Entrées | 100 best things we ate and drank in 2012

Entrees | 100 best things we ate and drank in 2012

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  • Photograph: Kaitlyn McQuaid

    Stuffed falafel at Al Mawal
    Trek to Worth, just a hair south of Bridgeview, and you�ll hit the largest concentration of Middle Eastern eats in Chicagoland. Among them, the best falafel we�ve found: Greaseless and crispy spheres the size of cue balls break open to reveal steaming hot, buttery-soft and bright green chickpea and fava interiors filled with garlicky, cinnamony onions and peppers.

  • Steak at Ada St.
    Chef Zoe Schor can�t be bothered to put out fussy food, and this bloody sirloin, dressed only in brown butter and balsamic, proves she doesn�t have to.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Fish taco at Antique Taco
    First and foremost, a fried fish taco has to be crispy. This one is. The fact that it�s also smoky (thanks to the smoked cabbage slaw) and hot (sriracha tartar sauce) is just a bonus.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Carpet bag steak at Argent
    In this city of future foods, a restaurant that dabbles in the past climbs an uphill battle. But this vintage dish�tender, soy-kissed skirt steak, served with a few oysters Rockefeller on the side�helps keep the past alive.

  • Photograph: Julia Kramer

    Rhubarb pizza at Balena
    In the beginning of spring, chef Chris Pandel did an event with a farm�a farm that had only rhubarb available. He�d never heard of rhubarb pizza (who has?), but he tried it anyway, pairing thin rhubarb slices with shaved pancetta, whipped ricotta and mint. What he ended up creating is one of the most craveable�and, wouldn�t you know it, most fleeting�pizzas in town.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Roast chicken at Bavette's
    The darkest skin of any chicken you've ever seen. The juiciest flesh, the thickest jus. And it's served at a steakhouse, which is ironic—this chicken will make you forget steak forever.

  • Photograph: Jessica Zerby

    Jidori chicken Singapore noodles at Bento Box
    If Chinese takeout died and went to heaven, it�d become chef Rick Spiros�s toothsome noodles, strewn with Thai basil and topped with chili-rubbed chicken.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    BBQ chicken at Big Bricks
    We never anticipated going to the new location of this thin-crust pizza spot for barbecue�until we tried the juicy, pleasantly smoky chicken from the wood-burning Oyler smoker.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Boarding House Lunch at Big Jones
    Lunch? No, this thing is an extravaganza: potatoes, biscuits, greens, corn bread, red beans and rice, and a pile of lard-and-butter-fried chicken. No point in arguing which is better�the chicken or the sides?�because it�s all coming to your table, and you�re going to eat it all anyway.

  • Photograph: Heather Shouse

    Birria taco at Birrieria Calvillo
    Maxwell Market abounds with handheld options, but this warm tortilla envelope of tender braised goat goodness tops the list, especially if you request the ruby-red �special salsa,� a bright, fruity sauce with mellow heat.

  • Photograph: Sarah Lawhead

    Burger at Bread & Wine
    The phenomenon of this restaurant�s heavily female clientele has been well documented. Less well documented is what these wine-guzzling ladies are eating: the fat beef burger, topped with onion jam and chorizo and shoved between two halves of a juice-soaking pretzel bun.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Lomo de puerco taco de guisado at Carniceria y Taqueria Aguascalientes
    Jewel and Dominick�s don�t inspire pulling up a seat for a quick bite while shopping, but many Mexican grocery stores do, particularly this Little Village gem, which fills handmade corn tortillas with heavenly hunks of pork stewed in a mess of guajillo chilies, onions and cumin. The $2 price tag and the full bar pouring mighty micheladas make for the best errand boost we know of.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Low-country boil at Carriage House
    We could drink the Old Bay broth that forms the base for this endlessly satisfying boil, but we�re too full from the sweet shrimp, fresh clams, spicy rabbit sausage, corn cobs, red potatoes and slices of housemade Pullman bread.

  • Photograph: Sarah Lawhead

    Classic gyro at Covo
    Chicago is the city that invented the frozen mystery-meat cones rampant at gyro shops around the country. But if Covo has anything to do with it, Chicago will also be the city that reinvented the gyro, thanks to this shop�s fillings of slow-roasted, all-natural pork, chicken and (our favorite) the lamb-and-beef combo.

  • 40-day rib eye at David Burke�s Primehouse
    A steak is a steak is a steak. Until you have one of these splurge-worthy dry-aged steaks, whose deep flavor, gorgeous marbling and sumptuous texture are enough to silence your wallet�s cries for help.

  • Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

    Steak tacos at D.S. Tequila Company
    Yes, you�re at a place with the word tequila in its name, but trust us: These coffee-rubbed steak tacos taste good even before you get drunk.

  • Photograph: Nicole Radja

    Beef tongue sandwich at Eggy�s
    If everybody in Chicago who thought they didn�t like tongue could eat this sandwich, where the tender beef mingles with sliced jalape�os and a fried onion ring, they�d realize they love tongue after all. But barely anybody did this, which is why this sandwich isn�t on the menu anymore.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Ribs at Embeya
    These big dinosaur ribs hit every gustatory pleasure point via a crisp top layer of fat, sumptuous pork and a sticky, sweet and spicy tamarind-garlic glaze.

  • Photograph: Nicole Radja

    Curry falafel at Falafill
    Falafel made with chickpeas is so�old-fashioned. These smooth-on-the-inside, super-crunchy-on-the-outside balls of curried pureed yellow lentils are the future.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Grilled chicken at Hopleaf
    Just once, we�re asking you to tear yourself away from the mussels and order this smoky, juicy, spicy chicken with creamy polenta instead. (Fair warning: You may never order those mussels again.)

  • Loch Duart salmon salad at Ikram
    What kind of high-end fashion boutique also has a caf� serving beautiful farm-to-table food, like this perfectly cooked filet of salmon set atop a colorful array of constantly changing (but always spectacularly fresh) vegetables? Only you, Ikram.

  • Photograph: Debbie Carlos

    Taco de tripa at La Chaparrita
    Order these �extra crispy,� and the combination of clean-flavored tripe, warm tortillas and this taqueria�s incredible salsas will have you forgetting everything that scared you about edible intestines.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Steak sopes at La Ciudad
    Sure, the steak is tender and everything. But what makes this sope remarkable is the supreme, crisp-but-tender masa, which these guys make in-house.

  • Tuna sandwich at La Fournette
    With this sandwich, you get a masterful multigrain baguette and a sophisticated, simple take on tuna salad, the mayo-kissed tuna topped with slices of hard-boiled egg. Plus, eating an entire sandwich means more time spent in the quaint, golden-hued space.

  • Photograph: Debbie Carlos

    Heng Shan-style preserved rice noodle at Lao Hunan
    If you can get over the fact that this restaurant�s unofficial mascot is Chairman Mao, you�ll be rewarded with these slick noodles, which are tangled with thinly sliced beef and hot peppers and covered in cilantro and peanuts.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Famous Yunnan cross-bridge rice noodles in spicy broth at Lao Yunnan
    When Tony Hu annexed Spring World into his whirlwind empire, he renamed the restaurant but continued its focus on food from China�s Yunnan province, including this iconic dish: a steaming, family-size bowl of thick noodles in a pleasingly fiery broth.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Roast chicken for two at the Lobby
    At the Peninsula Hotel, chef Lee Wolen serves chicken like you�ve never seen it: stuffed with brioche and a big bouquet of herbs, white meat served skin-on, dark meat pulled and tossed with chives and cream.

  • Barbecue beef ribs at L. Woods
    In the world of �authentic� barbecue, there is only one kind of ribs: pink-hued, smoke-imbued, tug-it-from-the-bone pork. So to anyone who objects to the Flinstonian, fall-off-the-bone tender beef version at this faux �supper club,� we have three words: Haters gonna hate.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Nayarit-style prawns at Mariscos El Veneno
    You�ll never pry a recipe out of this casual coastal Mexican joint, but by the time you�ve worked your way through a messy platter of these peel-and-eat prawns (slicked with heavily spiced, rust-red chili sauce and sauteed shell-on), you won�t care how to make them, only how to get more.

  • Ricotta ravioli at Moderno
    Funny thing about Moderno: When we visited, the servers kept warning us that some dishes contained goat cheese. (Note: We�re very okay with goat cheese.) Serious thing about Moderno: how delicious this ricotta-stuffed pasta is, set over a bed of thinly sliced Swiss chard.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Sandwich at Naf Naf Grill
    It doesn�t matter whether it�s falafel or chicken schnitzel: As long as you can put it in one of this mini chain�s warm, rolled-and-baked-on-site pitas and stuff it with an array of condiments, this sandwich will kill. (The good kind of kill.)

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Crispy ayu at Next: Kyoto
    Delicate flavors dominated Next�s homage to Japan, and nothing was quite so fragile and lovely as this perfectly fried, impossibly tender chunk of �sweetfish.�

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Pork shoulder at Next: Sicily
    The star of Next�s Italian menu was this incomparable piece of pork, which had been braised for a decade and fell apart into fatty chunks whenever anybody looked at it the right way.

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Burger at Owen & Engine
    Leave the crazy toppings for the imposters: The burger at this gastropub needs no more than juicy Slagel Farm beef, deeply caramelized onions and a housemade potato bun to achieve perfection.

  • Photograph: Jessica Zerby

    The City Bird at Pecking Order
    It was a toss-up between the City Bird sandwich (grilled chicken, pickles, p�t�, fried egg) and the Country Bird (fried chicken, Gouda, pimento mayo), both of which layer punchy flavors on top of each other until the sandwiches practically explode. But, ultimately, we chose the City Bird, because this is Chicago�and city beats country every time.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Fatso�s Famous fried jumbo shrimp at Phil�s Last Stand
    May God have mercy on Phil�s Last Stand, the gluttonous, late-night chamber of Fatsos (burgers), char dogs and pound after pound of plump, perfectly fried shrimp. Come to think of it, may God have mercy on all of us who have eaten this at 3am.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Trapanese at Piccolo Sogno Due
    Todd Stein�s conglomerate of shellfish has everything: sweet mussels and shrimp, a spicy tomato broth and a punchy almond pesto.

  • Photograph: Nicole Radja

    Italian beef �hot� at Pop�s
    Al�s, Johnnie�s, Portillo�s: We thought we knew all the best spots for Italian beef until chef/artist Eric May showed us this Southwest Side specimen, with its fresh celery-and-jalape�o �hot mix� supplanting traditional pickled giardiniera.

  • Tan Tan Men at Slurping Turtle
    Thank the noodle gods: Takashi Yagihashi puts this magnificent bowl of chili-charged and pork meatball-packed ramen back on the menu Saturday 1.

  • Photograph: Kaitlyn McQuaid

    Ground-beef tamale at Tamales Garibay
    Hefty, fat, overstuffed: These are compliments when we�re talking about Alicia Romero�s exemplary tamales.

  • Crispy whole fish at the Savoy
    You�ll have to stare down a whole lubina fish (think sea bass, but Spanish), but thankfully it�s been deboned to make getting at the crispy-skinned bites easier. Chef Brian Greene takes license to change up the type of fish, but so long as his smoky tomato-chili romesco sauce remains on the plate, we�re game.

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Grilled salted mackerel at Tozi
    We don�t understand how something so simple�whole mackerel salted, grilled and spritzed with lemon�could be this good.

  • Rice cake noodles at Urbanbelly
    Sweet, cooling mango is chef Bill Kim�s foil to a hot chili-infused broth laden with fried chicken and oblong rice cakes.

Photograph: Kaitlyn McQuaid

Stuffed falafel at Al Mawal
Trek to Worth, just a hair south of Bridgeview, and you�ll hit the largest concentration of Middle Eastern eats in Chicagoland. Among them, the best falafel we�ve found: Greaseless and crispy spheres the size of cue balls break open to reveal steaming hot, buttery-soft and bright green chickpea and fava interiors filled with garlicky, cinnamony onions and peppers.


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