Over the past year, we’ve eaten hundreds of meals all over the city. And during the course of our research we’ve discovered lots of new things—like the sport of extreme parallel parking, hidden caches of Amazon hub lockers, and these 10 incredible dishes.
They have all slowly became the dishes we plan our lives around. Our therapist might call it codependency, but we prefer to think of it as unconditional love. They’re Chicago’s Best New Dishes of 2021, and we can’t wait for you to meet them.
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We’re grateful if a coffee shop has even passable food, so when we find one with a sandwich we’d run through a wall for, it makes us want to hire a mobile billboard truck to tell everyone about it. So consider this our billboard truck ad for the cevapi at Doma, a Croatian cafe in River North. The cevapi are wrapped in fluffy flatbread with clotted cream and a roasted pepper spread, and are seasoned with the perfect amount of paprika and garlic—meaning anyone getting into an elevator with you for the next 24 hours will regret it.
Minced Pork And Beef Hot Dog Jiangbing
Monkey King brought us back to one of the (very) few pleasures of 2020—balancing something delicious on our laps while eating in the car. This carryout spot is hidden on the second floor of an office building in Chinatown, and specializes in jiangbing that they make in their windowless suite. We ordered the minced pork version, a thin pancake wrapped around minced pork, a beef hot dog, pork floss, pickles, and crunchy wonton strips. It filled a meaty crepe-sized hole in our heart that we didn’t know needed filling. Plus, it came with plastic gloves which came in handy while we sat in the backseat with this messy sandwich.
Sisig Boonie’s menu description of their sisig is “the best thing you’ll eat” and (as its appearance on this list indicates) we’re not arguing. It’s crispy, fatty, and has the perfect amount of tart calamansi and sweet aioli to round everything out. It’s served with garlic rice and a runny egg, and stirring everything together creates a chain reaction of flavors that makes us wish we paid more attention in chemistry class. And now that this former pop-up has found a permanent home in the Revival Food Hall downtown, the sisig keeps regular office hours. This means we can stop in and bother it with questions like, “Why are you so good,” and, “Can I get extra credit if I order you for lunch and dinner?”
Birria When we ate the birria at this casual Mexican restaurant in Humboldt Park, time stopped and nothing existed besides the truth of braised meat and flavorful red consomé. It’s served with some incredibly pliable handmade tortillas that stand up to the juicy goat without disintegrating—a fact that we put to the test with the delicious quesabirria, too.
The “Shiddy Burger” (we’re ignoring the ironic name and suggest you do the same) from Big Kids in Logan Square is the platonic ideal of a smashburger. The griddled patties have lacy caramelized edges, and are smooshed on a flat top within an inch of their life. And despite that extreme smooshing, the meat still maintains plenty of juiciness. The burger is topped with a generous amount of “shiddy sauce”, and it’s the satisfying crunch of those crispy edges combined with the creaminess of the sauce that makes us plan our week around whenever this thing is available. At the time of this writing, that’s Monday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.
Pepperoni Deep Dish
Pequod’s has been our favorite deep dish for a long time, but as the ’90s Bulls can attest, dynasties end. we’re keeping with the basketball analogy, that makes George’s in Roger’s Park the ’99 Lakers, and their 48-hour cold-fermented sourdough is Shaq. It creates a deliciously yeasty crust that’s very similar to focaccia, and has a crispy cornmeal base. There’s an even ratio of cheese to sweet tomato sauce, and like a traditional deep dish, the cheese is underneath the sauce. Oh, and George’s pizza also has a caramelized edge—not as pronounced as Pequod’s, but wonderful all the same.
Super Smash Burger
In a city landscape riddled with elaborate burgers (we recently ate one topped with Satan’s snack food: AKA Sun Chips) we appreciate the oxymoronic complex simplicity of the one at En Passant. This spot makes an incredible burger using only three components: beef, rose marie sauce, and balsamic onions. The patties are juicy, and the sauce and onions create a perfect combination of tangy and sweet. Plus, we like that En Passant’s dimly lit space with vintage chandeliers and candles makes us feel like we’re on a date with our burger. Which we are.
312 Fish Market is a pocket reality located inside 88 Marketplace. This low-key sushi restaurant is embedded in the giant supermarket on the border of Chinatown and Pilsen, and feels like a separate entity from the rest of the store. And 312 is where we ordered the konbujime medai, a piece of nigiri topped with cured snapper. The snapper has a ton of seaweed flavor from the curing, and the fish is topped with a pop of citrus that rounds things out. That plus 312’s well-seasoned rice creates an absolutely perfect bite of food, and is also why we’ve gone grocery shopping five times this week.
Sandwiches can be a meat and cheese delivery system that you inhale before tackling the next task on your to-do list. But the Rueben at Lardon is a sandwich you should savor. It’s a sloppy masterpiece constructed from the best pastrami in Chicago, layered with housemade sauerkraut, pickles and Thousand Island dressing. But the best part is the goat cheese, which we didn’t realize our Reuben needed until now. See you in hell, Swiss.
We don’t like sounding like a Sybaris commercial, so we avoid using words like “sexy” “decadent” and “indulgent” when we’re talking about food. But there’s a time and place for everything, and the cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings from Alla Vita are now our reigning definition of “decadent.” These pillowy dumplings are firm on the outside, have a creamy ricotta center, and are swimming in a silky cheese and pepper sauce that, yes, is very sexy. Resist the urge to light up a cigarette after eating.