14 Must-Eat Chicago Dishes You Need to Try Right Now

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: The Blanchard’s Dover Sole Meunière

This summer has been all about eating (okay, to be honest, every season for me is about eating, but still!) and I’ve had some very memorable meals, from the North Suburbs to the South Side, from old stalwarts to brand-spanking-new hotspots. And these, hands down, are some of the most delicious things I’ve consumed in the past few months. Can you live without eating these amazing dishes? Sure, but your life will be a lot more pleasant if you take the time to eat them. A happy tummy will result; this is no time to count calories!

Avli Rotisserie’s Arugula and Apple Salad with Gyros

Louis Alexakis, of Winnetka’s Avli Estiatorio, has opened a quick-service restaurant that centers on rotisserie-cooked meats. I’m in love with this salad of organic arugula and apples, walnuts and goat cheese, tossed in Greek honey-balsamic vinaigrette, especially when topped with his house-made gyros slices, seasoned to perfection ($13). Pick one up on your way to Ravinia. Avli Rotisserie, 566 Chestnut St., Winnetka, 847-466-9300 

The Blanchard’s Dover Sole Meunière

This dish (pictured above) was once the gold standard for fine dining; here, chef Jason Paskewitz rediscovers what made it great. Pristinely fresh and sweet Dover sole, sautéed a rich golden brown and dressed with capers, lemon juice and broken brown butter, served with a decadent watercress-potato purée and showered with fresh chervil ($42). Worth every penny. 1935 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago, 872-829-3971 

Boltwood’s Pork Pozole Verde

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Boltwood’s Pork Pozole Verde
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

Chef Brian Huston favors a seasonal menu, but I fervently hope that this dish of herby broth, firm pozole and shreds of meltingly tender pork topped with fried eggs, crispy cabbage, radish, cilantro and crunchy tortilla strips never disappears ($13). 804 Davis St., Evanston, 847-859-2880

Brindille’s Steak Tartare 

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Brindille's Steak Tartare
Photo by Paul Strabbing.

James Beard Award-winning chef Carrie Nahabedian goes full-on luxe at Brindille. Don’t miss her hand-chopped tartare of highest-quality beef redolent with flavors of rye, tarragon and sorrel, and served with quail eggs, anchoïade, pickled mustard seeds and caramelized pearl onions. A stunning dish. 534 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-595-1616

Duck Inn’s Rotisserie Duck

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Duck Inn’s Rotisserie Duck
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

Chef Kevin Hickey’s Bridgeport hangout has a menu filled with craveable items, none more so than his famous duck, which must be pre-ordered (they make a limited amount each night). The presentation changes with the seasons; currently it’s served with duck fat potato salad, baby kale, stone fruits, radishes and cherry Duck Sauce ($65); easily serves two. 2701 S. Eleanor, Chicago, 312-724-8811

Ema’s Housemade Stracciatella With Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Ema’s Housemade Stracciatella With Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

Los Angeles import CJ Jacobson was first brought to Chicago to open Intro, Lettuce Entertain You’s experimental restaurant in Lincoln Park. They loved him — and he loved Chicago — so much that they opened a restaurant just for him, and it’s an instant favorite. Everything here is vaguely Ottolenghi-reminiscent, and that’s a very, very good thing. Among our favorites was this house-made cheese — a bit more structured than burrata — dressed with California Arbequina olive oil, lots of fresh pepper, roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine, and a sprightly herb salad ($14). 74 W. Illinois St., Chicago, 312-527-5586 

Fat Rice’s Arroz Gordo

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Fat Rice's Arroz Gordo
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

Chefs Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo cook the cuisine of Macau, a former Portuguese colony in China. Cultures collide in their signature dish, where paella meets Asian ingredients and the result is crazy big … and off-the-charts flavorful. Bursting out of the pot of jasmine rice, flavored with sofrito, you’ll find chorizo, salted duck, linguiça sausage, prawns, steamed clams, tea eggs, chicken fat-fried croutons, olives and pickled chiles. It’s presented with mushroom soy and hot sauce to gild the lily ($48). Share it with the table. 2957 W. Diversey, Chicago, 773-661-9170

Formento’s Bone-In Ribeye 

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Formento’s Bone-In Ribeye
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

Executive Chef/Partner Stephen Wambach served as chef de cuisine at BLT Steak in NYC, and opened BLT restaurants around the world. So it’s no surprise he knows his way around a prime cut of meat. The overwhelming evidence: this 20 oz. beauty topped with smoked Mighty Vines tomatoes, a fresh and vinegary salsa of chopped shallots, herbs and red finger chiles, and fried rosemary ($56). Possibly the best steak I’ve had all year. 925 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-690-7295

Lena Brava’s Whole Grilled Striped Bass

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Lena Brava's Whole Grilled Striped Bass
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

When Rick Bayless opened his newest restaurant, he tapped chefs Lisa and Fred Despres to execute his fire-and-ice menu vision. The centerpiece of the wood-burning ovens and grills is the whole fish. My favorite preparation is the Yucatecan-style tikin xik (marinated in achiote, roasted garlic, spices) with pickled red onions and habanero ($38). Share with a friend. 900 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-733-1975 

Mesa Urbana’s Fish Tacos

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Mesa Urbana’s Fish Tacos
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

Chef Eusevio Garcia is cooking some lovely seafood here, and the margaritas made with fresh juices are not to be missed. But I almost always opt for a well-made fish taco when given the option. Pan-seared grouper, cabbage, pineapple relish, avocado and caper aioli top homemade corn tortillas ($18). 3566 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook, 847-383-0700 

mfk’s Croquetas

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: mfk's Croquetas
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

I was first introduced to the magic of croquetas — delectable croquettes that are various savory morsels essentially held together with béchamel sauce, coated with breadcrumbs and fried — on a trip to Cuba many years ago. Ever since, I have ordered them whenever and wherever they appear on a menu. Chef Daniel Mejia’s croquetas are perfection; currently they are made with smoked chicken and potato with tomatillo salsa ($12). 432 W. Diversey, Chicago, 773-857-2540 

Momotaro’s Age Dashi Tofu

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Momotaro's Age Dashi Tofu
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

This is a case where nearly everything we ate could’ve made it on this list (a special shout-out to the umami bomb of Momotaro Tomato Tartare), but I didn’t want to ignore the vegetarians out there. Chef Mark Hellyar owns the soybean crown with his island of fried organic tofu, topped with scallions and nasturtium, floating in a sea of sweet soy dashi ($14). 820 Lake St., Chicago, 312-733-4818 

Promontory’s Shrimp and Grits

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Promontory's Shrimp and Grits
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

This dish has been overdone, and ordinarily I might have passed. But I am so very happy I took the plunge. Chef Jared Wentworth’s interpretation of head-on grilled Gulf prawns with black pepper BBQ sauce, garlic sausage, cheese grits, okra and pickled kale sang with promise, and delivered ($25). 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. West, Chicago, 312-801-2100 

Steadfast’s Butter-Poached Maine Lobster

Must-Eat Chicago Dishes: Steadfast's Butter-Poached Maine Lobster
Photo by Julie Chernoff.

This was a stealth opening but it’s about to become über hot once the word gets out about this loop resto, which opened before the Kimpton Gray Hotel to which it’s attached. Chef Christopher Davies is sending out gorgeous plates, including this composed stunner that features rich tail and claw meat in an uni/lobster emulsion, topped with house-made brioche and caviar ($62). To share with the table. 120 W. Monroe St., Chicago, 312-801-8899

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