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

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
1/27

Beet salad at 42 Grams

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.

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Uptown
Eggplant at Alinea
Photograph: Martha Williams
2/27

Eggplant at Alinea

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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Lincoln Park
Basket of biscuits at Analogue
3/27

Basket of biscuits at Analogue

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.

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Logan Square
Huitalacoche quesadilla at Authentaco
4/27

Huitalacoche quesadilla at Authentaco

Recommended

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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River West/West Town
Slow-roasted beets at Bohemian House
5/27

Slow-roasted beets at Bohemian House

Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos has reinvented Central European cuisine with dishes like these beautifully tender beets, which are set atop a beet and crème fraiche puree with smoked walnuts, apples and a molasses and caraway vinaigrette. $9.

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River North
Grilled brun-uusto at Boltwood
6/27

Grilled brun-uusto at Boltwood

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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Evanston
Bread and butter at Cellar Door Provisions
7/27

Bread and butter at Cellar Door Provisions

Cellar Door Provisions takes Chicago’s bread game to a sky-high level with these crackly, tangy slices slathered with creamy housemade butter. $3.

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Logan Square
Chicharron quesadilla at Cemitas Puebla
8/27

Chicharron quesadilla at Cemitas Puebla

You’ll need to eat this fast—the salty, crispy chicharrons won’t retain their crunch for long, so squeeze some spicy chipotle sauce on top and get to work. $2.75.

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West Loop
Vuelve a la vida at Dove’s Luncheonette
9/27

Vuelve a la vida at Dove’s Luncheonette

The next time you have a hangover, go straight to Dove’s and order this shrimp and squid ceviche, which is packed into a sundae glass and topped with crabmeat. Bright and spicy, there’s a reason the dish name translates to “back to life.” $14.

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Wicker Park
Ravanelli at Eataly
10/27

Ravanelli at Eataly

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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River North
Fried mushroom at Elizabeth
11/27

Fried mushroom at Elizabeth

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.

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Lincoln Square
Sesame fries at the Fat Shallot
12/27

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.

Fried oyster with sriracha pickled ginger at Henry’s Swing Club
13/27

Fried oyster with sriracha pickled ginger at Henry’s Swing Club

On the 23-deep slider menu, the standout is this oyster—freshly fried with crisp coating, and sweetness and heat coming from ginger and sriracha. $3.

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River North
Mushroom soup at Herb
14/27

Mushroom soup at Herb

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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Edgewater
Beef patty from 3 JJJ's Better Taste Jamaican Jerk
15/27

Beef patty from 3 JJJ's Better Taste Jamaican Jerk

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.

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Roseland
Beef ribs at Lao Pi BBQ
16/27

Beef ribs at Lao Pi BBQ

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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Armour Square
Cantabrian salt-cured anchovies at mfk.
17/27

Cantabrian salt-cured anchovies at mfk.

The simplicity of these cured anchovies, twisted atop buttered bread with a sprinkle of lemon peel, is a perfect example of why we love this charming, refreshing restaurant. $12.

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Lake View
Momotaro tartare at Momotaro
18/27

Momotaro tartare at Momotaro

It only took one bite to see why the restaurant is named for this dish—dehydrated tomato, Dijon and onion puree give it an incredible sweetness and depth of flavor. $10.

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West Loop
Salmon coulibiac at Next Steak
19/27

Salmon coulibiac at Next Steak

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.

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West Loop
Crab, Coconut, Ten Bridging Garnishes at Next: Trio
20/27

Crab, Coconut, Ten Bridging Garnishes at Next: Trio

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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West Loop
Fried giardiniera at Parts & Labor
21/27

Fried giardiniera at Parts & Labor

Parts & Labor is a burger joint. But if you leave without dunking tangy pieces of fried giardiniera in sriracha mayo, you’ve missed out. $4.

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Logan Square
Yellowtail new-style sashimi at Shaw’s Crab House
Photograph: Nick Murway
22/27

Yellowtail new-style sashimi at Shaw’s Crab House

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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River North
Fried dried beef at Siam Noodle & Rice
23/27

Fried dried beef at Siam Noodle & Rice

Once you start dipping the strips of supple beef jerky into the addictive lime, fish sauce and chili sauce, you won’t want to stop. $6.75.

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Uptown
Beet Box at Smalls Smoke Shack & More
24/27

Beet Box at Smalls Smoke Shack & More

Dunk these tender chunks of flash-fried roasted beets in spicy mayonnaise. Repeat until gone. $4.50.

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Irving Park
Xiao long bao at Yum Cha Dim Sum Parlor
25/27

Xiao long bao at Yum Cha Dim Sum Parlor

Soup-filled xiao long bao are tricky to nail, but Yum Cha makes it look easy with tender wrappers filled with rich pork and broth that rushes out when you bite into it. $6.95.

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Millennium Park
Cosmo steam bun at Yusho
Photograph: Matthias Merges
26/27

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.

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Avondale
Potato bread at Parachute
Photograph: Martha Williams
27/27

Potato bread at Parachute

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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Avondale

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