Topper's Top List: The Best Things I Ate in 2020

December 31, 2020


What can I say about 2020 that hasn't already been said? This year was tough on so many levels, especially for the restaurant industry. We lost many of our favorite independent restaurants and the road to recovery is going to be a long one. However, the sheer resilience and flexibility of many restaurants has been nothing short of amazing. This year our favorite neighborhood spots (any many new virtual ones) kept us well fed via outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. 

This year's list of the best things I ate certainly looks different though. For one, due to travel restrictions, there were no top bites from cities other than Chicago, and you'll notice a pattern of comfort food since that seems to be what got us all through these last 10 months. Think burgers, pizza, fried chicken, and pastries...lots of pastries.

In no particular order, here is my list of the best things I ate in 2020:

Mole Chicken Enchiladas at Mas Alla Del Sol: While I didn't eat this for the first time in 2020, it's a dish I love from my favorite Edgewater neighborhood restaurant, Mas Alla Del Sol. I frequented their sidewalk patio and ordered takeout several times throughout the pandemic. The chicken enchiladas made with a beloved family mole recipe is the perfect comfort food. I've never had another mole that compares to this one. I love their mole so much, I raved about it on this episode of Chicago Food To Go

Best Mexican Food Chicago
Photo Credit: Mas Alla Del Sol

Almond Croissant at Lost Larson: If you follow me on Instagram, you probably notice a recurring theme in 2020: I eat a lot of pastries. Especially those from Lost Larson (another one of my neighborhood favorites). There are so many excellent pastries on the menu but I always get the almond croissant. It's gigantic and filled with the perfect ratio of almond paste to puff pastry, plus a generous clump of toasted almonds on top. Pair it with an iced coffee on their intimate back patio and you're in heaven.

Lost Larson
Lost Larson Pastries

Omakase at Sushi Suite: One of the last meals I had before the pandemic was at Sushi Suite, a speakeasy-type sushi restaurant inside Hotel Lincoln. It was one of the most unique dining experiences that started with getting a room key at the hotel's reception desk to room 202. Upon entering, you're in an intimate restaurant with a seating area, bar, and sushi bar. We enjoyed the 17 course, 75 minute omakase menu at the six-seat sushi bar and it was fantastic. We loved getting to know the chef and our fellow diners and I can't recommend this dining experience enough if you're a sushi fan!

Sushi Omakase Chicago
Entrance to Sushi Suite

One of the fantastic omakase courses at Sushi Suite

Mother Clucker at Cluck-It: 2020 was the year ghost restaurants exploded and one of the newest to launch was a fried chicken restaurant, Mother Clucker. Helmed by a husband and wife team with Michelin-starred backgrounds, the simple menu focuses on fried chicken and comfort food sides. The accurately named Mother Clucker sandwich was the best fried chicken sandwich I've had this year. It features a whopping half pound boneless chicken thigh, coleslaw, American cheese, pickles, and Cluck-It sauce on a brioche bun and is available in four spice levels. The mild packed plenty of heat and this was such a gigantic sandwich it's easy to split with someone else. The part I loved the most was the breading of the chicken thigh. It's super light and crispy and reminded me of katsu. They even have the perfect packaging to keep the chicken hot and crispy during transit (no easy feat).

Fried Chicken Sandwich Chicago
Mother Clucker at Cluck-It

Agnolotti at The Bristol
: The Bristol is no stranger to my best things I ate list and 2020 was no different. Before the weather turned cold, I dined on the sidewalk patio where I enjoyed chef Larry Feldmeier's delicate agnolotti with fennel pollen and Vermouth beurre blanc. The Bristol welcomed a new chef this year and his menus are fantastic. They successfully balance The Bristol's classic dishes with his creative seasonal fare.

The Bristol Chicago
Agnolotti with Fennel Pollen and Vermouth Beurre Blanc

Detroit Style Pizza at Five Squared: If there's a pandemic food MVP, it's certainly pizza. There were so many new pizza restaurant launches in 2020 with spots slinging everything from grandma or Sicilian style to Detroit or tavern style. One standout for me was the Detroit style pizza from Five Squared. This food truck pivoted toward weekly "Five Squared Fridays" where you could preorder a variety of mix-and-match squares for pickup or delivery each week. We loved the pepperoni, sausage, and mac and cheese slices, but there are so many others to try. Check out their weekly menus and pre-order early in the week before they sell out!

Detroit Style Pizza Chicago
Detroit Pizza from Five Squared

Burger at Tzuco:
 Chef Carlos Gaytan's Tzuco in River North is a wonderful restaurant (with an equally wonderful all-season patio). It also pivoted toward takeout during the pandemic. One of the highlights from my order was the indulgent burger with sirloin, housemade huitlacoche bun, oven-roasted tomatoes, Gruyère, pickled yellow beet, sliced black truffles, and black truffle aioli. It was an insane umami and flavor bomb and certainly an over-the-top treat!

Best Burger Chicago
Burger at Tzuco

Grand Maine Lobster Roll at Travelle at The Langham: If you know me, you know my favorite place to celebrate is at The Langham hotel. For my birthday this year, my husband and I ordered food to go from The Langham's restaurant, Travelle, to enjoy a picnic along the Chicago River. We had the best weather and city view to enjoy our feast including this Maine lobster roll with brown buttered hollaindaise, celery and pickled peppers. I just loved the buttery toasted bread and the huge chunks of brown butter lobster, plus the acidic bite from those pickled peppers!

Lobster Roll Chicago
Grand Maine Lobster Roll from Travelle

Salted Caramel Brownie Tart at The Lunchroom: The sleeper hit award on this list goes to this insane dessert from The Lunchroom located inside Space 519 in the Gold Coast. The Lunchroom is offering a variety of meal kits and a la carte items like this salted caramel brownie tart with roasted pecans. It took us awhile to finish it but you better believe we did. We popped each slice in the microwave for the ultimate gooey sweet and salty dessert.

The Lunchroom Chicago
Salted Caramel Brownie Tart from The Lunchroom

Brussels Sprouts Salad at The Allis: I have to have one relatively healthy dish on this list, right? The Allis at Soho House Chicago has an excellent all-day menu including this Brussels sprouts salad with sherry vinaigrette, pickled apple and crispy rice. I know you're probably thinking a Brussels sprouts dish isn't super sexy, but it packed a ton of umami and texture.

Soho House Chicago
Brussels Sprouts Salad at The Allis

Dark Chocolate Croissant at Pan Artesenal: My friends Courtney and Israel introduced me to the incredible pastries from Pan Artesenal in Logan Square this year. I highly recommend getting a bunch of different items to split especially as their offerings change each week. While there were so many excellent items, one standout was the dark chocolate croissant filled with luscious dark chocolate and topped with shaved chocolate curls. It's the ultimate decadence.

Pastries Chicago
Pastries from Pan Artesenal

Burger at Yugen: Another standout burger this year was the A5 wagyu burger from fine dining spot, Yugen. Yugen transformed into a casual tiki-inspired sidewalk patio this summer offering a variety of tropical drinks, robata grilled skewers and this burger with house giardiniera, wasabi cheddar, arugula, pickles, onion mayo and Kennebec tempura fries. The balance of flavors from the wasabi cheddar and onion mayo was phenomenal! I hope they offer this on the menu in the future.

Best burger Chicago
Burger at Yugen

Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at Beard & Belly: The most outrageous sandwich I ate this year was the Buffalo chicken sandwich at Beard & Belly, another neighborhood favorite. This sandwich was so massive I ate it for three meals. What made it so delicious was the Buffalo sauce, two giant crispy chicken breasts and ranch dressing.  It was also layered with bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and Swiss cheese (I got mine with butterkase though). If you love Buffalo chicken, you have to try this sandwich!

Fried Chicken Sandwich Chicago
Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at Beard & Belly

Baby Ruth Candy Blast Cheesecake at Ruth's Panmade Pizza: The folks behind Root's Pizza launched a virtual deep dish restaurant, Ruth's Panmade Pizza, this year as an homage to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What I didn't expect was to fall in love with their only dessert item: a vanilla bean cheesecake swirled with caramel and Baby Ruth pieces, topped with chocolate ganache and Baby Ruth pieces on top of an Oreo and Baby Ruth crust. This cheesecake was so good I had to tell my husband to take it away from me before I ate the entire slice. Just writing this now has me salivating...

Baby Ruth Candy Blast Cheesecake at Ruth's Panmade Pizza
(Photo Credit: Ruth's Panmade Pizza)

Potato Gratin at The Kitchen: River North's The Kitchen is one of many restaurants that pivoted toward at-home meal kits this year. I tried one of The Kitchen's Finish at Home meal kits where 90% of the cooking is done by the restaurant and 10% is finished by you at home. Our meal featured a whole roasted chicken and little gem wedge salad (both delicious and perfectly composed) but the standout dish was the potato gratin. It was gooey, creamy and rich with a blanket of cheddar on top. Note to self: recreate this dish at home.

Meal Kit Chicago
Twice Baked Potato Gratin at The Kitchen

Here's hoping 2021 looks nothing like 2020. What were some of the best things you ate or drank this year?

Post a Comment

Latest on Instagram

© The Ghost Guest. Design by FCD.