While putting the finishing touches on this year’s Best of Chicago issue, I had one of the most oft-cited lines about our fair city running through my mind. You know the one. Nelson Algren in City on the Make, remarking about Chicago’s rough-edged charm: “Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.” In the 65 years since Algren made the observation, it’s become, in my estimation, the most nauseating of Chicago cliches. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less true.

When the Reader staff and some of our favorite Chicago writers pitched essays on the things they love about this town, many of the proposed topics happened to be possessed of that peculiar broken-nose appeal. And so there are tributes to the Chicago accent, alleys, expressway-adjacent el platforms, rats, bathroom graffiti, the cheap seats at the Cell, uncomfortable theaters, drunken tattoos—even that crooked beak of a downtown edifice, the James R. Thompson Center. Others declared affection for more conventionally lovable Chicago things: opulent hotel lobbies, North Shore real estate, Mold-A-Rama, the 90s Bulls, the Logan Square ice cream shop formerly known as Tastee-Freez. But the common thread uniting all of the pieces in this issue is something Algren would surely appreciate: a passion for the subject matter, whether it’s one of the city’s lovely lovelies or one of its lovelies so real. Jake Malooley