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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Appetizers and sides

Don't underestimate these small plates. We found the very best hors d'oeuvres, starters and side dishes to go with your mains.

Written by
Morgan Olsen
,
Elizabeth Atkinson
&
Maggie Hennessy
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We'd argue that appetizers and sides are crucial elements of the quintessential Chicago meal. Ordering small allows diners to order more—something we'll always support. This year, we loved that chefs played around with their deep fryers, creating oil-dappled green tomatoes, massive onion rings and the best fried pickles we've ever had. Don't worry—we tossed in a few healthy-ish options, too. Take a look at the top sides and apps we tasted this year.

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best dishes and drinks in Chicago

  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

Over the summer, we were wild about this delightful peach kohlrabi salad, with chewy, nutty farro and sharp pecorino tossed in spicy ginger vinaigrette. Though the seasonal dish is no longer available, you’ll find an equal contender in the Matsu apples and farro salad, which swaps in of-the-moment ingredients. $11. No longer available. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Lake View

If you thought that all avocado toasts were created equal, think again. At the romantic Lakeview hideaway, a slow-poached egg sits atop a pillow of whipped avo that’s showered in flavorful “everything” seasoning. Forget your manners and make a mess of that egg—your tastebuds will thank you. (Psst! This dish is on the brunch and dinner menus.)  $10.

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  • Restaurants
  • American creative
  • Wicker Park
  • price 2 of 4

It’s not hard to score fresh shucks all over the city, but finding someone who can cook them to perfection—well, that’s a different story. The crew at this Publican offshoot skillfully grills both East and West Coast selections and bathes ’em in butter spiked with yuzu kosho, a satisfying blend of citrus zest, salt, garlic and chili. $4.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • West Loop
  • price 3 of 4

Still afraid of anything made with liver? Take the plunge at David and Anna Posey’s darling West Loop spot—they’ll go easy on you with this divine liver-filled buckwheat crust that’s dusted with ramp powder. $85 tasting menu.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Edgewater
  • price 2 of 4

Wine is the center of attention at this stylish Edgewater hideaway, but don’t overlook the food—especially these fried spinach-and-ricotta dumplings plopped in a puddle of brown-butter aioli. Save yourself the inner turmoil after finishing your first plate of fluffy gnocchi-like nuggets and ask for two orders upfront. $8.

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Bridgeport
  • price 2 of 4

“It’s like a fried candy bar of meaty goodness,” our server laughs while trying to explain this dish. Pig heads are cooked in an aromatic stock before select pieces of meat are picked off and pressed overnight to solidify. The next morning, bar-shaped slices are cut, breaded and fried to crispy perfection. Served with punchy jam and aioli to lighten the load, this dish is rich and finger-lickin’ good. $12.

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  • Restaurants
  • Vegetarian
  • West Loop
  • price 3 of 4

If Pizza Puffs are low-key one of your favorite food groups, we suggest treating yourself to an upgraded version at this veggie-forward West Loop eatery. Pillows of herb-speckled fry bread are waiting to be filled with pickled onions and melty burrata drizzled with chili oil. $16.

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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • Wicker Park
  • price 1 of 4

Frying pickles is a tricky business that very few appreciate. Though we cruised Chicago’s top sports bars in search of the best version, we ended up finding our favorite recipe at a vegan spot in Wicker Park. Dill spears are swaddled in a light cornmeal shell, fried to order and served with house-made vegan ranch. Because the batter sticks to each bite, there are no rogue pickle slips here—just unadulterated fried happiness. $6.75.

  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • River North
  • price 2 of 4

It’s important to eat your veggies—even when you’re dining at one of the city’s poshest steakhouses. At the River North newcomer, blistered shishito peppers are served with corn and topped with creamy Parmesan sauce, chunks of lime and a dash of paprika. Hints of char and citrus add depth to this cheesy concoction. $14.

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Uptown

This Italian eatery in Andersonville offers a plethora of balls (or polpette) on its expansive menu, but we’re particularly fond of the Maiale, spheres of rich spicy pork belly with garlic, rapini and Calabrian pepper. With just the right amount of spice and not too much fat, these suckers are just waiting to be devoured. $8.

  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

At the risk of sounding morbid, we’d totally request these airy fritters as part of our last meal. Clusters of corn are drenched in tempura batter, fried and showered with chives, mayo, chili, lime, Parmesan and salt. If you close your eyes, it’s a dead ringer for the stuff you get at summer street festivals. $8.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Andersonville
  • price 2 of 4

You won’t leave this Southern stalwart hungry, but don’t skip this snack for the table—Hook’s creamy cheddar is blended with juicy pimientos and Worcestershire sauce and served with piccalilli and house-made benne crackers. Spread it, lick it, repeat. $6.

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