Pie is about obsession. What else would compel someone to spend hours blending and chilling and rolling and crimping the perfect crust, and then dreaming up the perfect mixture of fruit or custard or chocolate to fill it? In comparison, mixing up a batch of cupcakes is nothing.
The pie sign at Hoosier Mama draws customers to West Town from all over the city, either to buy a dessert to take home, to sit at one of the shabby-chic tables and enjoy a slice of pie (chess pie pictured above) and a cup of coffee for $5, or, on Friday nights, to partake of the pie flights, where they can sample any three of the ten varieties on offer.
At three locations in Ravenswood, Ravenswood Manor, and Andersonville, First Slice serves up not just pie but a dinner subscription program; its proceeds go to pay for meals for needy families.
Bang Bang is the happiest place in Logan Square. The pie, house-roasted coffee, and home-style biscuits are all so good that you don’t mind having to eat your breakfast at a communal table. As an extra bonus, the staff will warn you if you’re about to get a ticket and bring your pie and coffee outside so you don’t have to move your car.
Pie may be about love and community, but sometimes you don’t need a community any larger than the one you can find at home. Fortunately, there’s two-time Bucktown Apple Pie contest winner Cheap Tart, which delivers right to your very own front door.
—Aimee Levitt, Reader staff writer
There was a time when city dwellers had to quest to the faraway land of Westmont and brave the taciturn Mr. Red Shirt for the glorious ruddy twists that found their way into beefy niu rou mien, tongue-tingling dan dan mien, and Sichuan noodle soup. Now it’s relatively easy—they’ve added a third location in Oak Park.
The thick, chewy pepper- and beef-dressed lagman (pictured above) at this Kyrgyz joint have a smooth, uniform consistency that makes it hard to believe that each order is individually rolled and stretched in a ballet of the noodle arts.
Lazzat Euro Asian Cuisine
2245 W. Irving Park, 773-654-3797
It’s even harder to believe that anyone could top Jibek Jolu’s noodles, but the long, tentacular lagman at this Kyrgyz spot have a likable irregularity that’s unmistakably handmade and goes well with the soupy broth and finely cut vegetables.
2140 S. Archer, 312-808-9538
Chef Liu Chang Ming is stationed right in front of the window in the Chinatown mall, stretching and pulling the dough, so passersby can be easily caught in his mesmerizing noodle dough cat’s-cradle act.
—Mike Sula, Reader senior writer
Obsessive about espresso? You could say that. I travel a lot for work, and I’ve made a point to hit the best place in any particular destination on earth. When I’m home in Chicago, these are my favorite places.
The first place in Chicago that had the real stuff is, of course, Intelligentsia on Broadway. I would go over there to shop at Reckless in the late 90s and walk up the street to Intelli. I haven’t been there for a while but it’s in the middle of an overhaul and will open again April 18. They were the only game in town for years, and then the “third wave” hit and everything exploded.
I live in Logan Square, so I started going to places closer to my house as they became worthy. First was Wormhole. I still love going there when I’m in Wicker Park. Consistently great coffee and staff. Sit at the bar if you can.
Then there was Ipsento. They were the first small cafe I knew of roasting their own beans, and I became a regular. In the summer they have tables outside where it’s great to watch Chicago go by.
My new place is Gaslight. Big windows, they roast their own beans (and Wormhole’s), and it’s four blocks from my house! The bar by the wall is where the action is. That’s my go-to . . . until Intelligentsia opens its new Logan location on Milwaukee April 25! I’ve seen pictures of what’s going on in there, and it looks like it’s going to be my new number one.
—Jeremy Lemos, recording engineer and musician
Best vegan brunch: the pepita scramble (get it with tofu) and the vegan French toast (pictured above).
Soul Vegetarian East
205 E. 75th, 773-224-0104
Best vegan lunch: carrot supreme salad, soup of the day (split pea is my favorite), and cornbread.
Best vegan buffet: 100 percent vegetarian, with many vegan options—very fresh and healthy Indian.
Best vegan sandwich: the Radical Reuben sandwich, vegan comfort food at its best!
Best vegan entree: Moroccan Rockin’ Bowl— superfilling and delicious.
Best vegan dessert: chocolate cake—not too dry, not too sweet, just right.
—Jessica Aiken, a yoga instructor who’s been vegan since 2009
The key to finding a good oyster in the landlocked midwest is volume—the faster a restaurant moves through its inventory, the fresher the oyster is likely to be. That said, you can’t really do better than Shaw’s Crab House, where an impressive variety of oysters are shucked noon and night, seven days a week.
Braving the River North crowds at GT Fish & Oyster can feel a little like a night at the Roxbury, but a selection of oysters that rotates daily and nice upmarket touches from Trotter alum Giuseppe Tentori (ponzu mignonette, anyone?) make it worth the battle. Plus, oysters drop to half price after 10 PM.
Props to Publican for serving their oysters with minimal distraction; just traditional mignonette, lemon, and a handy cheat sheet to follow along. To the purist, for whom Tabasco on the ethereal body of a Beausoleil is sacrilege, this spot offers sanctuary.
—Sarah Nardi, Reader contributor
This bare-bones Fulton Market Italian grocery, founded in 1937—decades before modern cuisine moved into the hood—builds the be-all and end-all sub sandwich. With intense and smoky meats; sharp, vinegary dressing; and fresh, crusty bread, you can’t go wrong here. Perfect and simple.
Bari is most sub lovers’ first pick, and for good reason. Huge subs (pictured above) are piled high, but you should add the house-marinated eggplant slices or artichoke hearts for an even bigger flavor explosion.
1124 W. Grand, 312-733-5456
The bakery next door to Bari has recently gotten into the sandwich game—and is giving them a serious run for their money. D’Amato’s offers a large selection of amazing fresh subs, and the hot peppers are some of the best I’ve tried.
This tiny pizzeria in Wicker Park makes gigantic, top-quality subs and also offers some delicious hot sandwiches, including house-made meatball and eggplant parmesan.
This relatively new Logan Square deli serves up a selection of fresh sandwiches. They’re a little smaller and less traditional than most sub spots, but that doesn’t mean they’re not really, really good.
—Luca Cimarusti, Reader music listings coordinator
Mac ‘n’ cheese
Macaroni and cheese is a thing I love so much, and damn the world for suggesting I grow up already. I tried. I tried in my 20s when friends and family playfully chided that I’m basically a culinary infant. I gave up trying in my 30s, because, well, that’s what you do in your 30s. So my favorite food is macaroni and cheese. One of ‘em, anyway.
I’ve been playing Schubas for so many years now. I unabashedly love that place, and no, I’m not just saying that so’s they’ll keep having me back (my schedule is WIDE OPEN; look at all the time I have to ponder mac ‘n’ cheese). What I love about Schubas’ macaroni and cheese (pictured above) is that they apparently love it as much as I do, dedicating a section of the menu to a build-your-own mac dish (the veggie chili is especially good). And they put bread crumbs on top, which is extremely fancy.
I wish I could say I’ve had Kuma’s mac ‘n’ cheese but I CAN’T GET IN THE GODDAMN JOINT. Good for them for having such robust business. I hear it’s phenomenal, and I’ve yet to be jaded by the fanfare—I still really want to try it one of these days. Any advice on when to go is appreciated; I’ve been told to go alone in the dead hours of midday to snag a seat at the bar. Will do.
Location not disclosed
(Somewhere on Chicago’s northwest side)
Some of the best mac ‘n’ cheese I’ll ever have is at home. Velveeta Shells & Cheese—when I cough up the big bucks ($2.79-ish), versus the usual Kraft blue box ($1.29-ish) or some generic brand you can find three for a buck—is the closest thing (along with Saturday nights watching The Love Boat and Fantasy Island) I can find to perfection in the world.
—Tim Kasher, Cursive front man
New York Bagel & Bialy
4714 W. Touhy, Lincolnwood, 847-677-9388
The only place in the Chicagoland area that makes a bagel that ranks with anything that comes out of New York City. Chewy, with a semisoft crusty exterior, I’m almost positive they’re getting their water from the Hudson.
Down the street from New York Bagel & Bialy’s Skokie location (which only sells unsliced bagels and cream cheese in bulk), Kaufman’s (pictured above) is very good, but not as good as New York Bagel & Bialy.
About as good as Kaufman’s, so it deserves a mention.
Probably the best bagel you can get in Chicago city limits, though if you are a true bagel snob you will make the trip to the northern suburbs.
—Tal Rosenberg, Reader digital content editor
I’ve witnessed friends dab the grease off a Santullo’s pizza with napkins. Don’t you dare. Loosen your jaw, fold the New York-style megaslice in half, and let the oil pool wherever it pleases. Five slices every day, with two specialties on rotation. Vegan options, too.
Logan Square’s answer to the heavy-metal slice, Dante’s (pictured above) offers a daily roll call (cheese, pepperoni, and sausage) in addition to a specialty—like the decadent Inferno. The thin, chewy crust is just substantial enough to hold the toppings in place, until that moment when everything slides off onto your crisp flannel.
The definition of a slice is debatable. Three edges, whatever. Pizza Metro does square Roman style, and six smaller, connected squares equal up to a single “slice.” Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but it is cheap. Available in all varieties, including the perfect potato rosemary.
Blasphemous not to include a slice of stuffed? OK. The Art of Pizza cheese brick isn’t soupy and stays stiff enough to cut through cleanly and eat like an adult, as opposed to spooning into your face. The bend in the crust—the sweet spot of any stuffed slice—offers a spot-on ratio of grease and crispness. Available in all crusts and a rotating combo of toppings.
Sitting across the street from one another, Bacci and Village remain in a business-model showdown for king of the jumbo slice. One healthy cut of pizza—comparable to the size of a snowshoe—paired with a “free” pop. It tastes great when you’re sloppy drunk at 2 AM, but it’s the next morning that can be the problem. Cheese, pepperoni, veggie . . . the usual options.
—Kevin Warwick, Reader associate editor
As reported on Twitter
@nexttheatre: Taco Joint. Incredible ingredients and flavor pairings. Estilo Baja and Lomo are our new favorites.
As reported on Twitter
@marshmonster: 28th and Pulaski tamale cart, weekday mornings. That lady can roll!
@robertloerzel: I just wait for Claudio, the Tamale Guy, to show up. Alas, he does not always show up.
As reported on Twitter
@oxkidox: gotta be @Superdawg
@trtremblay: Superdawg….bright green relish!
@DannyPatito: @Superdawg or Parky’s in #ForestPark
@_CindyK: At The Cell while watching the White Sox win!