The small plate has taken over Chicago. Every time I blink, another tapas-style restaurant opens in the city. Most of these restaurants are fabulous, helping Chicago retain its positive, culinary reputation. At these small plate restaurants, diners get to try multiple dishes in a single sitting, really absorbing the restaurant's flavor and style. And for me, there is nothing better than dining al fresco on a summer night with a glass of wine in one hand and a bacon-wrapped date in the other.
But this trend also poses some serious issues. Sharing plates seems like a strategic diet plan, but really you just leave the restaurant feeling hungry and then plow into a box of Oreos when you get home. (Just me?) Or you'll end up being that friend who hoards certain small plates. No one wants to be that friend. And assuming the food is good (which most of the food in Chicago is), you're always left wanting more. And once you take your allotted bite (a mere nibble, in some cases) from an unbelievable, knockout of a dish, it's suddenly whisked away down the table and in seconds, it's gone. Sometimes, especially in these subzero temperatures, all you really want is a hefty plate of delicious food that belongs to you and only you. Sharing completely optional.
So if you're in the mood to be completely selfish and absolutely satisfied, here are some of the best, full size dishes in Chicago.
The Boarding House's Pork Belly Pizza
The general expectation is that pork belly should basically melt the second it touches your tongue, and as this pizza's star topping, the pork belly does not disappoint. The meat is complemented perfectly by tart apples and caramelized onions, and the crust is airy and fresh. And because it's the perfect size, you'll have no problem finishing off this pie on your own.
Riccardo Trattoria's Spaghetti Carbonara
There are few things better than a perfect plate of spaghetti, especially when that spaghetti is coated in an unbelievably decadent sauce made of egg yolks, bacon and the best pecorino cheese in the city. Go ahead, finish the whole thing. No judgement here.
Au Cheval's Single Cheeseburger
No, this dish doesn't consist of sliders meant for sharing. It's not even actually a single cheeseburger. This dish is piled high with two juicy patties, a perfectly fried egg and just the right amount of cheese (a lot) on a buttery bun. There's a reason it's recently been named the best in the country by Bon Appetit.
At first glance, the menu presents an interesting list of ingredients for this fish dish, but as a whole, they all form a delicious entree. The flaky hake is seared off nicely, and the sweetness of the leeks and the vibrant preserved lemon is balanced with a not-as-spicy-as-you-would-think piquillo pepper broth. You'll definitely want a spoon to finish off that last element.
Little Goat's Rueben
Not to contradict this entire article, but you'll be lucky to finish this or any other sandwich on Stephanie Izard's menu without needing to share. This sandwich screams homemade, with smoked corned beef, tangy special sauce and kraut all piled high on pretzel rye that adds the perfect twist to this absolute classic.