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The Best Dishes the Eater Chicago Team Ate This Week

Korean rice cakes in red sauce.

Spicy rice cakes from Jeong’s revival of Hanbun. | Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

Mining the latest dining gems Chicago has to offer

The COVID-19 outbreak has altered nearly everyone’s eating patterns as on March 16 restaurant owners shut down their dining rooms in Illinois. Takeout and delivery remain available, but there’s been more home-cooked meals in the interim. With that in mind here are the standout takeout and delivery dishes enjoyed by Eater Chicago’s staff. Check back on the occasional Thursday for the foreseeable future for the best carryout and delivery we ate this week. Head here for the best dishes we ate in fall 2019. And remember, third-party delivery services can charge restaurants as much as 30 percent of an order’s cost. Making an order via telephone, if available, can save cash-starved restaurants money in this bleak economic environment.

March 25

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Bulgogi from Hanbun.

Bulgogi from Hanbun

There were many contenders this week for the best takeout meal. Lem’s Bar-B-Q on 75th Street offers the same great ribs and links, albeit now only five customers are allowed at them inside the restaurant. There’s not a lot of room for social distancing. But if Chicagoans paid attention and ordered from Jeong for Friday, March 20, they were likely pleased. Jeong is a standout modern Korean restaurant in West Town that was begotten from owners Dave Park and Jennifer Tran’s food stall in suburban Westmont. Chef Park wanted to differentiate Jeong’s food from Hanbun’s, so the classics that fans loved from the suburban days never made it to the city. That was until Friday when Park brought back Hanbun for a day. The food lends itself very well to takeout, and it was an all-star menu of ramyun, spicy rice cakes, and more. All customers had to do was zap the dishes in the microwave for 90 seconds (though, in one case the plastic package melted, but not enough to ruin the delectable jjajangmyun). My highlight was the bulgogi, which is usually satisfying. The formula’s easy with grilled and marinated sliced beef ribeye. But Hanbun’s was the most tender bulgogi ever, served with radish kimchi that was bright and sweet. Park and Tran brought Hanbun back to the suburbs on Saturday, March 21. There’s no word if they’ll revive Hanbun for another day. At least I’ll have memories. Jeong, 1460 W. Chicago Avenue — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
Ddukbokki lamb ragu from Passerotto

Ddukbokki lamb ragu from Passerotto

It feels strange walking into a restaurant these days — the spaces, usually buzzing with energy, light, and music, are quiet and often low-lit with just a few staff members occasionally wandering in and out of an empty dining room. Such was the case at Passerotto, where I picked up a takeout meal, but once back in my apartment and frantically tearing open containers of ddukbokki smothered in tender, hearty lamb neck ragu topped with parmesan, that electric spirit returned. The portion may not look like much upon first glance, but don’t be deceived — the rich, deep ragu and chewy Korean rice cakes pack heft and punch. Suddenly, every Passerotto meal I’ve had came flooding back, all the dinners past (including a particularly memorable Valentine’s Day 2019 pre fixe) and the inklings of those I hope to have again. Even without a dining room, chef Jennifer Kim and her team are reminding Chicago that restaurants can be magical, and if we want to keep that magic alive, the time to support them is now. Passerotto, 5420 N. Clark Street — Naomi Waxman, reporter

March 5

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Taco Arabe from Taco Azteca.

Tacos Arabe from El Taco Azteca

Over the weekend, a packed Apollos 2000 welcomed some of Chicago’s best Mexican chefs for Pilsen Gourmet. The mezcal was flowing as chefs like Duncan Nieto, Diana Dávila, and Daniel Espinoza served lengua, ceviche, and more. One standout taco came from El Taco Azteca, a restaurant in Heart of Chicago. The sweet and tangy Tacos Arabe is a rarity in Chicago, building on influence of Middle Eastern immigrants who arrived in the early 1900s in Mexico. These are quite plainly “Arab Tacos,” and they’re often served off a spit. Other parts of the country, including LA where Tacos 1986 earned a place on Eater National’s Best New Restaurants of 2019, have made this unique spin popular. The tacos consumed in Pilsen were more modest, but full of porky flavor. Dearly-departed Cemitas Pueblas did a stand-out version, but here’s hoping an enterprising chef can bring more these flavors to Chicago with the spit and all. And here’s to Pilsen Gourmet returning in 2021. Tacos Azteca, 2151 W. Cermak Road, Heart of Chicago — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

A large plate of Nashville hot schnitzel
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
Nashville hot schnitzel from Funkenhausen

Nashville hot schnitzel at Funkenhausen

Hike up those stretchy-waisted pants for Sunday dinner at Funkenhausen, West Town’s German-meets-Southern beer hall, because this schnitzel is no joke. Served only on Sundays alongside a boot of Krombacher, the special involves two enormous red slabs of breaded, pounded chicken topped with a smattering of dill ranch and bread and butter pickles. Perfectly crispy on the outside while still maintaining interior moisture, this decidedly non-traditional take packs some heat but doesn’t attempt to match the spice levels seen at legendary hot chicken restaurants like Prince’s and Hattie B’s. The whole endeavor offers plenty of gluttonous fun, supplemented by some of the most genuine, hospitable service encountered in some time. It’s also worth noting that fernet, a popular Italian amaro, comes in a delightfully tiny glass boot. Funkenhausen, 1709 W. Chicago Avenue, West Town — Naomi Waxman, reporter

February 27

A bowl with soup, beef, and noodles.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Beef noodle soup from Katy’s Dumpling House.

Beef Noodle Soup from Katy’s Dumpling House

It might be a shock to some, but not every Chinese restaurant in America is in a Chinatown. Recent efforts, like food crawls, which showed support for these Chinese communities have been inspiring in the wake of xenophobia stemming from coronavirus paranoia. But those efforts don’t take into account the businesses away from the immigrant enclave, the restaurants that have to pander to a wider customer base for financial survival. Some change the names of their items. At Katy’s Dumplings in the suburbs (in Oak Park and Westmont), the menu includes “Juicy Steam Buns.” In reality, those are xiao long bao, the Shanghai specialty filled with broth. Some known them as Chinese soup dumplings. The “Juicy Steam Buns” were delicious, but Katy’s top seller is the beef noodle soup. They have soups with more heat, but load it up with chili oil and chew on those gigantic pieces of sirloin surrounded by silky smooth noodles in a tasty broth. Staff at Katy’s in Oak Park said they haven’t seen a dip in business, but the dining room was a bit barren on Sunday night. It might be time to make a visit to other Chinese restaurants away from Chinatown and show them some love. Katy’s Dumpling House, 1113 Lake Street, Oak Park — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

A pulled pork sandwich
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
Pulled pork sandwich from Ella’s BBQ in Lincoln Park.

Pulled pork sandwich from Ella’s BBQ

A sunny weekend morning in February calls for celebration, and a casual brunch gathering at Ella’s in Lincoln Park is a delightful way to mark the occasion. The counter-service spot’s “large” sandwiches are filling but not ridiculous with juicy pulled pork piled on a fluffy, if basic, bun. Several sauces in large tubs are available for slathering, and the mustard-based offering pleasantly compliments the sandwich’s porky goodness. The dining room is spare and unfussy with large windows let diners soak up those rare winter rays while gobbling up cherry wood-smoked meats. Ella’s is the latest venture from the couple behind boozy brunch haven Lokal and Earl’s Drive-Thru BBQ, so it should come as no surprise that their new submission hits the spot. Ella’s BBQ, 723 W. Armitage Avenue, Lincoln Park — Naomi Waxman, reporter

February 20

A bowl of noodles with chop sticks holding up the noodles above the bowl.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Khao soi neua from Same Same in Roscoe Village.

Khao soi neua from Same Same

Oh, Roscoe Village, where passersby will sneeze and trip on a stroller. Family-friendly fare rules this neighborhood, but what if it were possible to create a restaurant that could appeal to the kid who brought his basketball into the restaurant and the adult who just wanted a stiff cocktail? Same Same, which opened earlier this year, could be on to something with small menu of Thai street food and a fun bar scene including “Short Round,” a mezcal and bourbon drink that’s a tribute to the character from the Indiana Jones movies. The khao soi neua is a dish for diners who like different textures. The wheat noodles are chewy at the bottom of the bowl and topped with crispy fried wonton-style noodles. The braised beef chunks are wonderfully pink in the middle and complemented by a hint of cardamom and cilantro. Doctor it up with Same Same’s house sriracha sauce, and save some room for the fried chicken. The chicken thighs take two hands to take down, so no dribbling the basketball while eating, junior. Same Same, 2022 W. Roscoe Street, Roscoe Village — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

A bowl of dumpings
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
S.K.Y.’s Main lobster dumplings

Maine lobster dumplings from S.K.Y.

Plump, perfectly-formed dumplings very well may be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Stephen Gillanders’s submission to Chicago’s vast and varied dumpling arena — delicate, translucent pockets stuffed with juicy Maine lobster and swimming in jade butter and soft herbs — linger vividly in the memory for their satisfying texture and sumptuous ocean flavor. Practically speaking, the four dumplings that come in a serving are plenty, but a second round isn’t a bad idea for ravenous diners. Not one to be pigeonholed into Asian-style cuisine, Gillanders is at work on South Loop restaurant Apolonia, where he’ll explore European techniques. Hopefully, some form of dumplings will work their way into the equation. S.K.Y., 1239 W. 18th Street, Pilsen — Naomi Waxman, reporter

February 13

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
The French toast flight from Frances’ Deli.

French toast flight from Frances’ Deli and Brunchery

Frances’ Deli was a popular Jewish deli, just a short walk from the Lakefront in Lincoln Park. But deli business isn’t exactly booming these days, and the owner sold in 2018. New management has transformed the space into a brunch-focused restaurant thanks to the talents of ex-Batters & Berries chef Derek Rylon. Rylon brought over his famous French toast flight, where grown adults can fool themselves into eating dessert as a legitimate meal. Nutella, powdered sugar, and other sweet ingredients will help spike everyone’s blood sugars in a most delicious manner. Rylon and company have successful brought new life to a beloved Chicago restaurant. Frances’ Deli and Brunchery, 2552 N. Clark Street — Ashok Selvam, senior editor.

A large sandwich on a plate with a pickle
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
River Valley Farmer’s Table’s Cuban via Milwaukee sandwich

Cuban via Milwaukee sandwich at River Valley Farmer’s Table

Brunching regularly can sometimes lead to menu fatigue — endless scrambles, pancakes, and Benedicts — but those who tend to err on the lunch end of the spectrum can find numerous delights at this Ravenswood brunch restaurant and shop. Though it’s large and somewhat of a project to devour, the Cuban via Milwaukee sandwich is a classic with delightful Midwestern touches. Swiss cheese, tangy mustard, chili mayo, and pickles sit atop a pile of pulled pork and a huge slab of thick bacon. It’s pressed, as any Cuban — traditional or otherwise — usually should be, and is topped with a single pickled mushroom on a sandwich pick. The fermented fungi are also for sale by the jar in the restaurant’s adjoining retail space. Be aware: if consumed in one sitting, the sandwich will likely result in a post-brunch nap. River Valley Farmer’s Table, 1820 W. Wilson Avenue, Ravenswood — Naomi Waxman, reporter

January 30

A savory Japanese pancake on a plate with a variety of toppings.
Nick Fochtman/Eater Chicago
Gaijin and its savory Japanese pancakes are one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago.

Osaka-style okonomiyaki flight at Gaijin

Savory Japanese pancakes are now officially one of the hottest dishes in Chicago, and newbies digging into them for the first time have an option to try a few at Gaijin. Paul Virant’s West Loop hotspot offers three different types of pancakes — Hiroshima-style where ingredients are layered over the batter, scallion-heavy upstart negiyaki, and Osaka-style where ingredients are mixed in. The Osaka-style are available in flights and diners can pick three of a few options including tempura-fried shrimp, octopus with hot sauce and honey gastrique, sausage and bacon, and tofu. All of them go well with a Gaijin 75 (the restaurant’s version of a French 75) and followed with a towering kakigori dessert. Gaijin, 950 W. Lake Street, West Loop — Daniel Gerzina, editor

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Cleo’s Southern Cuisine’s hot honey chicken wings.

Hot honey chicken wings from Cleo’s Southern Cuisine

Super Bowl Sunday is coming up, and that means America will consume many, many a chicken wing. Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, which opened in 2019 in Bronzeville, serves crispy fried chicken, fresh seafood, and more. The wings are breaded with a nice tasty coating. These are juicy and large wings that aren’t served split. Customers can order them by the piece or in fours (order multiples and make your own wing flight). Cleo’s has five different sauces, and the wings are drizzled with the customer’s choice. The hot honey was the favorite, a nice balance of sweet and hot that didn’t make the crispy exteriors soggy. Those sporting ghost pepper tattoos won’t think the sauce carries too much heat, but spice novices will get a pleasant punch. Cleo’s wings are easily among the best in Chicago. This counter spot is friendly and the menu is varied. Research is so hard sometimes. Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, 4248 S. Cottage Grove Avenue, Bronzeville — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

A bowl of pappardelle pasta
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
Anteprima’s pappardelle with ragout bolognese

Pappardelle with ragout bolognese at Anteprima

Cozy neighborhood Italian spot Anteprima is very romantic and inviting on gloomy, quiet weekday evenings, especially since the restaurant draws animated and noisy crowds on Friday and Saturday nights. A pile of tender pappardelle tangled up in juicy ragout bolognese with a generous helping of parmigiano, available by the half or full serving, is a pressing reminder as to why many throw around the phrase “local gem” when it comes to the Andersonville restaurant. The pasta manages to be both rustic in appearance and delicate when consumed, perfectly imperfect in a way boxed or bagged versions never achieve. Friendly, attentive staff are at the ready to suggest a complementary wine, and a half-portion may leave room for a delectable espresso crema with toasted almonds and chocolate biscotti. Anteprima, 5316 N. Clark Street, Andersonville — Naomi Waxman, reporter

January 23

An Eastern European burger made of pork
Daniel Gerzina/Eater Chicago
Mama Gena’s pork burger at Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen

Mama Gena’s pork burger at Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen

Chicago’s wealth of Eastern European culture is on full display at this prominent corner restaurant in Ukrainian Village. The large restaurant and bar is full of Ukrainian design elements and artifacts that show off its family ownership’s national pride — diners might even catch an adolescent family member playing piano at the bar — while implementing modern touches. A great example on its menu is Mama Gena’s pork burger, which tweaks Chicago’s love of meaty patties on buns to blanket thick and juicy ground pork with generous slices of melted gouda and pork belly before piling sauteed mushrooms, aioli, and chunky house-made pickles on a pretzel roll. Customers looking to complement their meals will find many soul-satisfying options on the large menu, highlighted by its selection of pierogies — which include a variety with octopus ink-infused dough and langostino stuffing. Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen, 2201 W. Chicago Avenue, Ukrainian Village — Daniel Gerzina, editor

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Chicken chicarrón

Chicken chicarrón at WoodWind

Crispy, puffed snacks cross cultures: shrimp chips are a Chinese and Vietnamese favorite, pappadums are a South Asian starter, and pork rinds are a Southern African-American tradition. The Tribune recently wrote about the latter. WoodWind executive chef Don Young — who helped Temporis earn a Michelin star in West Town — takes a playful approach to Latin American chicharrónes up on the 18th floor in Streeterville. Young cooks rice in chicken stock, which is then pureed and dried. The substance is then spread into a thin layer and fried in chicken fat. The result is a chicharrón-like substance that looks like it came from a Mexican restaurant. Staff then dusts the crisps with a batch of spices that includes vinegar. The result is a burst of addictive Buffalo wing-like flavor. It’s unexpected, and the melt-in-your-mouth crisps are a perfect vehicle for the dip: a blue cheese foam. Young said it’s Maytag blue cheese, cream, celery, plus pepper and other spices. Everything’s blended and turned into foam right before serving. This creative combo will have customers reaching for Champagne or something sparkly. This is the fun, elevated snack food that Chicago didn’t know it needed. WoodWind, 259 E. Erie Street, 18th Floor, Streeterville — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

A bowl of tantanmen
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
Tantanmen at the Izakaya at Momotaro

Tantanmen at the Izakaya at Momotaro

The delights at Boka’s contemporary Japanese destination Momotaro are hard to pass up, but a trip downstairs to its moody, intimate subterranean sister izakaya will soon render any passing fancies about what’s going on upstairs moot. Its bowl of tantanmen (a 2019 Ramen Fest award winner, the menu helpfully notes) is balanced and flavorful, spicy but not face-melting. The broth is light and complex — a far cry from this writer’s usual bias toward the heavy, porky quality tonkotsu ramen — and compliments the ground pork, bok choy, and springy noodles that populate the bowl without overwhelming them. It’s also a manageable size, leading to a full, warm belly without the burps and pains of overstuffing. Some may even find room for a few robota: the Mishima skirt steak is worth loosening one’s belt a little, and it all goes down like a dream paired with an Asahi Superdry. The Izakaya at Momotaro, 820 W. Lake Street, Lower Level, West Loop — Naomi Waxman, reporter

January 16

Fried mortadella, oysters, chilies, and herbs on toast.
Daniel Gerzina/Eater Chicago
Avec’s fried mortadella bruschetta

Fried mortadella bruschetta at Avec

16 years in and Avec is still churning out intriguing and crowd pleasing new dishes. The latest menu at Paul Kahan and One Off Hospitality’s legendary Mediterranean small plates restaurant in the West Loop includes a tastebud tantalizing meaty take on bruschetta, where fried slices of mortadella, preserved mussels, Fresno chilies, herbs, and garlic aioli rest on top of thick slices of Publican Quality Bread. Chef Perry Hendrix’s deeply satisfying and addictive dish lets mussel flavor soak into the rest of the ingredients to hit on all the salt, fat, acid, and spice notes and once again reach the apex of deliciousness. Avec, 615 W. Randolph Street, West Loop — Daniel Gerzina, editor

A metal dish filled with sauced rib tips.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Rib tips are a Friday night special at Baobab BBQ.

Rib tips at Baobab BBQ

Rib tips are a South Side Chicago tradition, made famous at places like Lem’s Bar-B-Q, the city’s oldest barbecue restaurant. The meat at the ends of the intact slab are full of chewy cartilage and are a messy, memorable experience. Pop one in your mouth, chew, and then spit out the piece of hacked-up bone. Not many North Side chefs understand the magic of rib tips, but Baobab BBQ’s Andrew Dunlop does. North Siders can get into the fun every Friday as Dunlop offers pork rib tips as a daily special for $10 per pound. The restaurant often runs out, so it’s best to get there on the early side. Baobab’s tips are smaller than the hunks of meat customers will find on the South Side. These are Hershey’s Kisses size and leaner (though some pieces are just scrumptious pure fat, the type that would make New Year’s resolutioners cry). But there’s not as much to spit out (some would argue that eliminates the fun). Baobab is a South African-influenced take on barbecue, and that country is a medley of cultures including Black African, Afrikaner, and South Asian. The rib tips also feature a multitude of influences. The rub is a combo of Memphis-style with paprika and oregano. The sauce is a bit more vinegary with an orange color. Kind of a South African’s take on North Carolina vinegar sauce with a tiny bit of heat on the end. Baobab’s tips are a delicious introduction for those who haven’t tried tips. It’s a gateway to visit the originators of the items on the South Side. Uncle J’s BBQ’s turkey tips are waiting. Baobab BBQ, 2301 W. Foster Avenue, Bowmanville — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

A yellow cocktail in a short skull-shaped glass.
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
Galit’s “Here Lassi Lassi”

“Here Lassi Lassi” at Galit

Israeli and Middle Eastern supernova Galit is known for fluffy, piping hot pita and smooth, flavorful hummus, but both reach new heights when paired with the “Here Lassi Lassi.” A rum-based take on a traditional Indian yogurt drink, the cocktail is made with mango, curacao, black lime, paprika, and labneh for a fruity, spicy burst that washes away wintertime blues. It’s topped with a leafy sprig and comes in a squat, skull-shaped glass that makes for great table side Instagramming. The drink is a surprising nod to flavors associated with South Asia with a little familiar sweetness and a lot of citrus punch. This one is for the imbibers, but Galit also features several complex and creative booze-free concoctions. 2429 N. Lincoln Avenue, Lincoln Park — Naomi Waxman, reporter

January 9

A fried fish fillet covered in red chili sauce and sweet potato chips.
Daniel Gerzina/Eater Chicago
Little Goat’s “fish and chips”

“Fish and chips” at Little Goat

In pure Stephanie Izard fashion, one of her restaurants put a fun Asian-style twist on a classic comfort food over the holidays: Little Goat’s New Years Eve family-style prix-fixe menu got creative with fish and chips. The twist came on multiple fronts, starting with the fish itself, a tempura-fried loup de mer. The fillet then went for a swim in a pool of red chili sauce before dressing in a Peruvian huacatay drizzle and showering in sweet potato chips. Purists across the pond might be up in arms when hearing about this version of their iconic food, but the crispy, light batter combined with the spicy-sweet-creamy-sour sauce flavors and the burst of crisp texture of the chips made for an addictive combination. Sadly the dish was a one-night-only affair. Little Goat, 820 W. Randolph Street, West Loop — Daniel Gerzina, editor

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago
Dos Urban Cantina’s tacos are special.

Tacos at Dos Urban Cantina inside Time Out Market

The West Loop/Fulton Market had a taco void until chef Brian Enyart heroically stepped up and brought his Logan Square Mexican restaurant, Dos Urban Cantina, to Time Out Market. Time Out isn’t a traditional mall food court — a high schooler’s allowance won’t go far as customers wanting “chef-driven food” will pay a premium price. But the acclaimed chefs and higher prices bring tons quality and creativity. Enyart offers three tacos including a fried fish with a distinct kick of heat at the end that makes it a contender for best fish taco in Chicago. They are a tribute to Mexican street tacos, and the tortillas sport a slightly crispy exterior and soft insides thanks to a neat little trick. Enyart dips the tortillas in the braising liquid used to cook proteins and then griddles them. The texture of the corn tortillas made these tacos specials. The chef’s wife, Jennifer Enyart, provides her signature chocolate cake for dessert. Dos Urban Cantina, inside Time Out Market, 916 W. Fulton Market, Fulton Market — Ashok Selvam, senior editor

Three small balls coated in black and white sesame seeds on a black plate.
Naomi Waxman/Eater Chicago
Imperial Lamian’s golden sesame balls

Golden sesame balls at Imperial Lamian

It’s easy to lose sight of the beauty in simplicity when it comes to desserts. Those festive, colorful ice cream treats and milkshakes piled high with sugary toppings and doused in sweet sauces are all the rage right now, but sometimes the sweet note at the end of a meal comes best in an unsuspecting package. Such is the case with Imperial Lamian’s golden sesame balls, made with sweet and chewy lotus paste and coated in delicately crispy black and white sesame seeds. The small globes arrive in a trio, and provide a welcome combination of soft and crunchy textures with a measured dose of natural sweetness. For those less inclined toward showmanship and more interested in a subtle yet delightful bite or two after a hearty helping of hand-pulled noodles, this River North Eater 38 restaurant delivers the goods. Imperial Lamian, 6 W. Hubbard Street, River North Naomi Waxman, reporter

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