As of August 20, the city has mandated that everyone wear facial coverings while indoors. For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.
Salmon egg rolls at Provaré
Egg rolls are seeing an evolution in Chicago thanks to Black chefs mostly on the South Side. At many Chinese-American restaurants and food stands on the South and West sides, as Tribune food critic Nick Kindelsperger wrote in February 2021, diners will find fried won tons stuffed with jerk chicken and more. Some chefs call them soul rolls, and at a West Town restaurant at particularly good one stuffed with salmon pops up on the menu. The salmon rolls from Provare, a Creole-Italian restaurant, are wonderfully crispy filled with an ample serving of shredded salmon. I didn’t know what to expect, but the moist salmon to wrapper ratio worked. The chipotle aioli was fine, but to be honest, the egg roll by itself is zesty enough. I feared chewing into a mutant Hot Pocket. Instead, I found an egg roll that was executed as well as Chicago’s own Orange Garden, one of the city’s oldest Chinese restaurants. This is good news for West Town and the surrounding area — in years past, the egg roll offerings have missed the target, rolled with impunity and filled with boring ingredients. Provare is one of the liveliest restaurant in the city, and worth a visit for some truly fun cooking.
Salmon danish at Kasama
It is nearly impossible to choose a best dish from Kasama. First, it requires choosing between Tim Flores’s cooking and Genie Kwon’s baking which, together, have put the petite West Town spot on multiple lists of the best restaurants not just in Chicago but in the U.S. — and that was before they introduced their multi-course dinner tasting menu. And this is unfair, and also impossible. The longanisa sausage and tocino in the Filipino breakfast fried rice are both porky and savory. The cinnamon roll is made with croissant dough that remains crisp and flaky in the face of cinnamon filling and cream cheese icing. The chocolate chip cookie is perfect in a way that shows what most other cookies are lacking: it’s crackly at the edges and chewy in the middle and tastes like butter all the way through. The only solution here is to choose something that’s unavailable anywhere else in Chicago, and that is the salmon danish.
In shape, it’s more like an eclair, except that it’s made with croissant dough instead of pate a choux. There’s no filling. On top, there’s a thin layer of cream cheese, and then curls of smoked salmon and tiny pops of salmon roe. It’s beautiful to look at. And in terms of taste, it combines the best elements of a bagel with lox and a butter croissant — two of the world’s best breakfast options. The cream cheese adds some sweetness, balanced by the saltiness of the salmon, while the pastry is unexpectedly buttery and not in the least bit soggy. It probably travels well, which is also a consideration now that Kasama has shut down indoor dining and gone back to carry out. Kasama, 1101 N. Winchester, Ukrainian Village — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Taco al pastor at Solazo
The reemergence of Solazo, the revamped restaurant that in September rose from the ashes of Mexican hit El Solazo near Midway Airport, is the kind of comeback story Chicago needs as the city is once again thrust into a pandemic Vsurge. Owner Pepe Barajas (La Josie) spent two years rebuilding his business after a devastating electrical fire, ultimately creating a friendly plant-laden hotspot where patrons can gather over inventive cocktails and spoil their dinner with the excellent trio of salsas (molcajete, guisada, and pina con habanero). Those who make it past the strong selection of botanas, however, will be richly rewarded by the perfectly piquant al pastor, shaved off a Mexico City-style trompo into a fresh tortilla. The juicy pork comes with a slew of toppings — Adollops of cruda and spicy chile morita-arbol salsas, paper-thin slices Lof red onion, and a conservative helping of grilled pineapple — making it a slightly messy affair. But with napkins on hand and a fun, fizzy glass of tepache (doctored up with a dose of raicilla), one needn’t fear judgement from staff or surrounding diners — they know that a taco like this is worth any dribbles or smears. Solazo, 5600 S. Pulaski Road, West Lawn — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Chicken Milanese at En Passant
Earlier this summer, a charming little restaurant, En Passant, opened in Logan Square from Au Cheval opening chef Sam Engelhardt. Diners who’ve visited both restaurants could trace a connection between the two, but En Passant succeeds in carving its own identity with creative vegetarian dishes (butternut squash, mushroom risotto), plus the requisite smash burger. A chicken Milanese stars with thin and crisp chicken cutlets augmented by the acid of capers and lemon. The restaurant’s culinary influences vary from Morocco to France to Italy to China. This addicting dish shouldn’t be overlooked and represents the restaurant’s spirit in taking something simple and executing with razor-sharp precision. En Passant, 3010 N. Diversey, Logan Square — Ashok Selvam, editor
Cardamom rusks at Lost Larson
Late in the afternoon, when it starts to get dark, my lizard brain turns on and I start craving warmth and food and, because I’m still human, caffeine to get me through the last part of the workday. That’s a sign that it’s time for an afternoon cup of tea, which, naturally, must be accompanied by a sweet of some kind. This week it’s been cardamom rusks from Lost Larson in Andersonville. These are the bakery’s celebrated cardamom buns transformed: unrolled and dismembered and then baked a second time so they’re crisp, like biscotti, and perfect for dunking. They’re still sweet and buttery and spicy, but the tea mellows it, adding notes of caramel and vanilla and making sure that the layers of pastry stick together instead of scattering all over my desk. In turn, the rusks leave behind a trace of sweetness, from the pearl sugar, and best of all, a linger of cardamom, which makes the tea especially bracing. Lost Larson, 5318 N. Clark Street, Andersonville — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Thinly sliced green tomatoes at Birch in Milwaukee
Just a brief train ride (or car trip) away from Chicago, Milwaukee is home to an exciting and largely unsung dining scene. Among its newer and more promising entries is Birch, a new American hotspot where Alabama-born chef Kyle Knall (Gramercy Tavern, Maysville) touts simplicity and open-hearth cooking on the city’s East Side. Meaty dishes, especially those cooked over a fire, are alluring when one considers chilly November temperatures, but Knall and his team capture the last lingering notes of summer with a presentation of green tomatoes sliced paper-thin, studded with dollops of rich salsa verde, crunchy crouton hunks, and pink curls of pickled onion. Fresh, fun, and unpretentious, it’s a crowd-pleaser — much like Milwaukee itself. Birch, 459 E. Pleasant Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Caramelized Fish Sauce Wings at HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen
Fish sauce is a magical ingredient. Out of the bottle, it’s, well, fishy and unappetizing to some, but when it’s mixed up with other food, it adds a kick of savoriness and umami that’s unequaled by anything else on the pantry shelf. At HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen in Pilsen, chef Thai Dang coats his breaded, twice-fried chicken wings in a sauce made from fish sauce that’s been caramelized — another magical cooking process that adds a darker sort of sweetness. Dang garnishes the wings with chilis, fried shallots and garlic, and peanuts for extra crunch. The wings themselves are substantial and meaty. It’s a glorious way to kick off a meal at HaiSous, but they’re also worthy of being a meal in themselves, as they’re offered at Cà Phê Dá, Dang’s cafe next door — which also happens to serve waffles in pandan, black sesame, and toasted peanut flavors. This seems like a chicken and waffle platter well worth trying, especially with a side of egg custard coffee. HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen, 1800 S. Carpenter Street, Pilsen — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Waffle flight at Frances’ Deli & Brunchery
Frances’ Deli in Lincoln Park is a neighborhood icon that’s made major changes thanks to new ownership. There’s now an emphasis on brunch thanks to chef Derek Rylon’s sweet creations. The opening chef at Batter & Berries in nearby Lakeview made a name for himself with French toast flights, a thoughtful approach to the morning favorite. He’s taken the same philosophy with waffles. Diners can order flights of four waffles. They come out cute with colorful toppings; they’re photo friendly without trying too hard. Two waffles stood out. The first is a cinnamon roll variety topped with chopped bacon and a blueberry version. The other is both topped with berries and contains the fruit in the batter. It’s a very particular flavor combo, and instantly triggers childhood memories of popping frozen Eggo’s into a toaster. That’s a good thing, as these waffles take flavors familiar to latchkey kids of a certain era, and kicks it up several notches. As I stole bites from my wife’s plate, each chew brought a bright smile to my face and I wished I had some Five Alive to complete the trip through time. Forget mimosas and Bloody Marys; this is what brunch is really all about. Frances Deli & Brunchery, 2552 N Clark Street, Lincoln Park — Ashok Selvam, editor
Just Beyond the Thunderdome Burger at the Bad Apple
Fans of the Bad Apple, the colorful beer and burger bar perched on the corner of Lincoln and Cullom avenues, were understandably concerned when the business was sold in 2019. New ownership at the time vowed not to screw up the bustling neighborhood spot. More than two years later, that promise still rings true with just a few bites of its Just Beyond the Thunderdome burger — a particularly potent post-apocalyptic reference in these trying times. A teetering tower of crunchy beer-battered onion rings atop a short rib burger, further gilded with white cheddar and horseradish sauce and served on a pretzel bun, the burger is at once a spectacle and a juicy, messy project. It’s also an ideal baseline for a night out, guaranteed to help balance several drinks that might be consumed later during a show at the Old Town School of Folk Music, conveniently located within walking distance of the bar. Though the burger’s invention predates the COVID-19 pandemic, its gleeful maximalism and melange of textures is perfectly suited to the strangeness of the moment. The Bad Apple, 4300 N. Lincoln Avenue, North Center — Naomi Waxman, reporter
St. Louis-Style Ribs from Offset BBQ
When Offset BBQ first opened in early 2021, it touted itself as “unpretentious” barbecue — an approach inspired by humble roadside shacks serving top-notch smoked meats across the country. In truth, the admittedly no-frills restaurant is far from a shack. Still, the comparison tracks when one sinks their teeth into the smoky, lightly sauced, falling-off-the-bone St. Louis-style ribs. The meat is rich and satisfying all on its own but also serves as a delightful taste-testing vehicle for Offset’s sauces, including a tropical version with hints of citrusy pineapple. And even on a gloomy and quiet weekday night, the restaurant delivers some extra sweetness in the form of hospitality: in this case, a server whose sunny disposition was unabated by a slow evening and who brimmed with knowledge about the city’s restaurant scene and history, including the tale Chicago’s own Puerto Rican-invented jibarito. Offset BBQ, 1720 N. California Avenue, Humboldt Park — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Papaya Salad at Talard Thai Asian Market
At the back of Talard Thai Asian Market in Edgewater is a tiny hot food bar that’s filled every day by three cooks, all from different regions of Thailand, who prepare their local specialties. There are usually 20 or so dishes for customers to choose from, though the actual menu varies from day to day. There are a few constants, though, because Talard’s cooks and management know they should give the people what they want, and what they want — or what they should want, if they know what’s good for them — is papaya salad. Prepared by Annie Thumwong, it’s made in the northeast style, with noodle-like strips of papaya, cabbage, tomatoes, green beans, peanuts, and dried shrimp, all covered with a special tamarind dressing. It’s a mixture of sweet and sour, with extra pops of saltiness from the shrimp and the peanuts and just the right amount of crunch, because it’s a salad. It’s incredibly addictive, so it’s probably a good thing that it’s available at Talard every day. Talard Thai Asian Market, 5353 N. Broadway, Edgewater — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Caprese Pizza from Pazza Pizza
Chicago has plenty of pizza thanks to pandemic pivots and a general love for cheese, bread, and meats. With so much competition, it’s difficult to stand out, but a tiny Old Town pizzeria manages. Pazza Pizza has an Albanian owner whose family owned a bakery in Kosovo. While the shop sells slices, it also offers full pies to go — and as they’re New York-style pizzas they transport very well; they don’t deteriorate in quality when you open up the box at home. Pazza’s pepperoni is good enough to make any East Coaster nostalgic with a thin and chewy crust that lends exceptionally well to the perfect amount of cheese applied by Pazza’s staff. The restraint in not overloading the pie with cheese really stood out, and there are plenty of unusual combos offered. But one caught my attention: the Caprese. This vegetarian pie comes with a green pesto base and topped with tiny Roman tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. It’s light, delectable, and satisfying. And while Hawaiian and Buffalo chicken varieties may be more familiar, the Caprese fooled me into thinking I was eating a really tasty salad instead of enjoying a carb-indulgent splurge. And sometimes, mind over matter is all you need. Pazza Pizza, 1534 N. Sedgwick Street, Old Town — Ashok Selvam, editor
Pizza Pot Stickers from Way Out
For the most part, pandemic-era dining has stripped a simple pleasure from Chicagoans: Eating at a bar. Grabbing a stool and chatting with a bartender while waiting for the kitchen to deliver is a much needed departure from traditional table service. At Way Out, a dark tavern with a pool table in Logan Square, it would be easy to assume that the food would be an afterthought. Scan the QR code and look at the menu: cheese curds, taquitos, and wings provide solid sustenance. But there’s one item that leaps out from the screen: pizza pot stickers. These morsels combine xiao long bao with every teenager and stoner’s favorite snack: pizza rolls. With apologies to Kevin Durant’s mother, no one has ever made a pizza roll like this — bursting with sausage, pepperoni, and cheese and dusted with plenty of dried garlic to ward off Halloween vampires. The pizza pot sticker is already one of the best bar snacks in Chicago. Way Out, 3213 W. Armitage Avenue, Logan Square — Ashok Selvam, editor
Midwest Mac & Beer Cheese from Funeral Potatoes
The weather turns cold, the body cries out for butter, cheese, and noodles, the sort of rich and filling food that sticks to the ribs. Since the pandemic started, Eve Studnicka (Dinner at the Grotto) and Alexis Thomas (Black Cat Kitchen) have been teaming up, as Funeral Potatoes, to deliver seasonal comfort food to Chicagoans, and last week’s Midwest Mac & Beer Cheese was right on time. The beer was Bell’s Oktoberfest Ale, and the cheese was a blend of applewood smoked gouda, mascarpone, and chihuahua. There was also a touch of mustard in there, and the whole thing was topped with a cheesy crumble topping that resembled the crushed potato chips at the bottom of a bag. It all arrived frozen, but reheating required minimal effort, and it was a perfect meal for the end of a cold, rainy, exhausting week — made for eating in pajamas before heading off to bed with a good book. Funeral Potatoes, rotating menus drop weekly, order via Instagram —Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Demera Messob at Demera
For all its charms, autumn can be a tough adjustment in Chicago. Waning sunlight, cool temperatures, and the specter of winter looming at the horizon are all good reasons to hide among the couch cushions. Despite the siren song of cozy blankets at home, there are meals worth putting on real pants for, and dinner at Demera — arguably the city’s best Ethiopian restaurant — fits the bill perfectly. Designed explicitly for sharing, the Demera Messob is essentially a customizable combo platter where patrons choose three meat and three vegetable dishes to be eaten by hand with injera, a spongy fermented flatbread-slash-utensil. On a chilly Sunday evening, there were no better cures for the blues than ye-beg wot, cubed lamb cooked in a rich and fragrant berbere sauce, and kik alicha, a dish split yellow peas stewed with turmeric, onions, and garlic that sparks memories of delicious daals from meals past. Top off the melange of flavors with a bottle of Tusker, a light and refreshing Kenyan beer. Demera, 4801 N. Broadway Street, Uptown — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Hakka Noodles at Tasting India Monday Night Foodball pop-up
For the first seven Mondays of this NFL season, a series of Instagram chefs are emerging from the grid to bring dinner to the Kedzie Inn in Irving Park in a pop-up series, called — what else? — Monday Night Foodball — curated by Mike Sula of the Reader. This week’s entry was called “Foodball Goes to Mumbai,” and prepared by Jasmine Sheth of Tasting India. The menu included addictive Mumbai chakna (a snack mix), and a divine masala chai bread pudding, but the highlight was the vegetable hakka noodles. An Indo-Chinese specialty, hakka noodles are typically thin, flat, and stir fried; Sheth mixed hers with peppers and onions and I’m not sure what else to create something spicy and crispy and slurpy all at once. Sheth says that this is one of her favorite things that she makes, and it’s very easy to see why: a single order, it turned out, was not nearly enough. Kedzie Inn, Irving Park — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Axis shoulder bisque at Meet Your Meat pop-up
Pop-ups are a gamble, which is part of their appeal. Even veteran chefs can be thrown by a new environment, pace, or set of ingredients as they juggle the plethora of moving parts that make up any dining experience. Add in a live butchering demonstration where (gloved) patrons can feel up a side of axis deer and nearly anything could happen. Despite all the possible chaotic outcomes, chef Eve Studnicka (Funeral Potatoes) and Texas-based wild game butcher Kriss Abigail (Buckwild Babes) took on that hairy challenge with Meet Your Meat: Where the Wild Things Are, a seven-course “hedonistic dream feast” at underground dining club Saint Emeric.
Seven courses is a feat — especially for a chef like Studnicka, with no experience on the line — yet every thoughtful submission brought out deep and delicate flavor in each part of the deer, from heart to backstrap. The dish made the biggest impression was a surprise contender: a soup course starring axis shoulder gently laid in a bowl of deep, sumptuous bisque of massaman and pumpkin topped with tangy pools of citrus melon chili oil. Smooth and fragrant, it gave a respectful nod to Thai tom yum and served as a decadent pillow for the axis. Chicago may still be enjoying summery temperatures but this bowl of bisque foretells a fantastic soup season. Saint Emeric, Logan Square — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Lumache at Adalina
Adalina isn’t for the timid as the second-floor dining room is routinely packed in River North. The only true signs of the pandemic are the masks staff wear as the restaurant provides a pre-pandemic nostalgia factor with a loud dining room and chic decor. With sceney restaurants like this, especially off State Street, it would be understandable to dismiss the restaurant’s food. That would be a grave mistake as chef Soo Ahn’s pastas are attention grabbing and unique. Ahn’s playful style is hardly traditional, but it’s captivating and fun. Though the “pesto” campanelle is a fan favorite, but the zestier lumache with a mix of Maine lobster and red king crab is the real highlight. The jumbo shells grab onto the Calabrian-chile spiked red sauce and the giant chunks of seafood are delightful. While the loud dining room isn’t conducive to conversation, sitting at a table in silence with a plate of these noodles provides more than enough entertainment. 912 N. State Street, River North — Ashok Selvam, editor.
Nihari Momo at Wazwan pop-up
Chicago’s dumpling game has made great strides in the past few years with an abundance of new entries popping up from all over the world. One of the more intriguing options appeared at the end of August in Wicker Park, thanks to South Asian street food specialist Wazwan. Wazwan, which is also a delivery-only restaurant, has taken over a space west of Division and Ashland for a month-long residency. They’re serving beef nihari momos, and the consistency will remind eaters of tortellini. These bundles are a little more chewy versus that the pillowy bites from the traditional Nepalese item. The chew brings a nice burst of flavor from the beef stuffed inside the noodle with hints of cilantro, garlic, ginger and a special spice mix (nihari is a type of South Asian stew utilizing several different spices; it’s about more than “curry”). The Wazwan crew debuted a similar item earlier this summer at a pop-up at Bar Sotano. As they prepare to open their new Ukrainian Village restaurant, Aman, expect more momo goodness in the future. The pop-up extends through September 30. 1742 W. Division Street, Wicker Park — Ashok Selvam, editor.
Tacos de Camerones y Queso at Mercado del Sol, Concord, California
Note: Deputy Editor Aimee Levitt writes about a dish she enjoyed while visiting California.
In the glossy tourist magazines one can pick up at airports to read on the rental car shuttle and then immediately discard, Concord, California, about half an hour east of Berkeley, advertises itself as a destination for taco lovers. Given that these tourist magazines are essentially ad copy, Concord’s claim to taco glory initially seemed dubious, but it’s hard to argue with a Taco Trail that is 39 stops long, especially since every stop is a local establishment: there is not a single Taco Bell or Chipotle to be found on the list. Mercado del Sol is the westernmost stop on Monument Avenue and the very first taqueria a visitor will encounter after a drive in from the East Bay. The tacos de camerones y queso were a weekend special, though the lightly grilled shrimp and fresh-made tortillas are always available. The cheese, however, did make it special. It appeared in two manifestations: melted chihuahua cheese inside and crispy frico outside. Refried beans are usually an afterthought, but these were savory and delicious. If Mercado del Sol is any indication of what the rest of the Concord Taco Trail is like, in a just world the town would be jam-packed every weekend. 1450 Monument Avenue, Concord, California — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Chef’s board at Lardon
A good cheese and charcuterie board evokes a frenzied, wide-eyed delight in eyeing a decadent spread arranged like an open jewel box. The team at newish salumeria and cafe Lardon is acutely aware of this “wow” effect, which is apparent with their artful chef’s board that prizes both substance and style. The simple plank features a menagerie of textures; thinly sliced rounds of peppery finocchiona, rich shards of Hook’s Triple Play (“the first cheese that made me cry,” a server divulged), and a dollop of smooth truffled lardo. These are couched among various breads, fruit jams, salty olives, plus a glistening hunk of honeycomb oozing with golden syrup. Balance those flavors with a bottle of 2020 Mixtape White, a funky table wine from California-based Amplify Wineries. 2200 N. California Avenue, Logan Square — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Tara no misoyaki at Omakase Yume
Watching chef Sangtae Park’s deft, methodical movements behind the counter at Michelin-starred Omakase Yume, it’s easy to become hypnotized by the series of perfectly-formed, jewel-like nigiri he places before each patron. They all have their own winning features, from luscious otoro to firm kampachi. But after each glamorous entry has taken its turn, it’s the humble tara no misoyaki — two delicate pieces of miso-broiled black cod laid atop a small mound of rice — that surpasses the visceral pleasures of good food to plumb something deeper: nostalgia, memory, comfort, home. High-end Japanese dining prior to the pandemic was fast becoming a status symbol for the ultra-wealthy, and Park does offer luxe specials like caviar dusted in gold leaf ($45 each). But when the fanfare quiets and the Instagram “likes” have slowed, his reverent rendition of a simple classic grounds the experience with heart. 651 W. Washington Boulevard, West Loop — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Duck carnitas taco at Taqueria Chingón
Taqueria Chingón sold out the first day it opened last December, and not much has changed since then. Diners have to show up early to get a crack at the daily specials, which disappear by late afternoon. However, if one is willing to dine Sun City-style, like showing up for dinner at 4:45 p.m., one can nab a seat on the patio and eat these remarkably delicious tacos while they’re still hot. The duck carnitas taco contains slivers of crispy duck meat mixed with crispier chicharrons, their richness cut by a puree of dates, a spicy habanero and sunchoke salsa, and a bright burst of cara cara orange, all piled on a tortilla that’s straight off the comel. It’s a perfect mix of crispy, salty, spicy, and surprisingly sweet. 2236 N. Western, Logan Square — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor