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The Supercharged Flavor Guide to Chicago

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Flavor, it goes without saying, is a priority of just about every restaurant or bar. And there are dishes (and drinks) that'll knock each of the five basic tastes — sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami — out of the park. We'll be mapping the biggest flavor hits of cities across the country, as part of Eater's partnership with MOFAD and Infiniti USA. This stop: Chicago. In a city home to so many culinary classics and icons, here are 10 places that do wonders with the five tastes.

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Analogue

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When it comes to signature drinks at a Cajun-inspired bar, you’d expect to see lots of Hurricanes and Sazeracs. Instead, Analogue devotes a section of its menu to purls, a traditional English drink that combines beer with wormwood. It’s an obscure, bitter cocktail you won’t find at many other places, and the ever-changing selection here includes one mixed with pineapple, rhubarb and hibiscus.

Au Cheval

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This upscale diner in Chicago’s West Loop is arguably the hottest restaurant around, and for good reason. There’s almost always a wait for a table, but tough it out for a taste of the fried bologna sandwich. Salty, house-cured mortadella is cooked on a griddle before it’s piled high on a bun and topped with American cheese. It’s way better than any Kraft bologna sandwich you had as a kid.

bopNgrill

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A plain ol’ burger is flavor bomb enough on its own, but bopNgrill manages to up the game. The restaurant, which has garnered a following and been featured on TV for its beefed-up burgers, uses a mix of common and uncommon ingredients to craft some of the best in town. On the aptly-named umami burger, a third-pound Angus patty is topped with bacon, smoked Gouda, truffled mushroom duxelle, sun-dried tomato confit, and togarashi mayo for an explosion on your taste buds.

Lao Hunan

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Chinese menus can be intimidating for even the most experienced eaters, but “King of Chinatown” Tony Hu gives diners plenty of reason to skip the usual order of General Tso’s and explore options like ground pork with preserved sour beans. It has just the right amount of spice and funkiness from its pickled veggies, and the tart beans with the rich pork make for an addictive contrast in flavors.

Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen

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Manny’s, a South Side institution that’s been around for more than 70 years, is an old-school joint serving classic deli sandwiches. Like at a cafeteria, you’ll grab a tray and pick items as you go down the line. There are no bad choices on the menu, but definitely try the monstrous corned beef; it’s a salty, tender, sliced-to-order sandwich you’ll need a fork to finish.

Mindy's Hot Chocolate

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Mindy Segal reigns as Chicago’s pastry queen, so it’s no surprise that her dessert bar/restaurant is a popular attraction for sugar-lovers. The dessert menu is constantly changing, but one longtime favorite are the aptly-named “O.G.” doughnuts. The James Beard Award winner’s sweet brioche bites are served with caramel popcorn and hot fudge for dipping, and they’ve been a huge hit long before the doughnut craze swept through the country.

Parachute

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This newly Michelin-starred restaurant has impressed just about everyone, and it’s not hard to see why. Husband-and-wife John Clark and Beverly Kim offer their take on Korean cuisine by incorporating both new and traditional flavors. Their bi bim bop, the classic umami-rich rice dish, is given an upgrade with the addition of rich and savory Spanish octopus, ’nduja, and squid ink, as well as Chinese broccoli.

Scofflaw

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Ask any Chicagoan, and she’ll tell you that the Malort experience is a rite of passage. The extremely bitter liquor was popularized here and can be found at many bars around town, but only Scofflaw keeps it on tap. If you’re not inclined to drink it straight, the bartenders will mix it with Letherbee Vernal Gin and Carpano so that it goes down just a tad smoother.

Trenchermen

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Tater tots and fried pickles are both excellent bar snacks, so it only makes sense to combine their awesomeness. Chef Patrick Sheerin does just that with his pickle tots, mixing crushed dill pickles into potato hash. Once the tots are fried, he finishes them off with some red onion Greek yogurt and a strip of cured chicken breast for a sour, tangy dish that’s greater than the sum of its already pretty great parts.
You can’t discuss Mexican dining in Chicago without mentioning Rick Bayless and his restaurant empire. The celebrated chef’s fast-casual sandwich shop, Xoco, offers hot and sugary churros for a delightfully sweet ending to any meal. Crispy strips of dough are flawlessly deep-fried and can be ordered glazed or with complements such as chocolate dipping sauce and soft-serve ice cream.
This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Analogue

When it comes to signature drinks at a Cajun-inspired bar, you’d expect to see lots of Hurricanes and Sazeracs. Instead, Analogue devotes a section of its menu to purls, a traditional English drink that combines beer with wormwood. It’s an obscure, bitter cocktail you won’t find at many other places, and the ever-changing selection here includes one mixed with pineapple, rhubarb and hibiscus.

Au Cheval

This upscale diner in Chicago’s West Loop is arguably the hottest restaurant around, and for good reason. There’s almost always a wait for a table, but tough it out for a taste of the fried bologna sandwich. Salty, house-cured mortadella is cooked on a griddle before it’s piled high on a bun and topped with American cheese. It’s way better than any Kraft bologna sandwich you had as a kid.

bopNgrill

A plain ol’ burger is flavor bomb enough on its own, but bopNgrill manages to up the game. The restaurant, which has garnered a following and been featured on TV for its beefed-up burgers, uses a mix of common and uncommon ingredients to craft some of the best in town. On the aptly-named umami burger, a third-pound Angus patty is topped with bacon, smoked Gouda, truffled mushroom duxelle, sun-dried tomato confit, and togarashi mayo for an explosion on your taste buds.

Lao Hunan

Chinese menus can be intimidating for even the most experienced eaters, but “King of Chinatown” Tony Hu gives diners plenty of reason to skip the usual order of General Tso’s and explore options like ground pork with preserved sour beans. It has just the right amount of spice and funkiness from its pickled veggies, and the tart beans with the rich pork make for an addictive contrast in flavors.

Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen

Manny’s, a South Side institution that’s been around for more than 70 years, is an old-school joint serving classic deli sandwiches. Like at a cafeteria, you’ll grab a tray and pick items as you go down the line. There are no bad choices on the menu, but definitely try the monstrous corned beef; it’s a salty, tender, sliced-to-order sandwich you’ll need a fork to finish.

Mindy's Hot Chocolate

Mindy Segal reigns as Chicago’s pastry queen, so it’s no surprise that her dessert bar/restaurant is a popular attraction for sugar-lovers. The dessert menu is constantly changing, but one longtime favorite are the aptly-named “O.G.” doughnuts. The James Beard Award winner’s sweet brioche bites are served with caramel popcorn and hot fudge for dipping, and they’ve been a huge hit long before the doughnut craze swept through the country.

Parachute

This newly Michelin-starred restaurant has impressed just about everyone, and it’s not hard to see why. Husband-and-wife John Clark and Beverly Kim offer their take on Korean cuisine by incorporating both new and traditional flavors. Their bi bim bop, the classic umami-rich rice dish, is given an upgrade with the addition of rich and savory Spanish octopus, ’nduja, and squid ink, as well as Chinese broccoli.

Scofflaw

Ask any Chicagoan, and she’ll tell you that the Malort experience is a rite of passage. The extremely bitter liquor was popularized here and can be found at many bars around town, but only Scofflaw keeps it on tap. If you’re not inclined to drink it straight, the bartenders will mix it with Letherbee Vernal Gin and Carpano so that it goes down just a tad smoother.

Trenchermen

Tater tots and fried pickles are both excellent bar snacks, so it only makes sense to combine their awesomeness. Chef Patrick Sheerin does just that with his pickle tots, mixing crushed dill pickles into potato hash. Once the tots are fried, he finishes them off with some red onion Greek yogurt and a strip of cured chicken breast for a sour, tangy dish that’s greater than the sum of its already pretty great parts.

XOCO

You can’t discuss Mexican dining in Chicago without mentioning Rick Bayless and his restaurant empire. The celebrated chef’s fast-casual sandwich shop, Xoco, offers hot and sugary churros for a delightfully sweet ending to any meal. Crispy strips of dough are flawlessly deep-fried and can be ordered glazed or with complements such as chocolate dipping sauce and soft-serve ice cream.

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