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The Choco Taco sundae at Little Goat
The Choco Taco sundae at Little Goat
Courtesy of Little Goat

Choco Tacos & More: 12 Delicious Desserts Inspired By Savory Dishes in Chicago

That taco, pizza, and more aren't what you'd expect

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The Choco Taco sundae at Little Goat
| Courtesy of Little Goat

Those who consider their sweet tooth a blessing may often say, "Sure, I guess I can look at the dessert menu." Alas, many desserts can be over-the-top sweet, or perhaps too traditional, making many diners abstain. But a few chefs and restaurants get sweets from an ulterior perspective, yanking savory dishes from the main event, twisting them through dreams of whirly pastry tubes, and plopping them onto the dessert list like a taco gone Animorphs.

Chef Carlos Gaytan, for one, doesn't necessarily stick to purity in his highly technical dishes. His take on the avocado—which he makes into a dessert—is no different. "When people expect traditional names and items, such as guac, they'll get them [at Mexique]," he says, "but not first and not in the way they expect." His dessert guacamole may confuse diners on paper, but its soft green color speckled with fresh fruit presented in a traditional molcajete insists that the accompanying chips be dipped. That's a familiar need indeed.

Beyond Nestlé's Choco Taco, these 12 sweet takes on savory dishes may encourage leaving room for that dessert. Presented in alphabetical order.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. 5411 Empanadas: Banana and Nutella Empanada

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2045 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 276-8344
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On the quest for a sweet filling for their thin yet supple empanada encasement, 5411 owner Nicolas Ibarzabel and his team immediately turned to a consistent crowd-pleaser: “You just can’t go wrong with Nutella.” Though an unlikely flavor in Argentina, the banana and Nutella combo satisfies that sweet tooth and still lets the integrity of the dough shine.

Nicholas Ibarzabel

2. Bombon Cafe: Margarita Cake

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1530 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608

Owners Laura and Luis Perea have baked some of Chicago’s finest cakes, originally from their Pilsen bakery and now from three additional locations, including one based on a margarita. Their take on America’s favorite tequila cocktail starts with a vanilla, tequila and lime cake that is iced in a white chocolate buttercream and topped with citrus-zested whipped cream and fresh berries. Why not drink your margarita and eat it too?

Bombon Cafe

3. La Encantada Mexican Restaurant: Chiles en Nogada

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3437 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-5026
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Chiles en nogada — a specialty of Mexican Independence celebrations — can be tough to find on menus outside of the month of September due to the labor-intensive process. Though not truly a dessert, the sweet walnut cream sauce that smothers a mild green pepper, stuffed with ground meat, tomatoes, onion, and bits of fruits and nuts, carefully mitigates the border between sweet and savory. Owner Irma Enriquez makes her family’s Chiles en Nogada all year long with three kinds of fruit (peach, pear and apple) and three nut varieties (cashews, almonds and pecans).

Irma Enriquez

4. Little Goat: Choco Taco

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820 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 888-3455
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Since 1983, the mash-up of chocolate and ice cream wrapped in a tortilla wafer has tickled the fancy of millions of Americans and, in recent years, the minds of many chefs. While seemingly everything is decadent in Stephanie Izard’s diner world, her version of a Choco Taco no doubt gives new meaning to sundaes. Crispy housemade masa chips dipped in semi-sweet chocolate and a bit of coconut oil, which helps it harden, are worthy vehicles for every bite of tangy Black Dog sour cream gelato and cajeta drizzle.

Little Goat

5. Mexique: Dessert Guacamole

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1529 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 850-0288
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A solid start to any Mexican meal, chef Carlos Gaytan flips the traditional guacamole into a delicate avocado pastry cream, subtly laced with vanilla and billowy enough to put any toast’s schmear to shame. Presented in an adorable puerquito (little piggy) molcajete surrounded by a smattering of edible leaves and flowers, he finishes the mousse with a few teensy cubes of strawberries (or other toppings, like pomegranate seeds, depending on the season) and cinnamon-sugar buenitos, bite-sized tortilla wedges intended to be dipped.

Kristine Sherred

6. Milwalky Trace: Port Wine Poached Pear With Brie Ice Cream

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603 N Milwaukee Ave
Libertyville, IL 60048
(847) 530-7172
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Debating between a cheese plate and a classic dessert? At suburban Libertyville’s high-caliber Milwalky Trace, chef Lee Kuebler bridges the gap for you by putting cheese right into the ice cream maker. He pairs this somewhat funky brie ice cream with a Bartlett pear, poached in port wine lending a vibrant burgundy hue. “It’s really the amalgamation of the end of a meal: port, cheese, dessert," he says.

Milwalky Trace

7. Owen & Engine: Earl Grey Creme Brulee

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2700 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 235-2930
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The few-ingredient crème brûlée remains a quintessential dessert, but pastry chef Stephanie Keefe enhances the flavor by steeping heavy cream with ASI’s Earl Grey, a domestic tea blend from Ossabaw Island off the coast of Savannah, GA. That intense bergamot flavor envelopes the typically vanilla-laced egg custard within and on top: Keefe completes the caramelized crust with a dollop of Earl Grey-infused white chocolate mousse and Earl Grey-poached pears for a British tea time unlike any other.

Stephanie Keefe

8. Pizzeria De Nella: Pizza alla Nutella

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1443 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

Pizza for dessert after pizza for dinner? That’s a thing at Frank Grassano’s Neapolitan pizza haven in Lincoln Park — customers order dessert pizzas 20 to 30 times on weekend nights, in fact. Perhaps more aptly described as a Nutella quesadilla dusted with powdered sugar, the same “00” dough used for their classic pies gets par-baked in the 800-degree brick oven, just until it puffs up, then removed and gently stuffed with a hefty layer of Nutella.

Frank Grassano

9. Podhalanka: Farmer's Cheese Blintzes

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1549 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60642
(773) 486-6655

Step back in time and into your Polish grandmother’s kitchen at Podhalanka, well-known for their cabbage soup and, of course, their pierogis. While said pierogis satisfy an urge for savory doughy dumplings, the farmer’s cheese blintzes follow the same comforting thread, as owner Helena Madej wraps a homemade farmer’s cheese (pressed unripened cheese, akin to cottage cheese but creamier and tangier, mixed with egg yolk, vanilla and a pinch of sugar) in a crepe-like pastry before quickly cooking on the stovetop with a turn of the wrist. Madej serves this faintly sweet roll-up with a tart sour cream and applesauce.

Kristine Sherred

10. Pub Royale: Naan Doughnut

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2049 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 661-6874
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At one of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants, chef Nate Tano repurposes his naan dough by frying it like a beignet. More savory than ordinary doughnut dough, raised with baking soda and a bit more temperature sensitive, the naan lends a “savory, almost funky characteristic” that plays nicely with the dish’s accompanying sauce — a chai dulce de leche spiced with fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, black tea and cashews. Tucked in the main menu, Tano offers his Anglo-Indian doughnut at both brunch and dinner.

Martha Williams

11. Quartino: Gelato Panino

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626 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 698-5000
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Not your average ice cream sandwich, this dainty panino prefers a fork and knife over one or two hands. Paninos sometimes use brioche or pâte à choux as the vehicle for any variety of rich, creamy fillings, but executive chef John Coletta cushions a scoop of Angelo’s lemon gelato from Franklin Park in between two lemon-laced Pan di Spagna al limone (lemon sponge cakes), baked in-house daily, for a light take on the ice cream sandwich.

Quartino

12. RPM Italian: Sweet Burrata

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52 W Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 222-1888
Visit Website

The standard burrata bearer stays in the appetizer section of RPM’s ritzy Italian menu, but the prized cheese ball also found a reasonably priced vacation home — in desserts. Both dishes feature burrata from California’s Angelo and Franco, but the unusual sweetness (“so damn sweet,” says Chef Doug Psaltis) of this particular mozzarella encouraged the chef and his team to elevate that richness, as Psaltis churns to order the burrata, adds a dose of Kilgus Farmstead milk and a hint of sugar and stabilizer. The resulting cheesy gelato gets a sprinkle of sea salt, Tuscan basil, and “Neapolitan strawberries” — Mighty Vine tomatoes cooked down with vanilla and caramel.

RPM Italian

1. 5411 Empanadas: Banana and Nutella Empanada

2045 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Nicholas Ibarzabel

On the quest for a sweet filling for their thin yet supple empanada encasement, 5411 owner Nicolas Ibarzabel and his team immediately turned to a consistent crowd-pleaser: “You just can’t go wrong with Nutella.” Though an unlikely flavor in Argentina, the banana and Nutella combo satisfies that sweet tooth and still lets the integrity of the dough shine.

2045 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

2. Bombon Cafe: Margarita Cake

1530 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608
Bombon Cafe

Owners Laura and Luis Perea have baked some of Chicago’s finest cakes, originally from their Pilsen bakery and now from three additional locations, including one based on a margarita. Their take on America’s favorite tequila cocktail starts with a vanilla, tequila and lime cake that is iced in a white chocolate buttercream and topped with citrus-zested whipped cream and fresh berries. Why not drink your margarita and eat it too?

1530 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608

3. La Encantada Mexican Restaurant: Chiles en Nogada

3437 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Irma Enriquez

Chiles en nogada — a specialty of Mexican Independence celebrations — can be tough to find on menus outside of the month of September due to the labor-intensive process. Though not truly a dessert, the sweet walnut cream sauce that smothers a mild green pepper, stuffed with ground meat, tomatoes, onion, and bits of fruits and nuts, carefully mitigates the border between sweet and savory. Owner Irma Enriquez makes her family’s Chiles en Nogada all year long with three kinds of fruit (peach, pear and apple) and three nut varieties (cashews, almonds and pecans).

3437 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

4. Little Goat: Choco Taco

820 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607
Little Goat

Since 1983, the mash-up of chocolate and ice cream wrapped in a tortilla wafer has tickled the fancy of millions of Americans and, in recent years, the minds of many chefs. While seemingly everything is decadent in Stephanie Izard’s diner world, her version of a Choco Taco no doubt gives new meaning to sundaes. Crispy housemade masa chips dipped in semi-sweet chocolate and a bit of coconut oil, which helps it harden, are worthy vehicles for every bite of tangy Black Dog sour cream gelato and cajeta drizzle.

820 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607

5. Mexique: Dessert Guacamole

1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
Kristine Sherred

A solid start to any Mexican meal, chef Carlos Gaytan flips the traditional guacamole into a delicate avocado pastry cream, subtly laced with vanilla and billowy enough to put any toast’s schmear to shame. Presented in an adorable puerquito (little piggy) molcajete surrounded by a smattering of edible leaves and flowers, he finishes the mousse with a few teensy cubes of strawberries (or other toppings, like pomegranate seeds, depending on the season) and cinnamon-sugar buenitos, bite-sized tortilla wedges intended to be dipped.

1529 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60642

6. Milwalky Trace: Port Wine Poached Pear With Brie Ice Cream

603 N Milwaukee Ave, Libertyville, IL 60048
Milwalky Trace

Debating between a cheese plate and a classic dessert? At suburban Libertyville’s high-caliber Milwalky Trace, chef Lee Kuebler bridges the gap for you by putting cheese right into the ice cream maker. He pairs this somewhat funky brie ice cream with a Bartlett pear, poached in port wine lending a vibrant burgundy hue. “It’s really the amalgamation of the end of a meal: port, cheese, dessert," he says.

603 N Milwaukee Ave
Libertyville, IL 60048

7. Owen & Engine: Earl Grey Creme Brulee

2700 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Stephanie Keefe

The few-ingredient crème brûlée remains a quintessential dessert, but pastry chef Stephanie Keefe enhances the flavor by steeping heavy cream with ASI’s Earl Grey, a domestic tea blend from Ossabaw Island off the coast of Savannah, GA. That intense bergamot flavor envelopes the typically vanilla-laced egg custard within and on top: Keefe completes the caramelized crust with a dollop of Earl Grey-infused white chocolate mousse and Earl Grey-poached pears for a British tea time unlike any other.

2700 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

8. Pizzeria De Nella: Pizza alla Nutella

1443 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
Frank Grassano

Pizza for dessert after pizza for dinner? That’s a thing at Frank Grassano’s Neapolitan pizza haven in Lincoln Park — customers order dessert pizzas 20 to 30 times on weekend nights, in fact. Perhaps more aptly described as a Nutella quesadilla dusted with powdered sugar, the same “00” dough used for their classic pies gets par-baked in the 800-degree brick oven, just until it puffs up, then removed and gently stuffed with a hefty layer of Nutella.

1443 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

9. Podhalanka: Farmer's Cheese Blintzes

1549 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642
Kristine Sherred

Step back in time and into your Polish grandmother’s kitchen at Podhalanka, well-known for their cabbage soup and, of course, their pierogis. While said pierogis satisfy an urge for savory doughy dumplings, the farmer’s cheese blintzes follow the same comforting thread, as owner Helena Madej wraps a homemade farmer’s cheese (pressed unripened cheese, akin to cottage cheese but creamier and tangier, mixed with egg yolk, vanilla and a pinch of sugar) in a crepe-like pastry before quickly cooking on the stovetop with a turn of the wrist. Madej serves this faintly sweet roll-up with a tart sour cream and applesauce.

1549 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60642

10. Pub Royale: Naan Doughnut

2049 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622
Martha Williams

At one of Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants, chef Nate Tano repurposes his naan dough by frying it like a beignet. More savory than ordinary doughnut dough, raised with baking soda and a bit more temperature sensitive, the naan lends a “savory, almost funky characteristic” that plays nicely with the dish’s accompanying sauce — a chai dulce de leche spiced with fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, black tea and cashews. Tucked in the main menu, Tano offers his Anglo-Indian doughnut at both brunch and dinner.

2049 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622

11. Quartino: Gelato Panino

626 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654
Quartino

Not your average ice cream sandwich, this dainty panino prefers a fork and knife over one or two hands. Paninos sometimes use brioche or pâte à choux as the vehicle for any variety of rich, creamy fillings, but executive chef John Coletta cushions a scoop of Angelo’s lemon gelato from Franklin Park in between two lemon-laced Pan di Spagna al limone (lemon sponge cakes), baked in-house daily, for a light take on the ice cream sandwich.

626 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654

12. RPM Italian: Sweet Burrata

52 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654
RPM Italian

The standard burrata bearer stays in the appetizer section of RPM’s ritzy Italian menu, but the prized cheese ball also found a reasonably priced vacation home — in desserts. Both dishes feature burrata from California’s Angelo and Franco, but the unusual sweetness (“so damn sweet,” says Chef Doug Psaltis) of this particular mozzarella encouraged the chef and his team to elevate that richness, as Psaltis churns to order the burrata, adds a dose of Kilgus Farmstead milk and a hint of sugar and stabilizer. The resulting cheesy gelato gets a sprinkle of sea salt, Tuscan basil, and “Neapolitan strawberries” — Mighty Vine tomatoes cooked down with vanilla and caramel.

52 W Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60654

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