Best Of :: Food & Drink
This is an exceedingly difficult category, because we love many different kinds of coffee, and routinely stop for a cup at Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Joe the Art of Coffee, and Ninth Street Espresso, among other places. But what is the coffee we buy to take home and brew in our French-press pots? Intelligentsia, made by a coffee roaster started by San Francisco refugees on Chicago's North Side. While several coffee bars use Intelligentsia beans (Ninth Street Espresso, for one), we prefer the mixture of Colombian, Nicaraguan, and Tanzanian beans called, simply, "House Blend." Gourmet Garage, multiple locations
This doesn't mean I'm forsaking my first love, Katz's pastrami, but the smoked-meat sandwich at Mile End is denser, redder, and offered in a sandwich that's just the right size for one person to eat, which means I don't have to go around looking for someone to share it with me. Spread mustard on it and add a sour pickle, and I'm in culinary nirvana. The cute and cozy premises of this Boerum Hill newcomer is another plus.
A haystack of glistening vegetables sat before me: bright green garlic chives, pungent Chinese celery, carrots, woodsy mushrooms, onions, matchsticks of fried purple taro, and onions, all of it surmounted by the snap, crackle, and pop of crispy lo mein noodles. There wasn't a smidgen of meat, poultry, or fish anywhere to be found in the Farmer Special at Yee Kee H.K. Style. This unreconstructed empire of crunch at once telegraphs not only the poverty of a Chinese farmer's life, but also its vegetable bounty—in a way I've seen nowhere else but the city's fifth Chinatown. Did I mention it's supremely delicious?
The restaurant rose like a phoenix after a devastating fire, and the food became better than ever, as if the near-death experience stimulated it to greater efforts. The pan-roasted farm chicken at Annisa from chef Anita Lo's original menu remains the best thing: a bird—surprisingly plump compared with the desiccated specimens found elsewhere—that has undergone a subdermal stuffing of pig foot, causing the skin to shine like the face of a nervous debutante at her first ball. The bird is scented with white truffles, too, making it hopelessly rich and satisfying.
One of my favorite things to eat in the world is upma, a South Indian porridge that begins with plain cream of wheat, but then gets mutated like hell by the addition of such things as black mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, ginger, and pistachios. Imagine my excitement at discovering that upma is incorporated into a dosa at Jersey City's all-vegetarian, mainly vegan Sapthagiri, with a wrapper made of crushed and fermented moong daal. Woo-hoo! The covering adds a grassy taste to the pesarattu upma, and the whole thing challenges your ideas of what to expect from Indian food.
It was a brilliant move on the part of chef Daniel Holzman to take an Italian-American classic, the meatball hero, and make slight improvements to it, instead of transforming the fuck out of it so that it was no longer recognizable. He began by selecting really, really good bread, which yields soon after you chomp down, instead of resisting your teeth and squirting the balls out the end. He also used fresh mozzarella instead of the crap you find in most pizza parlors. The meatball hero at the Meatball Shop is memorably delicious, and enough like the original that it would pass as such with most meatball-hero aficionados—including myself.