For many Latino Chicagoans, tamales are what our abuela used to make. If you’re part of that group, they may be the ultimate comfort food. The green chicken tamal at 5 Rabanitos is no exception. A huge portion arrives smothered in a creamy tomatillo poblano salsa, with cilantro cream and a smattering of queso fresco. $8.50.
Looking for upscale dishes with Southern inspiration? You’ll find them at Charlie McKenna’s Dixie. This is not the large bowl of lima beans and corn of our childhood but an elegant take using both those ingredients plus a flaky slab of catfish and slices of okra, all drenched with a harissa nage, a broth used for poaching that’s turned into a sauce. It’s a total rethinking of this classic dish. $18.
Quail can be a lot of work: It’s riddled with bones and offers a tiny amount of meat. The bottom line: This better be good. It is. Braised mustard greens, polenta, herb jus and mostarda have these melt-in-your-mouth pieces of quail teeming with flavor. $30, seasonal.
The X factor here? The chefs top the pasta dish with fried rosemary. The tagliatelle is cooked just right, too, and topped with heritage pork, veal and parmigiano folded into a sauce. It’s the kind of warm comfort dish that makes Nellcôte grand-ballroomesque dining room feel homey. $18.
Chef Anselmo Ramirez left Topolobampo to open his own restaurant in August of 2015, and are we ever pleased with his decision. Ixcateco’s carne asada, a ridiculously juicy wood-grilled skirt steak with rich tomato molcajete sauce, is served with black beans, guacamole and tortillas to make your own tacos. (We used ours to mop every last bit of the molcajete sauce off the plate, like the animals we are.) $18.
We loved the number of grilled dishes we could get this year, and the gulf prawns at the Promontory were a standout. They sit on top of creamy cheese grits and are garnished with slices of pork sausage and okra, but it’s the barbecue sauce and the tender shellfish that have us hooked. $25.
Visit this beloved neighborhood Thai spot for a spicy coconut-milk red curry with boneless juicy, roasted duck. The flavorful dish is filled out with tomatoes, pineapple, grapes, bell peppers and basil, ensuring that every bite is the slightest bit different but still coherent. $12.
Walk into Dat Donut, turn left, and find yourself at the walk-up window of Uncle John’s. Order the rib tips. These have melty fat and tender bits of meat with a bit of crunch on the edges. Pop one in your mouth for a harmonious mix of fat and spice. $7.55 for small, $8.52 after 3pm.
When Duck Duck Goat opened its walk-up takeout window, our hearts leapt in excitement for another cheap option in a sea of pricey restaurants. You can choose from plenty of dishes, but we’re most psyched about this heaping box of chicken: slivers of meat with a crispy brown breading that remind us of Chick-Fil-A—without the guilt. $8.
One of the best pasta dishes we ate in a year of superlatives, this porcellino agnolotti comprises pillows of pasta stuffed with slow roasted pork and prosciutto brodo, topped with a creamy citrus– and sage-packed sauce. Simple, cozy perfection. $16.95.