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The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2014: small plates

From simple bread and butter to elaborate small plates at Alinea, these are the best bites in tiny packages

By Amy Cavanaugh
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The shared plates trend can be annoying, like when you have to share a single bite among the table. But appetizers and small plates really give Chicago restaurants a chance to shine, as chefs can take risks and try new things on a smaller scale. With creative dishes like Next Steak's salmon coubliac and heftier dishes like Authentaco's earthy huitlacoche quesadilla, it's no surprise this is our largest category this year.

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best dishes and drinks in Chicago

Best small plates

Beet salad at 42 Grams

Restaurants American Uptown

Every dish at Uptown newcomer 42 Grams is a knockout, but the beet salad, with an egg yolk, flowers and a light-as-air beet macaron, sums up just what we love about Jake Bickelhaupt’s cuisine: It’s both great and fun. No longer available.

Photograph: Martha Williams

Eggplant at Alinea

Restaurants Contemporary American Lincoln Park

The single piece of sous vide eggplant, which practically melts as you cut into it, is so perfect that the rest of the dish—eggplant broth with fried mustard seeds and cacao nibs, banana three ways, chilies and cilantro—is almost unnecessary. Almost. Part of a tasting menu until December 31.

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Basket of biscuits at Analogue

Bars Cocktail bars Logan Square

Sometimes we go to Analogue for Alfredo Nogueira’s smoked fish dip, and other times we go for the fried chicken sandwich. But we always go for the warm, flaky biscuits, served with spicy pepper jelly and sweet Steen's cane syrup butter. $6.

Huitalacoche quesadilla at Authentaco

Restaurants Mexican River West/West Town

The housemade tortilla is stuffed with melted Chihuahua cheese and huitalacoche (a fungus that grows on corn; trust us, it’s good) for an earthy, mushroom-like taste. $4.50.

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Grilled brun-uusto at Boltwood

Restaurants Contemporary American Evanston

Evanston native Brian Huston is serving up the kind of food the town didn’t realize it was missing. That includes bar snacks like the sweet and salty grilled brun-uusto, a Wisconsin take on a Scandinavian cheese served with La Quercia ham, arugula and a rotating variety of fruit. $14.

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Ravanelli at Eataly

Restaurants Italian River North

Head to the Piazza counter for these radishes, which have a soft but slightly crisp texture and delicate leaves that shatter when you bite into them. The sweet Italian honey cuts the bitterness. $12.

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Fried mushroom at Elizabeth

Restaurants Contemporary American Lincoln Square

This dish certainly isn’t as cute as the owl-shaped pats of foie gras, also on the fall menu, but the thick, meaty mushroom fried with acorn breading proves that beauty is only skin deep. Part of a tasting menu.

Sesame fries at the Fat Shallot

The food truck makes excellent fries, with a crisp exterior and pillowy filling. You can get them as-is, or you can get them doused with spicy sesame aioli and black sesame seeds. For us, it’s a no-brainer. $4.

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Mushroom soup at Herb

Restaurants Thai Edgewater

Part of a bargain $35 three-course prix-fixe menu, this thick, rich coconut and turmeric broth, filled with mushrooms, sunchokes and hearts of palm, was the most sumptuous thing we ate all year. No longer available.

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Beef patty from 3 JJJ's Better Taste Jamaican Jerk

Restaurants Jamaican Roseland

We’ve been to a few area Jamaican restaurants this year, and this spicy, richly flavored pocket of ground beef is the best beef patty around. Even better news: You can find it at either the 3 JJJ's Better Taste Jamaican Jerk food truck, which roams downtown, or the Roseland restaurant. $2.50.

Beef ribs at Lao Pi BBQ

Restaurants Chinese Armour Square

This no-frills stall in the food court at Chinatown's Richland Center is serving skewers of meat, veggies and seafood grilled over coal and showered with cumin, chili and sesame seeds. Our favorite is the beef rib, a meltingly tender, perfectly seasoned bite. $2.

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Salmon coulibiac at Next Steak

Restaurants Eclectic West Loop

It’s tough to overshadow a beautiful steak at a steak dinner, but this dish, salmon wrapped in mushroom mousse, herbs and buttery pastry, does just that. No longer available.

Crab, Coconut, Ten Bridging Garnishes at Next: Trio

Restaurants Eclectic West Loop

We don’t know the science behind this orb of coconut milk, and we don’t care—break into it, then scoop it up with bits of sweet crab and garnishes like lime, avocado, cashew and pickled ginger. Part of a tasting menu available until December 31.

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Yellowtail new style sashimi - Shaw’s
Photograph: Nick Murway

Yellowtail new-style sashimi at Shaw’s Crab House

Restaurants Seafood River North

We always equate Shaw’s with classic seafood dishes, but the restaurant is constantly adding new items to the menu, like these tender pieces of yellowtail, wrapped around Granny Smith apple matchsticks and dressed with basil, mint, basil oil, and a piquant shallot and black pepper vinaigrette. $12.

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Cosmo steam bun at Yusho The richest, most soul-satisfying hunk of blood sausage around comes tucked into a feather-light bun. Starting your dinner with one is practically a requirement. $9.
Photograph: Matthias Merges

Cosmo steam bun at Yusho

Restaurants Japanese Avondale

The richest, most soul-satisfying hunk of blood sausage around comes tucked into a feather-light bun. Starting your dinner with one is practically a requirement. $9.

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Potato bread at Parachute

Restaurants Korean Avondale

The soft, rich bing bread, crammed with baked potato, bacon and scallions and served with sour cream butter, is available in whole and half orders. Go all in—this is no time for restraint. $4/$7.

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