Blatant and Unabashed Food Favoritism

Wed. September 26, 2007 12:00 AM
by PJ Gray

Do you ever frequent a restaurant for only one dish in particular? You know. It's that one singular item on the menu that you order over and over because you enjoy it so much and can't seem to find it made quite the same way elsewhere. If so, you're not alone.

Finding that one dish you love is what makes dining in a great food city like Chicago so enjoyable and exciting. It's also a great way to recommend a preferred restaurant to others. Here are some of my favorites from around the city.

They are, in a word, delicious .

What are your favorites? (share comments below)

May St. Café
(312) 421-4442
1146 W Cermak Road

Often called "a hidden gem" in Pilsen, this intimate, hip spot offers gourmet seasonal cooking featuring Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and American foods with a twist. Executive Chef Mario Santiago and Sous Chef Lupe Aguilar express their passion for fresh ingredients and Latin cultures on every plate. I love everything on their menu but these quesadillas are heaven on a plate! The creamy brie cheese plays off the sweetness of the pears so well—all of it enveloped delicately within crispy thin tortilla shells. They're so good that I even dreamt about them once: In the dream, I sat on top of a mountain of them and ate my way down until there was only a giant excavated hole of crumbs left. Strange, I know, but I felt very full when I woke up. Swear to God.

Fat Willy's Rib Shack
2416 West Schubert Avenue

Rule #1: If you are looking for a respectable BBQ joint, always notice whether there are large rolls of paper towels sitting on the tables. If you don't see them, walk away. I mean it, walk away. Fat Willy's not only offers these rolls while you dine on their amazing BBQ, they consider them utensils. Their brisket (only served after 5:30 p.m.) is so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that my eyes rolls back into my head with every forkful. Many say that Fat Willy's is the best BBQ in the entire north side of the city. I agree completely. While you're there also try their gooey, cheesy, garlicky artichoke dip as an appetizer and their delicious side of baked beans.
Fasten your wet-naps. You're in for a memorable BBQ ride.

Opart Thai House Restaurant
(773) 989-8517
4658 N. Western Avenue

Although Opart as added a second location in the trendy South Loop, only this location offers these wonderful fried delicacies. In fact, be forewarned—these rolls are so popular that they often run out before closing time. The regular customers (including myself) are fanatics for these addictively crunchy, hand-made triangular-shaped rolls of seasoned ground chicken. Seriously, I can't believe I'm willing to admit that they exist for fear that more people will order them. What am I thinking?! To those fellow fanatics who may read this, forgive me.

Table Fifty-Two
(312) 573-4000
52 West Elm Street

Chef Art Smith (of Oprah fame) has opened this cozy upscale gem in the heart of the Gold Coast to rave reviews, and for good reason. The menu is inspired by his Southern roots and delivers big time. Yes, he is a dear friend of mine and, yes, this can be considered a shameless plug, but you won't be disappointed if you go. He uses Allen Bros. meats so any meat entrée (especially the pork chop) is guaranteed to exceed your expectations. And, despite the challenge to save room for dessert (and you will be challenged), I encourage you to order the Hummingbird Cake. This light, sweet white layer cake with bits of summer fruit in every sinful bite is a crowning jewel of their menu, and reminds me of why everyone should want a satisfying dessert at the end of a great meal.

Osteria Via Stato
(312) 642-8450
620 N. State Street

Served beside other delicious treats from their Italian Dinner Party menu, these mouth-watering onions are baked to perfection with fresh bay leaf infused cream and Grana Padano cheese. Its pleasantly sweet and savory flavor may be served from a petite-sized dish, but it's big on taste—and an impressive way to begin a memorable evening on Italian dining. FYI: Don't hesitate requesting a second helping as soon as you receive the first one. They will go quickly once passed around the table, and you'll be challenged to want to share them. Trust me. I've had my share of fork wars over these. I'm not proud to admit it, but people have been hurt.

What are your favorites? (comment below)