We’d be fucking with you if we were to claim that we really know what’s “best.” No, all we can promise is that we at the Reader spend a lot of time—the majority of our professional lives, and a whole lot of our off-the-clock ones—trying to understand the many complicated ways in which this city expresses itself. Our Best of Chicago issue is devoted not to figuring out who or what has excelled the most but, rather, to collecting our observations over the past year of those things that have moved us (Best Revealing Joke About a Family Member), puzzled us (Best Riff on That Weird, Half-Naked, Soft-Focus Portrait in a Window by the Whistler), delighted us (Best Use of a Slushy Machine), surprised us (Best Performances That Make You Think One Guy Is Two Entirely Different People), shocked us (Best Cheap Cigarettes—a mere $3.25 a pack!), continued to impress us (Best Baseball Announcer Likely to Recall an Obscure Play From Ten Years Ago in Extraordinary Detail), and, in some cases, rightfully pissed us off (Best Fighters for a Lost Cause).

You’re probably picking up on a theme here.

While we’re not always going for the obvious in determining what it means to be the city’s best, we are specific about what works for us and why. From Stephanie Izard’s profligate use of kimchi to Miss Lee’s soulful use of yellow turnips, Dale Calandra’s mastery of a fat suit in The Whale to Hans Fleischmann’s theatrically unruly facial hair in The Glass Menagerie , we use the opportunity afforded by this issue to celebrate the meaning in the small details. Taken together, they reveal a portrait of what’s really happening in the city—the best, perhaps. But who really knows. Mara Shalhoup