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Best of Chicago 2008: Restaurants



Best Restaurant

Reader's Choice: Khan B.B.Q.

Sometimes it's difficult to access the abundance of edible riches along Devon Avenue because its Western Avenue gateway is occupied by the marvelous Khan B.B.Q. Owner Khalifa M. Amjad Khan and chef Sultan Ahmed both learned to cook from their mothers in Pakistan and have spent years here weathering the storms of the restaurant business, including a devastating 2006 fire that resituated the joint in its current spot. God love Alinea, Hot Doug's, and, sure, Lula too, but Khan is an emblem of egalitarian consistency—friendly, embarrassingly inexpensive—and every offering is always just plain delicious, from the charcoal-fired tandoor meats, such as the iconic chicken boti, to the simple stewy platters of chana masala and daal palak. And unlike some uncompromisingly ethnic spots around town, Khan doesn't make customers suffer through an initiation period to get the real stuff. a2401 W. Devon, 773-274-8600. —Mike Sula

Readers' Choice: Lula Cafe

a2537 N. Kedzie, 773-489-9554,

Best Bagels

Reader's Choice: New York Bagel & Bialy

It's easy to drive right past this unassuming storefront, tucked away in a Lincolnwood strip mall. But it's Chicago's mecca for bagels. I can think of no better weekend nosh than a chewy, just-baked pumpernickel bagel with lox, red onion, tomato, and a thick schmear of cream cheese. The bialys are the real deal too—try the onion, simply toasted and buttered. And it's open 24 hours, so whenever the mood strikes you, there's a bagel waiting.The carless can get their fix at restaurants and sandwich shops around the city, among them the Bagel and Dagel and Beli. a4714 W. Touhy, Lincolnwood, 847-677-9388. —Kate Schmidt

Readers' Choice: New York Bagel & Bialy

Best Barbecue

Reader's Choice: Honey 1 Barbeque

The sweet scent of wood smoke provides the backdrop for Chicago's holy trinity of barbecue: spare ribs, tips, and hot links. Ribs have an almost delicate exterior, their crisp outer layer yielding to moist, flavorful flesh, tender yet toothsome and subtly enhanced by smoke as opposed to being overpowering. Tips have a bit of fat and are chewy, gnarly, and bursting with pockets of flavor—time to get your caveman on. Hot links are juicy and authoritatively spiced, pairing perfectly with the ubiquitous white bread and a drizzle of Honey 1's house sauce. An artist with an eight-foot Chicago-style aquarium, pit man Robert Adams makes barbecue that's as much a piece of Americana as a Norman Rockwell painting—Adams's medium just happens to be pig. a2241 N. Western, 773-227-5130, —Gary Wiviott

Readers' Choice: Smoque

a3800 N. Pulaski, 773-545-7427,

Best Brunch

Reader's Choice: Golden Nugget on Lawrence

Standing in line for 45 minutes to eat overconceptualized, overpriced French toast with hungover hipsters is not my idea of a blissful weekend morning. Dinerphobes don't know what they're missing in the Golden Nugget on Lawrence, which serves reliably good, rib-sticking breakfasts around the clock. Plus the service is some of the city's best—seriously. I favor the "all-fruit waffle," which comes divided into apple, blueberry, strawberry, and banana quadrants, but there are endless combinations of bacon, toast, biscuits, eggs, sausage, pancakes, and even fried chicken to be had. Plus the coffee never stops coming, the waitresses call you "hon," and the 24-hour dinner menu means you can follow your hash browns with a milk-shake chaser if you like. Now that's bliss. a1765 W. Lawrence, 773-769-6700. —Anne Ford

Readers' Choice: Lula Cafe

a 2537 N. Kedzie, 773-489-9554,

Best Hangover Breakfast

Reader's Choice: Ox-bone soup at Han Bat

Sul lung tang, or ox-bone soup, is a great bowl of soothing, protein-rich goodness with origins in centuries-old harvest rites, after which the bones of a sacrificial beast of burden were boiled for hours to make a milky white broth. Bland, silky, and luxuriant with dissolved marrow, it's a specialty of the region surrounding Seoul and, in these times, much valued as a remedy for the previous night's debauchery. Sul lung tang is pretty much the only thing they do here at Han Bat, where it comes with a choice of chap chae or white noodles and a variety of cow parts, accompanied by hot roasted-corn tea and the refreshing, crisp, spicy contrast of kkakdugi (diced radish) and whole cabbage kimchi. Whether you're medicating prior to crashing or working, the doors open at a convenient 7 AM. a2723 W. Lawrence, 773-271-8640. —Mike Sula

Readers' Choice: Nookies and Golden Nugget (tie)

a See above for Golden Nugget info; Nookies is at 1746 N. Wells, 312-337-2454,

Best Coffee Shop

Reader's Choice: Metropolis Coffee Company

I hang out at Metropolis so much that when I ran into co-owner Tony Dreyfuss in another cafe recently, I felt like some kind of coffeehouse whore. ("I just ran in to use the bathroom! I swear!") But he brushed off my rare instance of infidelity. He can afford to. Four and a half years after opening just down the street from the Granville el stop, Metropolis is still a major magnet for both java geeks and those who come just for the free Wi-Fi or filled-to-overflowing pastry case. Whether or not you give a crap about how much crema is in your espresso, the comfy atmosphere, capable baristas, and quirky community events—you have to love a neighborhood coffee shop that hosts its own talent shows—will keep you from straying. a1039 W. Granville, 773-764-0400, —Anne Ford

Readers' Choice: Intelligentsia Coffee

a 53 W. Jackson, 312-253-0594; 3123 N. Broadway, 773-348-8058; 55 E. Randolph, 312-920-9332,

Best Diner

Reader's Choice: Moon's Sandwich Shop

Moon's grill men have skills: silky eggs envelop cheese, bacon is perfectly crisp, juicy sausages burst with flavor. Add to any of these the best grits in Chicago, pancakes dotted with pats of butter, and endless coffee and you've got yourself a feast. At lunch salami or burgers get loaded onto warm buns with sweet grilled onions. Daily specials shine, particularly a dense meat loaf studded with green pepper and succulent, tender short ribs served with (slightly too smooth but tasty) mashed potatoes and gravy. But the real star of the show is the corned beef, whether in a hot, steaming sandwich sliced on the spot, piled high on platters as a breakfast side, or served as a small mountain with mashed potatoes, corn, and gravy. Moon's, in operation since 1933, is easy to miss, its tumbledown facade hard by a pawnshop and a vacant lot. But it's an urban gem, the heart-, soul-, and belly-filling anchor of a rapidly changing neighborhood. All-counter seating encourages conversation, as does the staff's spirited intramural banter. Moon's is only open for breakfast and lunch. a16 S. Western, 312-226-5094, —Gary Wiviott

Readers' Choice: Chicago Diner

a 3411 N. Halsted, 773-935-6696,

Best Ice Cream

Reader's Choice: Village Creamery

Outside there's nothing to indicate this storefront carries anything more thrilling than Baskin-Robbins, but the Village Creamery's uncommonly dense Filipino ice creams come in many startling flavors, including two coconut-based varieties, avocado, purple yam (ube), jackfruit, lychee, and the flamboyant halo-halo, a hash of red and white beans, sugar palm, Jell-O bits, coconut, and Rice Krispies based on the popular Filipino dessert. Most flavors, like the pale green soother made from pandan leaves and large hunks of coconut, are lightly sweetened, letting the tropical elements blaze through. a8000 Waukegan, Niles, 847-965-9805, and 4558 Oakton, Skokie, 847- 982-1720, —Mike Sula

Readers' Choice: Margie's Candies

a 1960 N. Western, 773-384-1035,, and 1813 W. Montrose, 773-348-0400.

Best Late-Night Eats

Reader's Choice: Diner Grill

Home of the devastating Slinger (two all-something patties, cheese, grilled onions, hash browns, chili, and white bread—a worthy runner-up for best hangover breakfast), the 24-hour Diner Grill (or "Dinner Grill" if you're looking it from the east) is a beloved anachronism, a potential set piece for a dozen Tom Waits songs. Lacking the merest scrap of irony, this rickety converted train car is commanded by paper-hatted, wisecracking expert grill men who know the corrective properties of grease in their bones. Sometimes a reverential hush falls over the drunken occupants of the counter stools as they watch one of these shamans make miracles of thin griddled burgers, omelets, and flapjacks. a1635 W. Irving Park, 773-248-2030. —Mike Sula

Readers' Choice: Pick Me Up Cafe

a 3408 N. Clark, 773-248-6613.

Best Lunch Deal

Reader's Choice: Spring World

At $3.95 for an entree plus soup, the lunch special at Chinatown's Spring World is such a good deal they actually try to avoid letting you know it exists. Ignore the impressively bound menu they hand you at first and ask for the lunch special list. You choose from entrees that range from the conventional (robust pork with garlic sauce; a shockingly good version of kung pao chicken) to the we're-not-at-Panda-Express-anymore (twice-cooked pork belly; pork with black fungus; stir-fried tripe with preserved cabbage) as well as side vegetables. Even when the choices sound tame (stir-fried bean sprouts), they come out flavorful and authentic. And if those choices aren't out there enough for you, for $4.95 you can hit the appetizer bar, full of items like cold noodles and pig ear. Spring World has always been a neglected spot among the bustling restaurants in the Chinatown Square mall, and a meal this good at a price this low makes that even more inexplicable. a2109-A S. China Pl., 312-326-9966. —Mike Gebert

Readers' Choice: Pequod's and Hot Doug's (tie)

a 2207 N. Clybourn, 773-327-1512,; 3324 N. California, 773-279-9550,

Best Outdoor Seating

Reader's Choice: Corosh

For a city that cherishes its few months (weeks?) of Mediterranean balminess, Chicago has surprisingly few outdoor spaces with real charm and personality—and they seem to be getting fewer all the time. (Hopefully the old Timo patio will return this season if the restaurant's replacement, Piccolo Sogno, opens before summer's end.) Most of the time we settle for a few Design Within Reach chairs and tables set out amid the bus fumes. Which is what makes Corosh's rustic sunken patio, with its wooden benches and marble tables, such a pleasant surprise—in its ramshackle, nothing-quite-even, slightly-reclaimed-by-nature way, it perfectly captures the feel of a little family vineyard in Tuscany or that faded pension in Provence where you spent an afternoon drinking the local red and eating a plate of simple pasta. None of it was anything special, and all of it was wonderful.a1072 N. Milwaukee, 773-235-0600, —Mike Gebert

Readers' Choice: Moody's Pub

a 5910 N. Broadway, 773-275-2696,

Best Pizza

Reader's Choice: Coalfire

This category is so unfair. How can you compare thin crust and deep dish, Neapolitan and New Haven, the simple minimalism of a Marie's pepperoni pie to the complex magic that is one of Burt's? Backed against the wall, though, I'll stick with Coalfire. The swarms have dwindled since Bill Carroll and longtime Matchbox bartender J. Spillane opened their BYO pizzeria at Grand and Ogden last year, but the pizza's as great as ever. It all comes down to the crust—thin and chewy at the center, blackened and blistered at the perimeter, with a sooty, toasty edge thanks to the blast power of an 800-degree coal-fired oven. Overdo the toppings and the pies can get soggy. But with mozzarella, mildly salty tomato sauce, and some spicy Italian sausage from nearby Bari Foods? Perfection. a321 W. Grand, 312-226-2625, —Martha Bayne

Readers' Choice: Lou Malnati's

a Multiple locations,

Best Sandwich

Reader's Choice: Reuben at the Brown Sack

The Brown Sack serves so many outstanding variations on the theme of two bread slices with something tasty in between that it's difficult to single out just one, but if I have to choose, I'll have to choose the Reuben, served on marble rye and piled with tender, flavorful corned beef. Like all great artists, CHIC-trained Malaika Marion varies the paradigm, substituting griddled onions for sauerkraut and dialing back the dressing and cheese. Marion and her partner, Adam Lebin (between them they've managed Lula Cafe, Red Light, and Opera), also ladle out some fine house-made soups from their small kitchen. To drink with your sammie, the peanut butter-chocolate shake is like a Reese's cup with better ingredients, liquefied. a3706 W. Armitage, 773-661-0675, —David Hammond

Readers' Choice: Potbelly Sandwich Works

a Multiple locations,

Best Smoothie

Reader's Choice: Doc's Juice and Smoothies

Mike Valente's tiny Bucktown takeaway offers not only an all-organic roster of smoothies but also soups and pastries. Among customers' smoothie favorites, he says, are a vegan strawberry-peach-mango smoothie with apple juice, a raspberry-banana-mango combo with pineapple and fat-free yogurt, and a blueberry-peach-strawberry number with blueberry and apple juice and frozen yogurt. Juices are all fresh squeezed. Homey soups, made off-site, include vegan black bean, vegan wild mushroom, and a creamy chicken-broccoli soup made with free-range chicken. a2246 W. Armitage, 773-278-5600, —Kate Schmidt

Readers' Choice: Jamba Juice

a Multiple locations,

Best Soul Food

Reader's Choice: Doggy's S.S. Soul Eatery

It's a style of cooking that can seem one-dimensional in the hands of the careless, but Doggy's modestly puts out soul food of tremendous distinction: heaping plates of ham hocks, fried pork chops, short ribs, and a seasonal smothered rabbit special, all at extremely reasonable prices. A seemingly bottomless bowl of soupy chicken and dumplings, filled with big chunks of rangy meat, will set you back a mere $4.50. The sides that come with these show the care taken in their making: leafy green stewed cabbage, tangy mac 'n' cheese with a thick, clingy sauce, candied yams with pronounced orange and cinnamon notes, spicy and slightly sweet greens, and the caramely bread pudding that, along with corn muffins, arrives with each order. a2815 W. Harrison, 773-722-4037. —Mike Sula

Readers' Choice: Soul Vegetarian East

a 205 E. 75th, 773-224-0104,

Best Steak House

Reader's Choice: David Burke's Primehouse

The parade of svelte fashionistas gliding through the swank lobby bar of the James Hotel in their Christian Louboutins might lead one to believe that David Burke's Primehouse is, as they say in Texas, all hat, no cattle, but that's just not the case. The prime beef is aged in a room lined with Himalayan salt, which gives it a tangy, full beef mineral flavor that makes you realize what a line of bull the wet-aged steak-house camp has been dishing out. The lightly aged bone-in fillet is worlds from the effete, textureless version you'll get at the average steak house, and the 28-day dry-aged bone-in rib eye is only trumped by the amazingly flavor-funky 40-to-70-day dry-aged beef, though prices for the latter may necessitate a bank loan. The tableside Caesar, well-done steak-house sides, and bold if steak-house-pricey wine list, make a complete package, though the focus is, as it should be, the beef on the plate. a616 N. Rush, 312-660-6000, —Gary Wiviott

Readers' Choice: Gibsons Steakhouse

a 1028 N. Rush, 312-266-8999,

Best Vegetarian

Reader's Choice: Uru-Swati

The best vegetarian restaurant ought to be one that not only pleases vegetarians but makes meat eaters happy enough to stop grumbling about being taken there. With a coffeehouse look that's hipper than the usual Devon Avenue banquet hall decor and brightly spiced, fresh-tasting food, Uru-Swati fits the bill. Fried items like samosas and pakoras as well as the extensive array of chaat (snacks) like bhel puri are lighter and less greasy than at most Indian spots. Vegetable curries are hearty—and even better if you solicit the staff's advice about pairing them with particular breads—try the cheese-and-pea paneer bhurji with the fiery vegetable uttapam, dotted with tiny diced chiles, and order a fresh lime soda to cool the heat. The only problem seems to be persistent doubt on the part of staff that non-South Asians will really want food as hot and authentic as they it enjoy themselves; talk your way past that and whether or not you leave healed, as the new-agey slogan ("Healing through food") promises, you'll certainly leave well fed. a2629 W. Devon, 773-262-5280, —Mike Gebert

Readers' Choice: Lake Side Cafe

a 1418 W. Howard, 773-262-9503,

Best Bathroom

Reader's Choice: Ladies' room in the Signature Room at the 95th

Forget gimmicks like video monitors in the mirrors or architectural sinks (or the wall of Pez dispensers at Cozy Noodles): what the women's loo at the John Hancock Center Signature Room has going for it is floor-to-ceiling windows that expose users to a glittering southward view of the Loop and Lake Michigan. The men's room, alas, is nothing to write home about, but for women so inclined, flashing practically the whole city has never been easier. a875 N. Michigan, 95th floor, 312-787-9596, —Kathie Bergquist

Readers' Choice: Cozy Noodles & Rice

a 3456 N. Sheffield, 773-327-0100,


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