Topper's Top List: The Best Things I Ate in 2019

December 31, 2019

Another year is coming to an end which means I'm back with my fifth annual list of the best things I ate this year. 2019 was full of delicious meals, both in Chicago and abroad, and I'm so grateful I had the chance to explore new cuisines and cultures and enjoy some tasty classics. This annual list keeps growing longer and longer, partly due to the fact that there are so many wonderful restaurants opening, but also partly because I ate...A LOT.

In no particular order, here is my list of the best things I ate in 2019!

Ligurian olive oil cake at Torchio Pasta Bar. This place was a total surprise to me. The owners are so lovely and passionate about their restaurant and it shows. As if plates full of creamy burrata and toothy pasta weren't enough to wow me, the homemade olive oil cake was one dish I'm still thinking about. Incredibly light and moist, with a hint of lemon and a delicate dusting of powdered sugar.

Chicago date night restaurant
Ligurian Olive Oil Cake
Sweet Corn Cappelletti with Finger Lime Espelette and Scallion at The Bristol. This was a dish off The Bristol's summer B-Sides pre-fixe menu and it was a mic drop moment as soon as I bit into one of those pasta pillows. It had the perfect balance of salt, fat, acid and heat.

Chicago Pre Fixe Menu
Sweet Corn Cappelletti
US Pizza Cup Winner at Paulie Gee's.  It's no surprise this Detroit style pie won the US Pizza Cup in 2018 (for a gluten-free version no less). Its combination of white cheddar, mozzarella, pepperoni cups, bacon jam, red sauce, ricotta, basil and Mike's Hot Honey is so satisfyingly good. If you haven't had Detroit style pizza yet, be sure to stop by Paulie Gee's in Logan Square.

Detroit Style Pizza
US Pizza Cup Winner
Cinnamon Churro Babka at Masa Madre. This year I was happy to find out about Masa Madre on Instagram. Masa Madre is a duo of Mexican-Jewish bakers who make creative and beautiful baked goods that they sell online. The Cinnamon Churro Babka had a caramelized crispy crust with deep cinnamon flavor and a doughy middle.

Cinnamon Churro Babka
Mushroom Risotto at Bistro Jeanty. Bistro Jeanty is my favorite restaurant to visit in Napa Valley and on my last trip, I opted to try their nightly special, a hearty bowl of mushroom risotto. It seemed like a never ending bowl of creamy and deeply savory comfort food (that paired excellently with some Napa Valley Cabernet).

Napa Valley Restaurants
Mushroom Risotto
Masala Chicken Pie at Chiya Chai. I'm sorry it took me so long to make it to Chiya Chai in Logan Square! I thought I wasn't a "chai person" but the whole experience converted me. Of course their chai lineup is great, but it's the Masala Chicken Pie I crave. Think buttery and flaky crust filled with aromatic chicken masala.

Chai Chicago
Masala Chicken Pie
Spicy Chorizo Cheese Crisp at Old Pueblo Cantina. AKA The Sonoran Quesadilla, this uber-thin tortilla is topped with plenty of cheese, escabeche, lime crema, and spicy chorizo and baked to a crisp. It's addictingly-crispy; you'll want to order two.

Mexican Food Chicago
Spicy Chorizo Cheese Crisp
Guava Roll at Panaderia Rosetta. This year my travels led me to Mexico City. This hole-in-the-wall bakery from the owners of Rosetta in Mexico City was recommended to me by several people before my trip. Many said the guava roll with ricotta was a must-try and I have to say I agree. There's nothing like fresh pastry dough filled with sweet guava and creamy ricotta cheese.

Top Mexico City Restaurants
Guava Roll
Tacos al Pastor at El Tizoncito. Another Mexico City spot that was so nice, I went there twice. These tacos have ruined all other al pastor tacos for me. The meat is shaved from a charcoal spit, plopped onto a corn tortilla with some juices from the spit, a chunk of grilled pineapple and a shower of onion and cilantro.

Best Tacos Mexico City
Tacos al Pastor
I have to give an honorable mention to another delicious spot in Mexico City, El Vilsito. You may have seen it on Netflix's Taco Chronicles. It's the spot that is an auto repair shop by day, and killer taco stand at night. Their tacos al pastor were also very tasty.

Tacos al Pastor
Tacos al Pastor

Iraqi Kubbeh Halab at Galit. Galit was one of the most-hyped restaurants openings of 2019 and the food lived up to expectations. One standout dish for me was the Iraqi Kubbeh Halab. Think of it as a giant croquette with saffron rice, lamb, golden raisins and almonds. I loved everything I had at Galit but this was something I'd never tried before.

Iraqi Kubbeh Halab
Margherita Pizza at Gusta Pizza. In 2019, I went on a culinary adventure throughout Italy. Of course we ate a lot of classic Italian foods including pizza and pasta. The pizza we ate at Gusta Pizza in Florence was so good I wanted to cry. No fancy toppings, just simple, high quality ingredients on a thin, bubbly crust.

Best Pizza Florence
Margherita Pizza
Chocolate Hazelnut with Pistachio Nougat Gelato at Gelatoteca Suso. This gelato shop in Venice makes an incredibly smooth chocolate hazelnut gelato with pockets of pistachio nougat throughout. They even sell the pistachio nougat for you to enjoy with other desserts or on its own! I ate A LOT of gelato in Italy, but this was the most unique, creamy and flavorful of them all.

Best Gelato Venice
Chocolate Hazelnut with Pistachio Nougat Gelato
Hummus, pita and falafel at LaShuk Street Food inside Politan Row food hall. One taste of the pillowy pitas and smooth hummus at LaShuk and you'll be hooked. Hot take: they make the best falafel in the city.

Politan Row Chicago
Hummus, Pita & Falafel

Samoa Cake from Aya Pastry. Aya Fukai is an incredible pastry chef and I was wowed by her cake version of the classic Girl Scouts Samoas Cookies. Look, I don't even like coconut and I was floored with one bite of this intensely dense cake. Find it at Philz Coffee locations across Chicago and at the Aya Pastry shop open on Fridays and Saturdays in West Town. 

Samoa Cookie
Samoa Cake
Agnolotti at Aboyer. A trip to Wilmette landed me at Aboyer, from chef Michael Laschowicz. It was
easily one of the best meals I had in the 'burbs this year. One standout dish was the agnolotti with escargot, black garlic and goat ricotta! It featured incredibly tender pasta paired with an umami-rich broth and escargot.

Best Restaurant Chicago Suburbs

Chicken Katsu Sando from Brian Fisher at Time Out Market Chicago. The biggest (literally) opening of the year was definitely Time Out Market Chicago. The behemoth food hall is home to more than 20 food stalls including one from Entente's chef Brian Fisher. My eyes lit up with one bite of his Chicken Katsu Sando with chicken mousseline, fermented blueberries, Kewpie mayo, shio cabbage, shokupan, and pickled ginger.

Photo Credit: Isabelli Media Relations
I hope you have a happy 2020! What were some of the best things you ate or drank in 2019?

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