A Year of Good Tastes

Looking back at the year's best flavors

Any late-2008 fears of the recession's impact on Chicago's food scene were quickly quelled by 2009's surge in new restaurants, new markets and new ideas. We've loved each and every day of the six months we've been covering Chicago's choicest, most compelling eats. Here are the trends (and tastes) that have excited us most:

Tastes of Chicago If the yardstick for a city's gastronomic greatness is its density of local artisans, Chicago measures up: This year saw the launch of a seriously savory chocolate company, and a new source for artisan bread from one of its veteran behind-the-scenes bakers. One of Chicago's best-loved pizzaiolas built herself a new home, and stills across the city turned out phenomenal new booze: Hum botanical spirit, Koval organic grain spirits and hard cider from Green City Market favorite Seedling Fruit.

Deliciously Two-Faced We love a good restaurant plot twist, especially when it involves the French-slanted Takashi adding a Sunday brunch with traditional Japanese noodles, or Wave serving street food (from an in-house street cart) on Wednesday nights. Along similar plotlines, Primehouse added a weekly off-the-cuff, outdoor farmers'-market dinner, and Mizu, an unassuming Old Town sushi spot, started a by-request kaiseki menu.

Sandwich Chic The populist lunch staple continued its steady climb to gourmet status, thanks in part to the Labriola-bread-framed tortas at Rick Bayless' Xoco and the burgers–on specially crafted buns–at Michael Kornick's DMK Burger Bar. And that Vietnamese favorite–banh mi–continued to spread its aioli-laced wings, with new appearances downtown and a stand at the new Chicago French Market.

Friends With Benefits There were culinary collaborations across town, like Mindy Segal's sugary toppings for Belly Shack's soft-serve, Half Acre's Imperial Stout brewed with Dark Matter coffee, and the drinks menu at Rootstock, which was sprinkled with recommendations from industry friends.