Chef Pat Sheerin flirts with the unconventional, turning tradition on its head with startling dishes that include his signature pickle tots, as well as potato gnocchi in any number of iterations?the latest with pastrami pork belly in a sweet corn broth. It's dishes like these that have earned the praises of Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, both of which have name-checked Trenchermen as one of the best restaurants in America.
The Bristol has chef Chris Pandel to thank for its rare Michelin Bib Gourmand rating. Pandel sources all of his ingredients from local farms, creating uniquely American dishes such as a wagyu strip loin with smashed sunchokes and dandelion greens. The house mixologist and sommelier do their part to pair each of these dishes with the proper drink.
The menu at Mana Food Bar reads something like a travelogue. The restaurant’s chefs scan the globe for influences before crafting their vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, which include portabella mushroom burgers, horseradish-spiked mac and cheese, and tamales stuffed with pumpkin and jalapenos.
A staple of the foodie and food-truck scene, Big Star’s menu features battered tilapia and pork-belly tacos with homemade tomato guajillo sauce and queso fresco. Seating can be scarce inside the former mechanics garage, but the outdoor patio opens up on warmer days. Here, guests can order from a walk-up, cash-only window.
Irazu’s open-air patio would feel more at home in Havana than on Milwaukee Avenue. Nobody seems to be complaining, though, as the busy street offers great views for people watching throughout the year. It’s hard to pay attention to the passersby when presented with a plate of sautéed Cuban meats, sweet plantains, or pineapple-stuffed empanadas.
A dollop of Jordanian May Ramli’s hummus isn’t enough for most customers—she has to sell it by the pound. Fortunately, she saves some to spread on her crispy falafel pitas. The restaurant’s exotic booths are accented with Middle Eastern lamps, but guests can bring a memento from home in the form of a BYO six-pack.
Pizza and beer are ubiquitous in Chicago, but Piece does both a little differently. Rather than deep dish, they specialize in a New Haven–style pie with toppings such as mashed potatoes and clams. The beer is also a standout, thanks to brewmaster Jonathan Culter. He crafts rye ales and hefeweizens in the pizzeria’s own seven–barrel brewhouse.
It may specialize in Greek cuisine, but there’s nothing ancient about Taxim. The restaurant takes a fresh approach to traditional Hellenic recipes, resulting in a [menu](http://taximchicago.com/menu.html) that features duck gyros, wood-grilled lamb chops, and dumplings stuffed with fava beans and goat cheese. The chefs’ efforts to source their ingredients from local farmers and the ornate fabrics and plush pillows lining the restaurant’s booths have not gone unnoticed, as the [_National Herald_](http://taximchicago.com/Restaurants_2011%20National%20Herald.pdf) recently cited Taxim on its list of “100 Best Greek Restaurants.” The tasteful décor is complemented by brass chandeliers overhead and the golden throne from which Demeter, goddess of the harvest, looks on as guests consume her bounty.
Brothers Rajesh and Sanjeev Karmacharya and Chef Min Thapa, all of whom hail from Nepal, share the mountainous nation's mild, dairy-free cuisine at Cumin. Among the eatery's noticeable characteristics are "red walls, bamboo floors, and a distinctive aroma that pours out onto Milwaukee Avenue," according to [_Chicago_ magazine](http://gr.pn/U1cd0H). That aroma wafts from the kitchen, where Thapa marinates bone-in goat meat in fragrant Nepalese spices and sautés spinach leaves until they're tender in fenugreek and mustard seeds. There's an Indian portion of the menu, too, with classics such as chicken tikka masala, lamb jalfrezi simmered in tomato-curry sauce, and a dozen types of flatbread. At a full bar, servers mix cocktails and pour Indian beers for liquid pairings.
Deal or no deal, our editors strongly recommend these businesses based on their reputation, popularity, and quality of service.