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Best cheap classy pizza and beer special

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When Simone’s offers $6 pizza and beer on Monday nights, they’re serious about the pizza part. This pizza can comfortably feed two people—and even skews toward adventuresome. Quinoa, potatoes and black bean sauce are guest stars in a lineup of kinda quirky pies. For more traditional folks, the Tuscan, with red pepper and portabella mushrooms, is a consistent winner. Pie quality? No Pequod’s, but way better than Pizza Hut. The beer? OK, it’s PBR. But some of us like PBR and, besides, you’re getting a pizza for $6, so order your favorite craft brew with the savings. The pizzas are just $8 a la carte any other day, and the ongoing mystery four-dollar draft could inspire your own reasonable pizza and brew combo.

960 W. 18th, 312.666.8601,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best rock ‘n’ roll-inspired restaurant

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Inspired by the Rolling Stones, Nellcote takes its name from the French villa where the group partied with bohemians in the 1970s. Located on the Randolph Street restaurant corridor, the airy atmosphere welcomes hungry patrons to dine like VIPs. Their menu offers reasonably priced shareable portions using local Midwest ingredients. Their house-milled flour is featured in handmade bread and artisan pizza crust.  Wood-fire-grilled meat and veggie dishes can be paired with house-crafted cocktails. Inside you’ll notice photos of the Stones, an homage solidifying that Nellcote is, too, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

833 W. Randolph, 312.432.0500,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best burgers

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We’ve enjoyed foie gras-laced burgers at Daniel Boulud’s db Brasserie in Vegas, but simplicity is surely the best way to highlight a hamburger’s high-quality ingredients. Eddie Lakin of Edzo’s has been kicking it old school since 2010, and though we’re almost abashed to ladle another plaudit upon him, his hamburger leverages house-ground beef (locally sourced, grass-fed, hormone-free, of course) to strike a satisfying balance between fine-dining finesse and drive-thru minimalism. If this powerfully primal sandwich is not fancy enough for you, upgrade with an order of truffle fries.

2218 N. Lincoln, 773.697.9909 and 1571 Sherman, Evanston, 847.864.3396,

Audience Choice: Au Cheval, 800 W. Randolph, 312.929.4580,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best slice of the United Kingdom

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Spencer’s Jolly Posh

Spencer’s Jolly Posh specialty grocery store is the place to go in Chicago for obscure British foods like clotted cream, bangers, Corkers Crisps and Tiptree marmalade. Plus, they serve one of the most affordable and approachable afternoon teas in town—you can wear jeans and don’t even have to stick your pinky up when drinking.

3755 N. Southport, 872.802.3840,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best new craft foodie idea

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Kolossos Olive Oil

Founded by partners Giorgios Karayannis and Edward Billys, Kolossos Olive Oil brings the craft beer model to olive oil. Slick design, sleek packaging and some marketing and PR knowhow have helped them get the word out about their artisanal oils. Hand-picked and pressed, their varietals come in a range from mild to robust, with complex bouquets of the kind more usually reserved for fine wines. Made and certified extra virgin, the oil is made from Manaki olives from Northern Greece. Though a bit pricey at $20 a bottle, they are a must-have for any kitchen of distinction.

best of Chicago 2014

Best dessert platter

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Spiaggia has done away with a traditional dessert menu after its renovation this year. So long tiramisu and panna cotta, both still available at the café. However, the dessert-platter replacement is far more than the collection of mignardise that it first appears to be. The largest “tutto” platter features an array of twenty-five different sweet morsels including macarons, chocolate truffles, pate de fruits and biscotti. An almond apricot torrone, nutty, sticky and chewy Florentine cookie and Vin Santo golden raisin semifreddo are our favorites, if you’re wondering.

980 N. Michigan, 312.280.2750,

Best of Chicago 2014

Best thing you’ve eaten recently that made you stop and think, “This might be the best I’ve ever eaten”

Audience Choice, Food & Drink No Comments »

To’ak chocolate

To’ak chocolate is made by former Chicagoan Jerry Toth, who left his job as a Wall Street investment banker to cultivate cacao and process chocolate in Ecuador, where the earliest cacao plants grew. Using very old plants that yield the best beans in very small quantities, Toth’s product is priced, predictably, astronomically: $260 for an approximately forty-six-gram bar. Containing eighty-one-percent cacao and nineteen-percent sugar, To’ak has a purity of flavor unlike any chocolate we’d ever tasted. Each bar comes in a handcrafted box of Spanish elm with a specially designed device for tasting the chocolate without touching it with fingers. Distributed in only four cities in the U.S., To’ak can now be purchased in Chicago at Lush Wine & Spirits.

1412 W. Chicago, 312.666.6900,

Audience Choice: Hundreds of suggestions, all unique

Best of Chicago 2014

Best egg rolls

Audience Choice, Food & Drink No Comments »

Moy Lee

Egg rolls usually come first as part of the standard Chinese restaurant meal deal, and we may sometimes tend to look beyond them to the main course(s). That would be a mistake. Believe us, there are some very good egg rolls out there. They say the secret to the best is the peanut butter that’s added to give these ubiquitous Sino-cylinders an unctuous gooeyness that binds the whole fistful of food together. It may be hard to detect the presence of goobers in Moy Lee’s rendition of the roll, but there’s no way to ignore the hefty portion of pig meat. Just add sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard for a messy, many-flavored mouthful.

5346 N. Milwaukee, 773.631.1290

Audience Choice: Lao Sze Chuan, 2172 S. Archer, 312.326.5040, chicagolaoszechuan.comgourmet

Best of Chicago 2014

Best festival pastry treat

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Puffs of Doom

Those who haven’t tried Chicago outfit Puffs of Doom’s hunger-hammering mac & cheese pastry puffs haven’t really lived. These jazzed-up biscuits are drenched in a dizzying array of chocolates, caramels and other sauces, syrups, and mix-n-match additions such as Peanut Butter Chocolate Covered Pretzel, Butterscotch Marshmallow Graham, and Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate. They also make a vegan version, and have gluten-free options. While the Puffs crew are always busy making the rounds at local craft and music fests, you can always have them delivered by the dozens on the website.

Best of Chicago 2014

Best savory cookie

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Black garlic sable cookies at Cellar Door Provisions

Black garlic sable cookies at Cellar Door Provisions are one of the most addictive things we’ve put in our mouths all year. The harmony between sweet and tangy fermented garlic bits and smooth buttery shortbread is unbeatable. You can run to Green City Market and buy your own black garlic from the Wisconsin Fermentation Company, but good luck making cookies like these.

3025 W. Diversey, 773.697.8337,

Best of Chicago 2014