Edible Flashback

A year of magical eating (and drinking)

Sure, it's been a sad year for Chicago's food trucks, limping along under restrictive legislation.

But it's been an incredible year for most everything else in the food world, with a swath of exciting debuts and developments, from a Top Chef's perpetually packed new restaurant to the first batch of Midwest-made bitters on the market.

A Brew Standard Great beer is nothing new for Chicago. But with the year's influx of spots serious about suds, the city's beer mania is reaching its zenith. We welcomed a new brewpub, saw a veteran one boost its ranks, and are awaiting another (Haymarket). Goose Island went green, craft beer spread to Bridgeport, and a new gastropub put cask ales at the center of its list–and bar.

Sweets for Sophisticates This year's sugar stars balanced sweet and savory, making salty caramels inspired by city neighborhoods, fruit confections spiked with vinegar, wine-laced preserves, and ice creams and gelati that challenged convention. At Blackbird and The Bristol, new pastry chefs made clever cases to leave room for dessert. And a Green City Market favorite finally opened a full-time home for its market-driven pastries.

Cocktails, Of Course To the delight of savvy tipplers, smart cocktails are finally a given, with new restaurants offering lists to match the city's best cocktail havens. Exhibit A: Our guide to the city's 15 best cocktails, which could have easily run 30 deep. Honorable mentions that didn't make the list: Girl & The Goat's short but sweet list; Chizakaya's new program, curated by Bittercube; Kith & Kin's simple classics; Vincent's genever-based list; and Henri's elegant, unusual wine-based concoctions.

Hi, Tea Just as exciting as the cocktail confluence, but less expected: A rash of serious tea menus spread across town. A devoted tea guru is the progenitor, and restaurants, markets and bakeries now bear his mark. We'll raise a glass to the spread of tea cocktails.

On the Docket Oyster bars, hip butchers, genre-bending cocktails and more promise to make 2011 a palate-piquing new year.