Food: Where do chefs eat? Chicago pros name their favorite meal of 2013

Carriage House Executive Chef Mark Steuer, (left) shares Pork Milanese with La Sirena Clandestina Chef/Owner John Manion. Steuer says Manion's Pork Milanese was the best thing he ate out in 2013 while Manion's favorite meal out was Steuer's Quail with Black Pepper Dumplings. | Photo courtesy of Mark Steuer
Jared Wentworth, executive chef at Chicago's Longman and Eagle, ate "some of the best raw product in the Midwest" at Katsu. | Photo by Clayton Hauck
Chef Gale Gand calls the Rotisserie Porchetta Sandwich at Eataly "life changing."
Chef Didier Durand, chef and owner of Cyrano's Farm Kitchen, The Barrel Room and Cyrano's Cafe on the River Walk, named Co-Si-Na as the spot where he ate his best meal of the year.
Of the Pulled Chicken Chilaquiles and Croissant at Indy Cafe in East Chicago, Ind., Table Fifty-Two owner/chef Art Smith said, "every bite is worth the hike."
Bo Fowler, executive chef and owner of Owen & Engine in Chicago, enjoys a meal at Nightwood, what she calls "the perfect neighborhood restaurant."
Chef Ryan McCaskey of Acadia in Chicago named the Fauna tasting menu at Grace Restaurant as his best meal of the year. And he wasn't the only chef to rave about the food at Grace.
Chef Michael Gottlieb of Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston raved about his 22 course meal at Elizabeth in Chicago which included langoustine (a small, red-pink lobster).
Chef Chris Duffy — whose Grace restaurant received several accolades in Part 1 of our series — named the Green Papaya Salad with Cilantro, Crispy Shallots and Beef Jerky at Embeya as his favorite meal of the year.
Lee Ann Whippen, chef/partner of Chicago q, raves about the coccoli appetizer and the pasta in a jar at Siena Tavern in Chicago.
John des Rosiers — Chef and Owner, Wisma in Chicago and Lake Bluff, Inovasi in Lake Bluff and The Side Door in Lake Bluff — named his meal at Juno in Chicago as his best of 2013. His dinner included the artfully presented Japanese Aji sushi.

Ever wonder what your favorite chef’s go-to spot is when they eat out? Well we did, too. It was a tough call for many of them, but here’s what some of the most beloved chefs narrowed down as the best meal they ate in 2013.


Gale Gand — Founding Partner, Tru in Chicago

Best meal: Rotisserie Lamb Sandwich and Porchetta Sandwich

Restaurant: Eataly, 43 E. Ohio St., Chicago;

The skinny: “My choice is the Rotisserie Porchetta Sandwich at Eataly by Mario Batali. This sandwich is life changing! Moist pork, heady with garlic and herbs, that’s been wrapped in skin-on pork belly and roasted on a spit for hours, then sliced hot, sprinkled with coarse salt and piled into a split crusty freshly baked loaf of Italian bread. The outer layer of fat gets crispy while the interior stays juicy. Make sure you have two to three napkins to catch the juice that unavoidably runs down your arms as you eat it.”


Art Smith — Executive Chef and Owner, Table Fifty-Two in Chicago

Best Meal: Pulled Chicken Chilaquiles: Pulled White Chicken Breast, Guajillo sauce, Homemade Tortilla Chips, Chiuahua Cheese, house-made Queso Fresco and Bridgeport Coffee Capuccino

Restaurant: Indy Cafe, 5654 Indianapolis Blvd., East Chicago, Ind.

The skinny: “The best breakfast of 2013. You know, I spent my life cooking for billionaires and have eaten in the best restaurants in the world, but there are no better restaurants than Chicago and its surrounding area family-owned restaurants. These lovely people are cooking their hearts out and Chef Hector Guerrero’s dish tasted amazing. A lot of places make chilaquiles but this one was absolutely incredible with the pulled chicken, savory but spicy. Guajillo sauce with just enough Chiuahua cheese, and extra special homemade queso fresco. Don’t miss the homemade croissants (he uses only French butter) and homemade bagels. Yes, probably the only cafe that actually makes them. Every bite is worth the hike!”


Dobra Bielinski — Founding Partner, Delightful Pastries in Chicago

Best Meal: Housemade Pate, Filet Mignon with Wild Mushrooms, Skate with Truffled Tater Tots

Restaurant: Longman and Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago,

The skinny: “It was dinner out with friends. The in-house pate was just finger-licking good. We had numerous desserts but the one that stood out had a chocolate custard with cherries and cookies in between. All the plates were licked clean much to our embarrassment. The waitress did not raise any eyebrows about our heathenish behavior.”


Steve Skrine — Chef and Owner of Skrine Chops in Chicago and Forest Park

Best meal: Shrimp Tacos

Restaurant: Perez Restaurant, 1163 W. 18th St., Chicago;

The skinny: “They’re always fresh — fresh lime, sauce, corn tortillas and other ingredients. The spiciness of the shrimp with the coolness of the lettuce and guacamole is a great contrast. Yum, yum give me some.”


Nabor Vasquez — Executive Chef, Nieto’s in Highland Park

Best Meal: Foie Gras, Chicken Liver Mousse Pâté, Duck Terrine and Rabbit Rillette. Entrée: Breast of Duck Sautéed with Butternut Squash and Confit Thigh. Dessert: Crème Brûlée

Restaurant: Cyranos Farm Kitchen and The Barrel Room, 546 N. Wells St., Chicago;


Tony Mantuano — Executive Chef and Owner, Spiaggia, Café Spiaggia, Bar Toma and Terzo Piano in Chicago

Best Meal: Lamb Pinxtos, Pork Belly Pinxtos, Croquetas, Baccala Fritters and Caldo Verde

Restaurant: Autre Monde Café & Spirits, 6727 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn;

The skinny: “Even though the name of this restaurant is French, we had an unforgettable Spanish/Portuguese feast. They have an incredibly affordable wine list with unknown but world-class Croatian and Slovenian wines.”


Phillip Foss — Chef and Owner, EL Ideas in Chicago

Best Meal: Flora and Fauna tasting menus. Flora Menu: Matsutake, Beet, Pink Porcelain Squash, Sweet Potato, Burgundy Truffle, Maitake, Raspberry, Fig and Young Coconut. Fauna menu: Chawanmushi, Fall Vegetables, Brandade, Duck, Lamb, Miyazaki Beef, Buddha’s Hand, Pear, Chocolate.

Restaurant: Grace, 652 W. Randolph St., Chicago;

The skinny: “Although my first experience at Katsu is a very close second, first place has to go to Grace. I first met and befriended Curtis Duffy shortly after I arrived in Chicago, and I was sincerely humbled after several meals at Avenues. Since meeting, there have been several aspects of our lives and careers that have paralleled, and I feel lucky to have watched Grace evolve from empty box to where it is now. Despite the high aspirations, it did not disappoint in the least. Every detail is well considered: from cuisine, to decor, amenities and the service by Michael Muser and team. As for Curtis, it is truly awesome watching his career blossom right now.”


Iliana Regan — Chef and Owner, Elizabeth Restaurant in Chicago

Best Meal: Octopus, Squid Ink Pasta with Spicy Calamari and New York Strip Steak

Restaurant: Anteprima, 5316 N. Clark St., Chicago;

The skinny: “I love this meal because all components were simple but perfectly executed. I rarely have a dish or meal there that I don’t love.”


Jacob Saben — Executive Chef, Graham Elliot Bistro in Chicago

Best Meal: The pizza, the Romano beans…and the sundaes!

Restaurant: Balena, 1633 N. Halsted St., Chicago;


Jimmy Bannos, Sr. — Co-Founder, Heaven on Seven, The Purple Pig in Chicago

Best Meal: Shrimp, Tomatoes and Feta Special

Restaurant: Boston Fish Market, 1225 Forest Ave., Des Plaines;

The skinny: “I loved the freshness of the brown shrimp sourced from the Galveston, Texas area along the Gulf of Mexico, along with the sweetness of the tomato and the balancing spice and rich feta cheese. The whole dish was off the charts.”


Sarah Stegner — Co-Chef and Co-owner, Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook

Best Meal: Rib of Prime Beef, Potato Tarte Tatin, Tomme de Savoie and Sweet Garlic, Bone Marrow, Burgundy and Thyme

Restaurant: Brindille, 534 N. Clark St., Chicago;

The skinny: “Well done, beautifully presented, rich and so delicious.”


Dave Raymond — Co-founder, Sweet Baby Ray’s and Owner of Sweet Baby Ray’s in Wood Dale

Best Meal: Corned Beef Sandwich

Restaurant: Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen, 1141 S. Jefferson St., Chicago;

The skinny: “I’m a simple man and know what I like. Manny’s corned beef sandwich is my go-to sandwich and I have a great time every time I’m there.”


Homaro Cantu — Chef and Owner, Moto in Chicago

Best Meal: Fried Artichokes, Porchetta, Fritatta, Fried Risotto Balls

Restaurant: Freddy’s Pizza, 1600 S. 61st. Ave., Cicero;

The skinny: “They make all of that in a deli. From scratch. Nobody in Chicago does that.”


Didier Durand — Chef and Proprietor, Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen, The Barrel Room and Cyrano’s Cafe on the River Walk

Best Meal: Molcageteada — Skirt Steak, Chicken Breast Stuffed with house chorizo, caraibe cheese, nopalitos, peppers and onions and served with refried beans and Mexican rice

Restaurant: Co-Si-Na Grill, 1706 W. Foster Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “On Sunday night, the place I might head up to would be Co-Si-Na Grill. I love the Tortilla Soup, but my favorite is the Molcageteada; it is juicy, tangy and authentic at $19! Much less than a plane ticket to Mexico!”


Ina Pinkney — Chef and Owner, Ina’s in Chicago

Best Meal: Papaya Salad, Grilled Octopus, Mussels in Coconut Broth, Garlic Chicken, Grilled Quail, Tamarind Ribs, Fried Rice, Asparagus, Green Beans, Exotic Fruits, Roasted Pineapple and Macha Cream Puffs

Restaurant: Embeya, 564 W. Randolph St., Chicago;

The skinny: “My favorite meal of 2013 was, hands down, my 70th birthday dinner at Embeya. Chef Thai Dang prepared an array of dishes that are so memorable, I can still taste them all! It was my favorite meal because I was surrounded by my ‘family of choice’ and because chef prepared the food with his loving heart and talent. It was a magical night.”


Manny Hernandez — Co-founder, The Tamale Spaceship in Chicago

Best Meal: Iron Maiden, a burger on a hot pretzel bun with chipotle mayo, pepper jack cheese and avocado

Restaurant: Kumas Corner 2900 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “The place is well know for hamburgers, and every time I go there it gets better. The place itself, has a very unique feel to it with great food and great selection of beer.”


Ryan McCaskey — Chef and Proprietor, Acadia in Chicago

Best Meal: Fauna Tasting Menu

Restaurant: Grace, 652 W. Randolph St., Chicago;

The skinny: “Great balance and elegance; it was high-end dining, but not overly stuffy. For my Chicago dining experiences, it felt the most like a three-star Michelin experience.”


Shoba Havalad — Chef and Instructor, Shoba’s Indian Cooking in Glenview

Best Meal: Meso Sea Bass and Spicy Cumin Lamb

Restaurant: Lao 18, 18 W. Hubbard St., Chicago;

The skinny: “We were celebrating my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding anniversary. I love the food there because Asian fusion is my favorite.”


Gabriel Viti — Owner, Miramar in Highwood

Best Meal: Tasting Menu: Oysters, Foie Gras, Lobster, Rabbit, Caviar and Dover Sole

Restaurant: Brindille, 534 N. Clark St., Chicago;

The skinny: “Heaven. I love [Chef Carrie Nahabedian’s] approach to French cuisine. I just love French cooking. The first time I went to France I went for three weeks and stayed six years. There are so few restaurants serving high-end French these days.”


John Coletta — Executive Chef and Founder, Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar

Best Meal: Heirloom Tomato with Seafood

Restaurant: Pelago Ristorante, 201 E. Delaware Place, Chicago;

The skinny: “The brilliant Chef Mauro Mafrici captures the natural inborn flavors found in the Octopus, Calamari and Scallops by simply adding heirloom tomatoes which are tossed with carefully selected extra virgin olive oil. Allowing the natural ingredients to be experienced without masking, distorting or altering the natural structure of the seafood clearly displays a high level of discipline and focus. Mafrici confidently displays his mastered cooking skills, high quality ingredients and sense of balance without taking culinary liberties or cultural diversions, fostering a truly authentic Italian gastronomic experience.”


Paul Virant — Executive Chef and Partner, Vie in Western Springs and Perennial Virant in Chicago

Best Meal: Chicken Parm Sandwich

Restaurant: Publican Quality Meats, 825 W. Fulton Market, Chicago;

The skinny: “Breaded and pan-fried chicken with tommy sauce, tons of Parm served on some crazy griddled buttered bread! Wow!”


Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh — The Hearty Boys Caterers in Chicago

Best Meal: Schnitzel Sandwich and a New Toy (tequila, lime, orange and bitters)

Restaurant: Scofflaw, 3201 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “We are huge believers that food is heightened by the company and the vibe. We stopped at Scofflaw for a celebratory cocktail after our embezzler was finally convicted after a four-year wait. The New Toy was perfectly balanced and the Schnitzel Sandwich was extra tasty! Everything is better when topped with a fried egg and served with a side of justice!”


Jaime Laurita — Founder, Chef Jaime Laurita Brands

Best Meal: Fried Calamari

Restaurant: Club Lucky, 1824 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “It was fantastic! A simple white wine reduction with garlic, onion and sweet and hot Italian cherry peppers. Club Lucky is very quaint, very cool; it’s kind of mom and pop, a great vibe.”


Rene Lorenzano — Executive Chef, Crêperie Saint Germain in Evanston

Best Meal: Ravioli alla Pomodoro con Mozzarella

Restaurant: Mia Figlia, 5304 W. Devon Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “This is one of the best from-scratch pastas I have had in a long time. The texture and flavor is spot on. It’s also very simple, served with a simple tomato basil sauce and homemade mozzarella cheese.”


Jared Wentworth — Executive Chef, Longman and Eagle in Chicago

Best Meal: Matsutaki Chawanmushi

Restaurant: Katsu, 2651 W. Peterson Ave., Chicago; (773) 784-3383

The skinny: My favorite meal this year was an absolutely amazing experience at the sushi restaurant Katsu. We ate the tasting menu and just had a great experience with some of the best raw product in the Midwest. The dish that stood out to me was the chef’s Matsutaki chawanmushi: steamed custard flavored with Matsutaki mushrooms in their own broth. Ethereal and light, pungent and my favorite mushroom of the fall season — this fish was perfect.”


Bo Fowler — Executive Chef and Owner, Owen & Engine in Chicago

Best Meal: Roasted Local Carrots with Wild Mushrooms, followed by Rabbit Pasta with Shaved Beet Salad, followed by a simple warm plate of cookies.

Restaurant: Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted St., Chicago;

The skinny: “It was truly simple and lovely. Nightwood is the perfect neighborhood restaurant. I always get great service and simple, great food.”


Mark Grosz — Executive Chef and Owner, Oceanique in Evanston

Best Meal: Special Spanish Pata Negra Dinner + BYOB

Restaurant: Place EL Ideas, 2419 W. 14th. St., Chicago;

The skinny: “It was three-year-aged Pata Negra ham from Spain — so rich and delicious it sweated fat as they sliced it by hand. They let us slice it too. All guests enjoyed that. Also, they encourage guests to wander into the kitchen and talk to the chefs. The cuisine, the wines and the company I was with was truly an exceptional and memorable experience for the ages. Then on the way home we stopped at Tommy’s on Higgins in Chicago had some very tasty chicken wings. Maybe those were the best bites of the night.”


Christopher Ala — Executive Chef and Owner, Hemmingway’s Bistro in Oak Park

Best Meal: Macau-style Roast Pork Belly

Restaurant: MingHin Cuisine, 2168 S. Archer Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “I dream of this dish — soft tender pork belly with a crackling crust. It is soft and sweet and the skin sticks to your teeth. Try it and you will be hooked!”


Alpana Singh — Owner, The Boarding House in Chicago

Best Meal: Chicken for Two

Restaurant: The Peninsula, 108 E. Superior St., Chicago;

The skinny: “It’s truly heaven on a plate. Chicken is such a ubiquitous dish, but when it is done well, nothing can compare to this comfort food classic. Chef Wolen stuffs the underside of the skin with buttery brioche and the outside is basted to a perfect golden brown. The chicken is served in two rounds: the breast meat is complemented by a seasonal garnish (I had morel mushrooms and green garlic) and then the thigh meat is tossed with buttered mushrooms. I have sent dozens of my friends to the Peninsula just to try this chicken.”


Paul Fehribach — Executive Chef, Big Jones in Chicago

Best meal: Garlic-sorghum Glazed Sweetbreads with Grilled Sweet Potatoes, Local Pecans and Arugula Pistou

Restaurant: Vie Restaurant, 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs;

The skinny: “It was the perfect combination of crispy, creamy, chewy, crunchy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter. They managed to hit all the flavors and textures in the way that really makes your tongue dance.”


Lee Ann Whippen — Chef/Partner, Chicago q in Chicago

Best Meal: Coccoli Main and Pasta in a Jar

Restaurant: Siena Tavern, 51 W. Kinzie St., Chicago;

The skinny: “A culinary dream in every detailed dish — and I must mention not one, but two! Coccoli appetizer: Crispy dough with a fritter consistency filled with mild and delicate cow’s milk stracchino cheese accompanied by thin, dry, cured prosciutto di parma. Just when I thought nothing could top this, then came their creation of house-made “Pasta in a Jar,” which I call “Heaven in a jar.” All of my favorite foods…duck confit, foie torchon, foraged mushrooms, a unique signature Dunbarton Wisconsin rich, aged cheddar cheese with a subtle hint of blue cheese and anise hyssop, an herb reminiscent of fennel. This interactive dish allows you to shake up your jar to combine these unique ingredients producing a rich and balanced bliss combined with house-made pasta.”


Andy Motto — Executive Chef, Quince at the Homestead in Evanston

Best Meal: Appetizer: Chilled Dungeness Crab Entree: Slagel Farms Chicken

Restaurant: Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted St., Chicago;

The skinny: “My wife and I sat at the kitchen bar this summer. Great meal. Great service. The Slagel Farms Chicken was very simple, but executed really well. The crab was fresh, vibrant — good lemon juice, good acid on it.”


Michael Taus — Consultant/Executive Chef, Coppervine in Chicago

Best Meal: Sushi assortment

Restaurant: Juno, 2638 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “Hands down the best dish I’ve eaten this year. The food was incredibly fresh, and the flavor combinations balanced, bold and unique.”


Bill Kim — Owner/Chef at Belly Shack and Urbanbelly and Partner at BQ in Chicago

Best Meal: Bucatini with Guanciale, San Marzano Tomato, Onion, Pecorino Romano

Restaurant: Cafe Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “The pasta is cooked perfectly; sauce is nice and rich. The dish is very simple but complex at the same time. I must have eaten this 20 times already and would like to have one now!”


Stephanie Izard — Co-Owner and Executive Chef, Girl and the Goat and Little Goat in Chicago

Best Meal: Empanadas

Restaurant: La Sirena Clandestina, 954 W. Fulton Market, Chicago;

The skinny: “Sometimes the simplest things, when done perfectly, are my favorite go-to’s. The empanadas are flaky, tasty and comforting.”


Chris Barth — Executive Chef, Retro Bistro in Mount Prospect

Best Meal: 22-ounce bone-in rib eye with a creamy bourbon au poivre sauce

Restaurant: Morton’s, 9525 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont;

The skinny: “Pair this with a fine, aged California Cabernet, and you are set! Morton’s in Rosemont has the finest prime steaks; top quality service.”


Tiffany Schuler — Owner and Pastry Chef at Sweet Whimsy in Long Grove

Best Meal: Appetizer: Black Pepper Shrimp Entrée: Gorgonzola-crusted Lamb Chops with Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus and a bottle of Pillar Rock wine Dessert: giant brownie

Restaurant: Ivy, 120 N. Hale St., Wheaton;

The skinny: “Hands down best meal I’ve ever had... The black pepper shrimp was perfectly spicy and creamy, served with a risotto cake — and the leftover sauce was great for dipping bread. The lamb chops were grilled with a delicious Gorgonzola blue cheese crust melted on top and served with potatoes and crispy grilled asparagus. I, of course, always have room for dessert, and had a giant gooey brownie topped with gelato. I would eat this meal every day if my jeans were elastic! Food was amazing and service and wine were perfect and the atmosphere was charming! Couldn’t have been better!”


John des Rosiers — Chef and Proprietor Wisma in Chicago and Lake Bluff, Inovasi in Lake Bluff and The Side Door in Lake Bluff

Best Meal: Sushi: Smoked Hamachi, Mackerel, Japanese Aji — and three different sakes, one aged in a cedar cask.

Restaurant: Juno, 2638 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “Start to finish incredible, detailed and focused; beautiful. Amazing sake list, well-thought out cuisine with bends on tradition but the simplicity and quality focus of Japanese cuisine maintained. It is fun and creative. Great, attentive staff, as well.”


Michael Gottlieb — Executive Chef, Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston

Best Meal: 22 courses, including Langoustine and Turbot

Restaurant: Elizabeth, 4835 N. Western Ave., Chicago;

The skinny: “The whole experience was just outstanding. Maybe the best meal I’ve ever had. Everything was perfect and creative and fun. I’ve been back three other times. Iliana Regan has the most amazing attention to detail and every component of every dish was thought through. I’m not a fan of dill, but the Langoustine pushed me to liking dill. It was both cooked and raw with dill and cream and pickled acorn squash. The Turbot was with star anise custard, butternut squash, Earl Grey gel and cashew milk.

Elizabeth is a small little restaurant in Lincoln Square. You wouldn’t know that one of Chicago’s best restaurants is there. There is no sign, nothing on the window, which is something I love about the place. There is only seating for 20-something diners. It is an open kitchen, and the chefs also serve the food. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but you need to buy a ticket for your meal. You purchase it online, arrive at the restaurant, start eating, finish eating and leave.”


Curtis Duffy — Chef and Owner, Grace in Chicago

Best Meal: Green Papaya Salad with Cilantro, Crispy Shallots and Beef Jerky

Restaurant: Embeya Restaurant, 564 W. Randolph St., Chicago;

The skinny: “I love the balance between the acidity and sweetness and the toothsomeness of the papaya. It’s an overall well-balanced dish.”


Jerome Bacle — Executive Chef, Courtright’s in Willow Springs

Best Meal: Tasting Menu

Restaurant: Sixteen, 401 N. Wabash Ave, Chicago;

The skinny: “I was with friends and had a great dinner. All ingredients were married together in a wise way; it was elegant, refined and tasty.”


Cristiano Bassani — Owner, Bapi Restaurant in Arlington Heights and Big Chef Burgers in Schaumburg

Best Meal: Insalata di Fave con Pancetta e Pecorino

Restaurant: Tre Soldi, 212 E. Ohio St., Chicago;

The skinny: “Fresh fava beans salad with crispy Italian pancetta beacon pecorino cheese balsamic and extra virgin olive oil everything was served on a bed of fresh, organic salad. Very refreshing.”


Paul Kahan — Executive Chef and Owner of Blackbird, avec, The Publican, Big Star, Publican Quality Meats and Nico Osteria in Chicago

Best Meal: Beets, Eggplant and Black Bass on the patio with his wife, Mary and a bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol

Restaurant: Lula Café, 2537 N. Kedzie Ave, Chicago;

The skinny: “Jason Hammel was on site and every dish was executed perfectly.”


Leonard Hollander — Executive chef, Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park

Best Meal: Salsa Sampler and Escabeche with Homemade Masa Crackers

Restaurant: Takito Kitchen, 2013 W. Division St., Chicago;

The skinny: “It was a super thoughtful and very well-executed take on something that’s just gone cursory in most taco-related restaurants... The salsas were all delicious and unique. The masa crackers were positively addicting, the meal was enhanced by great company: My wife — after a long stint of heavy work weeks.”


Lee Wolen — Former Chef de Cuisine at The Lobby at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, soon-to-be (Jan. 2) Executive Chef at BOKA in Chicago

Best Meal: Crispy Ong Choy Salad

Restaurant: Andy’s Thai Kitchen, 946 W Wellington Ave, Chicago;

The skinny: “The Crispy Onchoy Salad is my favorite because of its different textures and flavors. The dish has crispy tempura ong choy which soaks up the spicy lime sauce. It is also served with ground chicken and poached shrimp all mixed with Thai chili and peanut.”


Chris Teixeira — executive pastry chef at West Town Bakery & Diner, Homestead on the Roof, and The Berkshire Room in Chicago

Best Meal: Chorizo-stuffed Medjool Dates and Focaccia with a bottle of Portuguese wine Dessert: Affogato with Madeira wine

Restaurant: avec, 615 W. Randolph St., Chicago;

The skinny: “It took me nearly three years of living in Chicago, but I finally made it to avec a few months ago. I have no idea what took me so long, and everyone was made fun of me because I hadn’t been before. I went with a buddy of mine and he made sure we got all the avec staples like the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates and the deluxe focaccia. We ordered a bunch of other stuff, too, and it was all delicious. We ate at the bar, which felt like you were sitting at a chef’s table. My family is Portuguese, and we got a bottle Portuguese wine to go with our meal. It’s always great to see restaurants differentiate themselves and not just serve French and Spanish wines. Chris Davies, our chef de cuisine at Homestead, went a few days before and told us to get an Affogato with Madeira wine for dessert, and it was the perfect ending to the best meal I had all year.”


Paula Haney — Founder, Hoosier Mama Pie Shops in Chicago and Evanston

Best Meal: Apple-scented, Helium-filled Fruit Leather Balloon Course

Restaurant: Alinea, 1723 N Halsted St., Chicago;

The skinny: “The best meal of 2013 (and definitely in the running for best meal ever) was a dinner at Alinea in January. I worked for Grant Achatz at Trio years ago, so I was expecting an amazing level of creativity and skill from the kitchen but even I was astounded. I can’t imagine what a mind-blowing experience it is for unsuspecting diners.”


Charlie McKenna — Executive Chef of Lillie’s Q in Chicago

Best Meal: Wild Turbot

Restaurant: Nico Osteria, 1015 N. Rush St., Chicago;

The skinny: “I loved how they let the fish speak for itself. The hardest thing to do for chefs is have restraint, and they ordered in a great fish and cooked it perfectly. The firm flesh and buttery texture was amazing. Seasoned perfectly. I also loved the Crudo of Spiny Lobster. Lobster is a crustacean that you don’t see served raw too much. The buttery sweet, warm water lobster with the fermented chili and Meyer lemon were great accents.”


Chris Curren — Executive Chef at Homestead on the Roof, West Town Bakery & Diner, and The Berkshire Room in Chicago

Best Meal: Empanadas, Kale Salad and Grilled Beef Short Ribs

Restaurant: La Sirena Clandestina, 954 W. Fulton Market, Chicago;

The skinny: “It was the first meal out with my girlfriend after we had our son, Ollie. John Manion and his team are doing amazing things in that little space — great food, great drinks, great ambiance, great service. We ordered a bunch of food, including the empanadas. It was the best and most flavorful meal I’ve had all year. Everything had big flavors — the kind that punch you in the face with deliciousness.”


Justin Martin — Manager, Edzo’s Burger Shop in Evanston

Best Meal: Braised Leg of Lamb, breaded and pan fried and served over Israeli couscous of harissa and lamb au jus sauce with yogurt goat cheese and grilled fennel with roasted baby heirloom carrots

Restaurant: Quince at the Homestead, 1625 Hinman Ave., Evanston;

The skinny: “The presentation was breathtaking — great vibrant colors, and labor intensive. You could just tell the chefs who developed this dish put a lot of thought into it. This meal left my taste buds wanting more. All of the elements went perfectly together. Seamless service, dishes to die for — and a kitchen staff who appreciate the true definition of culinary arts. Job well done!”


Mindy Segal —Chef and Owner, Hot Chocolate Restaurant & Dessert Bar in Chicago

Best Meal: Fried Chicken, Yakitori Don, Beef Tsukune Sliders, and Wagyu Ribeye.

Restaurant: Sumi Robata Bar, 702 N. Wells St., Chicago;

The skinny: “Chef Gene Kato’s talent and his commitment to his craft are unparalleled.”


Giuseppe Tentori — Executive Chef, BOKA Restauran and GT Fish & Oyster in Chicago and Partner, BOKA Restaurant Group

Best Meal: Takoyaki

Restaurant: Yusho, 2853 N. Kedzie Ave. Chicago;

The skinny: “It is amazing. Yusho focuses on Japanese street food. The Takoyaki is octopus with pig tail and heirlooms. It is my favorite.”


Charles Vales — Executive Chef, Winberie’s Restaurant & Bar in Oak Park

Best Meal: Falafel, Pita, Metzah

Restaurant: Falafill Bar + Mezza Bar, 3202 N. Broadway St., Chicago; 72 E. Adams St., Chicago; and 1053 Lake St., Oak Park;

The skinny: “Great mix of cooked and raw foods.Great choice for fast food or anytime food. A percentage of their ‘chef of the week sandwich’ sales goes to a guest chef’s charity of choice.”


Jeff Shapiro — Owner and Pit Master, Real Urban Barbecue in Highland Park and Vernon Hills

Best Meal: Walnut Shrimp

Restaurant: Yu’s Mandarin Restaurant, 200 E. Golf Road, Schaumburg;

The skinny: “Walnut Shrimp is absolutely one of the best dishes ever! The portion is huge: Shrimp are plump, fresh, coated in a light sweet batter and served over broccoli and sweet candied walnuts! I have had this dish many times, and for suburban Chicago, it is the best outside of Chinatown!”


Mark Steuer — Executive Chef, Carriage House in Chicago

Best Meal: Pork Milanese

Restaurant: La Sirena Clandestina, 954 W. Fulton Market, Chicago;

The skinny: “I loved it because everything about it was perfectly executed. So often, the seasoning is off, or a sauce is too thick or thin, vegetables are over or under cooked… On John Manion’s Milanese, the pork was perfectly juicy, the breading was flavorful and crispy. The chanterelle mushroom ragoût had a lot of acid to it, which I love, and the

creamy mustard sauce really brought it all together. It’s one of the best plates of food I can remember eating.”


John Manion — Chef/Owner, La Sirena Clandestina in Chicago

Best Meal: Quail with Black Pepper Dumplings

Restaurant: Carriage House, 1700 W. Division St., Chicago, 60622,

The skinny: “Most likely my favorite thing to eat in Chicago. If I eat at CH and don’t have it, I feel empty inside.”


Jory Downer — Certified Master Baker, Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston

Best Meal: New York Strip, Vescuvio Style

Restaurant: EJ’s Place, 10027 Skokie Blvd., Skokie;

The skinny: “Prime, prime New York strip steak, heavily doused with wine, olive oil and garlic and covered in crisp-fried American potatoes.”

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