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TODAY

Sunday, April 21

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In the spirit of cheesy summation pieces that tend to run at this time of year, here is a list of the best things I ate last year.

Best Dessert: Chocolate chip cookie at Dunlays on Clark
Approximately one tenth of my entire 2004 caloric intake most certainly occurred in Lincoln Park while devouring Dunlays' signature dessert: a huge, half-baked chocolate chip cookie served in a cast-iron skillet and heaped with vanilla ice cream and swirls of hot fudge and caramel. It's like eating uncooked chocolate chip cookie dough straight out of the package -- except better.

Best Chicken Shwarma: Sultan's Market
The chicken shwarma pita at Wicker Park's Sultan's Market is the stuff of legends, not only because of the fresh, tasty ingredients -- creamy hummus, char-grilled chicken and red peppers, and Jerusalem salad (diced cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley swimming in tahini sauce and lemon juice) -- but also because of the price: a mere $4.

Best Breakfast: Swedish pancakes at Svea
Many a weekend morning in 2004 was spent inside Andersonville's Svea savoring the spongy Swedish pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and topped with tangy lingonberry sauce.

Best Crab Cake: The Local Option
With a glut of high-end seafood restaurants in every neighborhood, it's somewhat surprising that the best crab cake in Chicago can be found at a friendly college dive. But The Local Option, a favorite bar among DePaul students, serves up just that -- a golden brown patty of extraordinarily fresh lump crab meat blended with cilantro and bread crumbs and topped with fresh cole slaw, a dollup of spicy Creole tartar sauce and a splash of fresh lime juice.

Best Sandwich: Roasted red pepper and cheese club at Café Ballou
The folks at Café Ballou, a coffeeshop in the Ukranian Village, know how to make a sandwich -- the best one in the city, in fact. They layer thin slices of white cheddar cheese sweet roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and red onion between slices of of multi-grain bread spread with a soft herbed (in-house) cheese and drizzle everything with a tangy house vinaigrette.

Best Sushi: Green Tea
Everyone seemed to be talking sushi last year with the openings of Kaze, Tanoshii, Tank, Tsuki and Usagi Ya, to name only a few. My favorite sushi spot, the tiny, unpretentious Green Tea in Lincoln Park, still has yet to receive any press (besides me), but its sushi is among the freshest in the city. Try the sashimi combo or the crunchy salmon tempura maki doused in teriyaki sauce.

Best Baklava: Turquoise Café and Café Demir
My award for best baklava is a tie between Turquoise Café (Roscoe Village) and Café Demir (Lakeview). Both friendly Turkish restaurants serve up cake-like, melt-in-your mouth versions that are warm, buttery and oozing with honey and brown sugar.

Best Undiscovered Restaurant: Café Suron
This enchanting treasure in Rogers Park has it all -- ambitious, flavorful Persian eats, affordable prices and a gorgeous location in what once was the lobby of a hotel. The fact that this place is usually half empty on any given night is one of the true mysteries of Chicago's culinary scene.

Best Letdown: Hema's Kitchen in Lincoln Park
If one is good, two is not always better. Sure, I was ecstatic when I heard that one of my favorite Indian restaurants on Devon was opening a second location closer to my apartment, but slow service, higher prices and an impatient crowd had me once again making the trek north to the old location.

Best Chai Latte: Starbucks
I know, I know, why give props to the corporate beast? But seriously, I have yet to try a chai latte that is as frothy, smooth and delicious as the Starbucks version (although if I had to name a runner-up, it would definitely be Milk and Honey Café).

Best Turkey Burger: Sedgwick's Bar and Grill
The folks at Sedgwick's in Old Town have named their turkey burger "The Best Damn Turkey Burger Ever." And they aren't lying. Caribbean barbecue sauce and onions give this burger a sweet yet spicy flavor unmatched anywhere in the city. Ask for melted cheddar cheese on top and a side of the salty onion rings.

Best Ropa Vieja: Café Bolero
I'm not here to argue whether Café Bolero in Logan Square has the most authentic Cuban food in the city. I will say, however, that its ropa vieja is the best I've had. Made with tender flank steak, this dish tastes like it has been simmered for hours and hours and hours in a fragrant tomato sauce chock-full of onions, oregano and peppers.

Best Reason to Cheat on Your Diet: Roast Chicken at Bistro Campagne
Warning: Do not partake in the roast chicken entrée at Bistro Campagne in Lincoln Square if you have consumed the aforementioned Dunlays' chocolate chip cookie in the last seven days. Otherwise, you might not fit into your jeans. But then again, with golden onion frites, tender and juicy chicken in a luscious wild mushroom ragout, who really cares?

Best Place to Go on a Blind Date: Red Rooster Wine Bar and Café
For those of you whose New Year's resolution is to be less superficial, I would highly recommend bringing a date to Red Rooster Wine Bar in Lincoln Park. Its pitch black atmosphere will allow you to focus on the finer points of your date's personality. Likewise, its delicious bistro fare -- particularly the grilled calamari -- will give you plenty to talk about.

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About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, do so at .

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