15 favorite bites bring a mouth full of memories

A hell of a year for restaurants but still we eat

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

No doubt about it, 2020 proved to be a challenging year for our restaurants, but creative carryout solutions, resourceful chefs and devoted customers proved it was possible to keep things downright delicious in our little food-focused alcove. 

We know the struggle is not over for our independent eateries, but showing our support is the best way to help them through these difficult days. Enjoy this look back at 15 of our favorite bites this year -- and order some carryout to help our restaurants carry on. 

Opening weekend Burger — Kettlestrings, Oak Park: This scrappy tavern started slinging burgers in mid-March. Just days after eating this divine burger, topped with bacon jam and truffle aioli, COVID-19 changed the indoor dining scene making the Kettlestrings Burger our last dine-in restaurant meal of 2020.

Veggie Galette -- Happy Apple, Oak Park: This pastry delight from the Harrison Street pie shop appears on the menu from time to time and proved to be a favorite quarantine lunch. Savory roasted vegetable and goat cheese filling pairs brilliantly with Happy Apple's wickedly good crust.

Shrimp Po' Boy -- Surf's Up, Oak Park: Head over to the North Avenue District to get your hands on this indulgent sandwich. The folks at Surf's Up know how to satisfy seafood lovers and their cheery service makes every customer feel like a regular.

Russian Honey Cake -- Café Tere, Brookfield:  Looking to eat your feelings? This bakery is an outlier, but the cake is worth the drive. Baker Teri Mortel's layered confection has caramel notes and a surprisingly subtle sweetness making it truly unforgettable.

A Forest Park Power Paring: In early March Duffy's Tavern and Small Batch Barbecue hosted a "smoke fat and whiskey event" and served up a smoked old fashioned with a prime rib slider. The combo was a pre-COVID highlight.

Lechon -- Pig and Fire, Oak Park-Chicago: Get in on this pop-up action! Pork belly is central to Pig and Fire's Filipino menu. The meat, stuffed with aromatics and roasted until it is at once both crispy and tender, was made more delicious thanks to hand delivery.

"The Obvious" -- The Daly Bagel, Oak Park: Folks line up daily for these East Coast style beauties, and bagel maven, Amanda Daly, clearly knows how to pile lox, cream cheese, onions, and capers on a bagel.

Chicken Kathi Roll -- Wise Cup, Oak Park: This diminutive Lake Street coffee shop also hosts Indian pop-up events. If you are looking for a spicy handheld meal, you'd be wise to snag a chicken kathi roll when you have a chance.

Poke bowl -- Poke Burrito, Oak Park: Jimmy Chen has become a darling among restaurant owners in 2020 thanks to his tireless support for other local eateries, but his restaurant whips up a notable array of vibrant poke bowls.

Blackberry-cherry pop -- Popify, Oak Park: Popify collaborates with Rare Bird Preserves to create their blackberry-cherry pops. Offered in the summer months, these refreshing hyper-local artisan popsicles are sold from a bike or delivered via porch drop making them proper pandemic fare.

Tofu Salad -- Bodhi Thai Bistro, Berwyn: Vegetarians rejoice! Golden tofu makes appearances across Bodhi's menu and this colorful salad earns top marks. Brimming with fresh veggies and an umami forward dressing this tofu dish is a total delight.

Beef Medallion Family Meal — Golden Steer Steakhouse, Forest Park: The pandemic brought family meals to the forefront and Golden Steer has one of the best. Cooked to perfection, the unfussy steak dinner, comes with classic sides that remind us sometimes simple is best.

Carryout Indian -- Khyber Pass, Oak Park: Ready for a ride! Chicken tikka masala, peas pulao, and naan can all handle a ride in the car making Khyber Pass one of the most rewarding carryout options of 2020.

Pre-pandemic cocktails — Citrine, Oak Park: Funny how sharing well-crafted cocktails with friends last January felt normal. Thankfully Citrine is offering their drinks to-go until we can gather again.

Burger Bliss -- Fitzgeralds, Berwyn: Chef John Manion of El Che served up the "mano de deus" burger at Fitzgeralds' "Burgers are Best" pop-up this summer. Elevated in the hands of a capable chef this "two-handed" burger featured house-made pickles and potato chip crumbles. Nearly six months later we are still thinking about it.

Email: melissa@oakparkeats.com

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