the fire, they get a hint of smoke that perfumes the entire room — and, yes, they taste even better than they smell. $13. 2043 W. Howard St., Rogers Park — T.R.
Taco Al Pastor
Nearly two years after the pandemic ended Rubi’s two-decade–plus run at Maxwell Street Market, the beloved taco stall was reborn as an 18th Street brick-and-mortar. Sure, the new digs are slicker than the rough-and-ready original, but the taco al pastor — crispy, charcoal kissed, cradled as ever in a hearty hand-pressed tortilla — leaves no doubt that substance continues to reign over style. $6. 1316 W. 18th St., Pilsen — C.H.
at Peanut Park Trattoria
This towering salad, loaded with veggies and bitter greens like radicchio, escarole, frisée, and fennel, is a refreshing dish to pair with the restaurant’s pastas. Or come just for it: With an anchovy vinaigrette, grated Parm, and a shower of toasted breadcrumbs, it has a delightful crunch and a punch of umami. $14. 1359 W. Taylor St., Little Italy — A.C.
at New Village Gastro Pub
During the Korean War, resourceful cooks devised this ingenious hot pot with ingredients scrounged from U.S. Army commissaries. Spam, bacon, ham, and cut-up hot dogs keep company with kimchi and onions in a chile-hot broth. A brick of ramen noodles juts out, and American cheese melts on top of the bubbling stew. It’s a soft jazz symphony of umami. $24.99. 3566 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook — J.K.
When chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark reopened with a wholly new menu, they swapped out the creative Korean-inspired dishes for classics from the canon made with ultrapremium ingredients. You won’t find a better version of this traditional beef tartare. The slivers of Slagel Family Farm top round are served just shy of freezing, and as the marinade melts on your tongue, the flavors — white soy, local honey, pickled ramps, the most astonishing sesame oil — come brilliantly alive. $30. 3500 N. Elston Ave., Avondale — J.K.
Matt Troost has shattered the record for the most Chicago-inspired Easter eggs ever sneaked into a bowl of pasta. His black-and-green gramigne pasta — made with raw and charred leeks — represents our city’s parks and skyscrapers. The tufts of short rib scream stockyards. His vermouth sauce is a two-martini lunch. And the cured egg yolk, grated atop it all like Parmesan? No symbolism, just unadulterated umami love. $25. 1001 N. California Ave., Humboldt Park — P.G.
Salade Lyonnaise Canard
Oliver Poilevey so loves duck that he devoted an entire section of his French menu to it. No dish better represents the restaurant than this smart update of a classic, where the frisée salad arrives outfitted with a softly poached duck egg, shreds of fat-crisped duck confit, and duck-fat-fried croutons. It’s quacking unbelievable. $19. 700 N. Sedgwick St., River North — J.K.
at El Che Steakhouse & Bar
John Manion has long been known as a guy who knows his way around a steak, but it turns out he knows his way around quail too. Manion grills spice-rubbed birds, tosses them in red chimichurri, and tops them with sweet giardiniera from J.P. Graziano. He serves them over a giardiniera aïoli and drizzled with a pepper and herb honey for a dish that’s tangy and sweet. $32. 845 W. Washington Blvd., West Loop — A.C.
Curry Beef Roti
at D’s Roti & Trini Cuisine
Dawn Lewis started serving her terrific version of the burrito-like roti, the most iconic dish on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, as a pop-up before opening a Bronzeville ghost kitchen in March. Lewis wraps flatbread around a bulging filling of spiced potatoes, chickpeas, and tender chunks of beef that’s been simmered in a savory curry gravy. $16. 2537 S. Wabash Ave., Bronzeville — T.R.
Catfish Po’ Boy
at Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern
The classic New Orleans sandwich gets the Erick Williams treatment at the chef’s newest restaurant. Williams serves nine different versions, but don’t miss the catfish one. It has two crispy fillets dressed with a spicy Cajun slaw and rémoulade that provide the perfect amount of heat. $14.99 for 6 inch; $28.99 for 12 inch. 5215 S. Harper Ave., Hyde Park — A.T.
Lyra’s flashy take on Greece’s favorite breakfast pastry could’ve been Instagram gimmickry. Servers smash two balloon-shaped husks of inflated phyllo, smooshing the shards into hidden layers of cinnamon ice cream and semolina custard. It’s quite a show, but it’s the interplay of textures and decadent flavors — think cinnamon roll à la mode — that’ll make you scream “Opa!” $18. 905 W. Fulton Market, West Loop — P.G.
Baba Au Rhum
at The Loyalist
Nothing makes diners sit up and pay attention quite like a little fire, and the flaming baba au rhum here tastes just as striking as it looks. Executive pastry chef Karen Urie Shields makes a brioche round that’s served basking in crème anglaise and set on fire at the table (with help from the overproof rum). A dish of chantilly cream comes alongside, to add some creaminess to each bite. $16. 177 N. Ada St., West Loop — A.C.
Lunchroom Butter Cookie Ice Cream
at Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream
This scoop plays to the nostalgia of Chicagoans who attended public school between the 1960s and 1980s, when homey, humble cookies marked with three fingerprints were a favorite treat at cafeterias around the city. But even if you don’t fit the profile, the combination of tender butter cookie crumbles and ultracreamy custard-style ice cream will delight your inner child. $6.60 for a single. 46 E. 47th St., Bronzeville; 3252 Vollmer Rd., Olympia Fields — C.H.
Spare Ribs Cheung Fun
at Ying Dim Sum
These floppy rice crepes, which arrive filled with spare rib and splashed with a soy-based sauce, are a staple of dim sum parlors. At this casual spot in the food court of 88 Marketplace, they’re wonderfully different — crinkly instead of smooth so they hold the sauce and ripple on your palate. $7.49. 2105 S. Jefferson St., Pilsen — J.K.
While this Asian tabletop-grill steakhouse serves the best wagyu beef from around the world, it also offers a selection of premium seafood, including this rarely seen and insanely delicious choice. The eel meets its fate in the kitchen and comes to the table filleted and cut into inchlong pieces. Once they hit the hot barbecue grate, they curl up and the salted skin crisps into a kind of piscine potato chip. $45 for half eel; $86 for whole. 2101 S. Jefferson St., Pilsen — J.K.
Nam Tok Kor Moo Yang
at Immm Rice & Beyond
If you’re a Thai restaurant–goer, then you know nam tok, a salad dressed with tangy fish sauce and featuring slices of just-cooked beef. You probably also know moo yang — barbecued pork skewers, a popular street food. Now you need to try this dish, which combines the two: a salad made with craveably crisp and fatty slices of pork collar, with veggies for crunch and roasted rice powder for nuttiness. $14.50. 4949 N. Broadway, Uptown — J.K.
Breakfast Dosa Hash
at Superkhana International
Savory breakfast people, raise your hands. There’s no better way to start the day than with this mash-up of Indian, Sichuan, and diner food. The glossy, brittle crepe of rice and lentil flour holds spiced cabbage and potato hash, and it comes with a sunny-side-up egg and a nice dollop of chile crisp. $16. 3059 W. Diversey Ave., Logan Square — J.K.
at Bungalow by Middle Brow
This bread dish with Georgian roots offers the ideal vessel for the visionaries at Middle Brow to work their sourdough magic at weekend brunch. Treat khachapuri like boat-shaped personal pizzas, and choose from two varieties — one savory and eggy, the other skewing sweet (recently, it was stuffed with sweet corn pastry cream and funky chèvre). Both are delicious and endearingly offbeat — just like Middle Brow itself. $12. 2840 W. Armitage Ave., Logan Square — C.B.