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Best reimagined nachos

Food & Drink No Comments »

Old Fifth’s Brazilian Nachos

At a bar known for its gourmet pizza and whiskey, it’s easy to overlook other sections of the menu like “snacks” and “bar bites.” The latter is certainly an understatement for their Brazilian Nachos—akin to a meal for four—but it’s worth ordering, because even just a bite feels like making love. Triangular tortilla chips topped with slow-roasted pork, aged white cheddar, Chihuahua cheese and Brazilian black beans, and drizzled with chipotle-lime and avocado puree, these nachos resemble something you’d find in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing. But this is art you can eat!

1027 W. Madison, 312.374.1672,

—Rae Gray, actor (Players)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best classic nachos

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Uncle Julio’s Nachos

As a kid, I looked forward to Uncle Julio’s because, if I asked politely, the waiter would bring a ball of tortilla dough for me to play with at the table; now, it’s all about the nachos: flat, circular corn tortilla chips topped individually with beans and cheese, and served open-faced so there’s no uneven distribution and no messy stacking. Top it off with Uncle Julio’s signature drink, The Swirl (frozen margarita layered with sangria), and a warm, festive atmosphere (children huddled around the tortilla machine, watching flattened dough bubble with heat), and you’ve got yourself a night of flavorful joviality.

855 W. North, 312.266.4222,

—Rae Gray, actor (Players)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best overall deal

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El Milagro Tortillas

These tortillas have been around Chicago since I could remember. We used to go to the El Milagro tortilleria to pick up a box for our family-owned grocery store. Not only are they the best tortilla in Chicago but the best overall bargain: you can buy them for as little as thirty-three cents a dozen. When relatives move away from Chicago to other states, the thing they most consistently ask for is El Milagro tortillas. Even when they move to the Southwest (which is closer to Mexico), they complain that they can’?t find a tortilla that compares. This is one of those things that is taken for granted and is never fully appreciated until one no longer has direct access to them. If you live in Chicago, these are always in abundance at any grocery store. At some stores they are delivered daily and you can get them while they are still warm. Make sure to reheat them on a hot comal or an iron griddle and use liberally as your daily bread.

3050 W. 26th, 773.579.6120; 1927 S. Blue Island, 312.421.7443,

—Alberto Aguilar, artist (Art 50)

Best of Chicago 2015


Best place for a special meal

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North Pond

Usually I’m a downscale meat-centric yet organic-y type of eater (think Spacca Napoli, Edzo’s or Publican Quality Meats) but if I’m going classy upscale, then I’m going to North Pond. Ethically/locally sourced menu by James Beard Award-winning chef Bruce Sherman always surprises (best halibut I’ve ever had), the restaurant itself is old-world warm, and outside the setting is almost too good to be believed—a duck pond with the stunning skyline beyond. So romantic evening? Out-of-town guest who needs to be shown what’s awesome about our little town? Or just feel like something out of the ordinary? Trust me—North Pond.

2610 N. Cannon, 773.477.5845,

—Dave Tolchinsky, chair, Department of Radio-TV-Film, Northwestern University (Film 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best Jewish deli inside an Italian pharmacy

Andersonville, Food & Drink No Comments »

Gordono Pharmacy

Sixteen years ago Jeff Bendix, owner of Gordono Pharmacy in Andersonville, found himself lamenting the lack of great Jewish delis on Chicago’s North Side. So he decided to solve the problem by making room in his store for a full-service deli. Gordono’s JB’s Deli offers everything from hand-cut lox to homemade brisket, soups, knishes and, of course, prescription medications. It’s hard to beat the weird pleasure of heading to a pharmacy for bagels on a Sunday morning.

5501 N. Clark, 773.561.3671,

—Michele Morano, director, MA in Writing and Publishing, DePaul University (Lit 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best recently shuttered restaurant

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Sunshine Cafe

A fond farewell to one of my favorites. Vanished tastes compose a particular haunting of memory, in this case the Saba Shioyaki (broiled mackerel w/ daikon), Unagi and Zaru Soba will all be missed. I ate at this sushi-less Japanese restaurant for nearly twenty years before it closed in September. Affordable, relaxed, delicious and extremely consistent, its food reminded me of eating in Japan more than any other spot in the city.

—Joshua Abrams, composer (Film 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best place to give back to the community without even trying

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The Kitchen Chicago

The Kitchen Chicago has been serving locally sourced food and cocktails for just over a year, with a focus on sustainability and a commitment to environmentally friendly practices, but even before the restaurant opened, its nonprofit arm had opened dozens of Learning Gardens in Chicago Public Schools, getting kids outside and growing real food. The restaurant donates a portion of its sales to opening more gardens, so supporting the cause is as easy as ordering up some of Chef Johnny Anderes’ heavenly Goat Gouda Gougère and a Ginger Sazerac, and patting yourself on the back for a job well done.

—Jac Jemc, novelist (Lit 50)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best prix-fixe lunch deal

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That chef Paul Kahan is a titan in the Chicago dining scene is nothing new. Neither is the $25 prix fixe lunch he offers at Blackbird every weekday from 11:30am-2pm. So why is it every time I go it isn’t packed? Dry-aged beef tartare appetizer, duck confit entree, and orange blossom ricotta dessert with chai tea ice cream at a Michelin-starred restaurant for $25? There should be a line out the door.

—Nicholas Photinos, cellist, eighth blackbird (Music 45)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best el pastor taco

Food & Drink No Comments »

El Milagro

They have a tortilla factory. They serve them at their cafeteria next door fresh as can be. Steak perfectly cooked, wrapped up tight using the tortilla as a blanky. Comes with great beans and rice for a couple bucks more. They got other stuff that is pretty darn good as well. Worth taking some folks to Pilsen for lunch.

1927 S. Blue Island, 312.421.7443,

—Bruce Finkelman, owner, The Empty Bottle; partner, Bite Café, Beauty Bar, Longman & Eagle, Thalia Hall, Dusek’s, Punch House and The Promontory (Big Heat, Music 45)

Best of Chicago 2015

Best timeless restaurant

Food & Drink, Lincoln Square No Comments »

The Chicago Brauhaus

A cornerstone of Lincoln Square since 1965, Guenter and Harry Kempf’s Chicago Brauhaus is so purely itself—stuck beautifully in time and with no regard to the changing fashions outside its warm wooden interior. Order the Brauhaus Special (which includes the not-to-be-missed Sulze), a delicious beer and listen to the musical stylings of Gody—the self-proclaimed “Austrian Elvis”—and all will be right with the world.

4732 N. Lincoln, 773.784.4444,

—Kelly Leonard, The Second City (The Players)

Best of Chicago 2015