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.
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
By Morgan Olsen, Elizabeth Atkinson and 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

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

Peach and ginger salad at City Mouse

icon-location-pin 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. 

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, American

Fried green tomatoes at The Delta

icon-location-pin Wicker Park

Cornmeal-coated green tomatoes take a dip in the deep fryer before they’re placed on a bed of pimento cheese and topped with succotash made from corn, wax beans and squash. It’s a deeply indulgent appetizer that melds flavors and textures into one cohesive dish. $11.

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Photograph: Jessica Lynn Capron
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Roasted garlic plate at Bar Pastoral

icon-location-pin Lake View

Garlic—the nemesis of first dates everywhere—is the star of this must-order dish. Roasted cloves are made spreadable and served with crackers. It’s simplicity at its finest. $6.

Photograph: Eugene (Huge) Galdones
Restaurants, Contemporary European

Avocado toast at Ella Elli

icon-location-pin Lakeview

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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Grilled Oysters at Publican Anker
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, American creative

Grilled oysters at Publican Anker

icon-location-pin Wicker Park

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.

Photograph: Jason Little
Restaurants, Italian

Burrata e ham at Monteverde

icon-location-pin West Loop

The star of this dish is Sarah Grueneberg’s house-made tigella—warm, doughy, English muffin-like rounds of bread. Fill them with slabs of country ham, grilled cherry tomatoes and arugula. Each mouthful is like a hug for your tastebuds. $18.

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Photograph: Jason Little
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Duck liver tart at Elske

icon-location-pin West Loop

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.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Bars, Wine bars

Strangolapreti at Income Tax

icon-location-pin Edgewater

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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Photograph: Jessica Lynn Capron
Restaurants, Seafood

Rumaki at Portsmith

icon-location-pin River North

An appetizer-sized take on surf and turf, this dish pairs milky Georges Banks scallops with planks of charred pork belly over a cooling lemongrass-carrot puree. It’s an ingenious combination that has us wishing it came as an entree. $12.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, American

Crispy pig head at The Duck Inn

icon-location-pin Bridgeport

“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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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, American creative

Onion rings at Giant

icon-location-pin Logan Square

We’re not sure what we did before these colossal, Parm-dusted onion rings existed, but we never want to go back. $10.

Photograph: Anthony Tahlier
Restaurants, Vegetarian

Fry bread at Bad Hunter

icon-location-pin West Loop

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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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, American

The Smoked feta at the Promontory

icon-location-pin Hyde Park

A block of hearth-roasted feta is covered in a stew of marinated olives and served with a house-made baguette. It’s the kind of appetizer that you’ll want to commandeer to your side of the table. $9.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, Vietnamese

Gỏi Đu Đủ (papaya salad) at HaiSous

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

This menu staple is an old family recipe: Shards of young papaya, culantro (a cousin to cilantro) and strands of savory Vietnamese beef jerky dance in a puddle of mouth-smacking chili sauce. $11.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Bars, Beer bars

Fried pickles at Handlebar

icon-location-pin Wicker Park

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.

Photograph: Anthony Tahlier
Restaurants, Steakhouse

Shishito and corn at GT Prime

icon-location-pin River North

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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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, Italian

Maiale at Bar Roma

icon-location-pin 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.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, Global

Tempura elotes at Proxi

icon-location-pin 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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Photograph: Courtesy Big Jones
Restaurants, Soul and southern American

Pimiento cheese at Big Jones

icon-location-pin Andersonville

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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