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Cherry pie from Sister Pie in Detroit.
Bill Addison

The 38 Best Midwest Restaurants, Mapped

Where to eat in Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, and beyond

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Cherry pie from Sister Pie in Detroit.
| Bill Addison

The Midwest is our center, an enduring hub of transportation and trade, the nation’s Silk Road lined with tracks of steel. Immigrant cultures, both longstanding and recent, nourish communities with traditional foods: Serbian goulash in Milwaukee, snapper over mole verde in Chicago’s Logan Square, Somali sambusas in Columbus, and yes, chicken and waffles in Detroit. These plates have become just as fundamental to the culture here as cheese-stuffed burgers and Michigan cherry pie. Together they form this collage, a collection of the region’s essential dining destinations.

But then, what even is the Midwest? Its boundaries are vague, and like leagues of journalists and culture pundits before us, we debated its possibilities for social, political, and geographic definition. In the end we focused on the Great Lakes region, which for our purposes includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. These six states alone gave us plenty to research and relish.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Alinea

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1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 867-0110
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WHAT: Dinner theater for the new millennium. WHY: One can’t overstate the influence of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s star restaurant, a modernist playground that’s continually evolved to include themes of nostalgia, Americana, and culinary globalism. It gave a generation of chefs the permission to explore connections between science, art, and cooking, and its fame helped turn Chicago into one of the nation’s energized hotbeds for tasting-menu dining. The restaurant currently offers three menus of different lengths and complexities; they range from $175 to $385 per person. Whether the torrent of courses ultimately evokes wonder or whimsy or puzzlement, every food obsessive should splurge on the Alinea experience at least once. — Bill Addison

Dry ice centerpiece at Alinea.
Bill Addison

2. The Publican

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837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-9555
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WHAT: One of those ineffably Chicago restaurants that splits the difference between highbrow and salt-of-the-earth, whose chefs look to the fresh waters of the Great Lakes and the dark-soil farms of Wisconsin, but also know their way around a California peach or an Italian prawn. WHY: Publican — a Paul Kahan endeavor, which modestly bills itself as a beer hall and oyster bar — was the first and remains the best of this group. The food is exquisitely executed, massively portioned, and indefinably global, fueled by ingredient quality and a dazzling culinary creativity. — Helen Rosner

Publican
The chicken platter.
Bill Addison

3. Fat Rice

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2957 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 661-9170
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WHAT: A restaurant that doubles as a culinary culture seminar. WHY: Drawing in part on their backgrounds, chef-owners Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon interpret the uniquely East-West dishes of Macao and other postcolonial Portuguese cuisines. The kitchen’s repertoire veers through creamy bacalhau, chive pancakes riddled with enoki mushrooms and dried shrimp, and turmeric-stained cabbage fragrant with mustard seed and curry leaf. It sounds like a random jumble, but in the subtle interplay of ingredients and techniques between dishes, a meal here winds up making a delicious sort of sense. — B.A.

Baked pork chop at Fat Rice.
Bill Addison

4. Parachute

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3500 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 654-1460
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WHAT: A riveting excursion into worldwide flavors, with Korean cuisine as base camp. WHY: No traditional recipe is sacred in the hands of chef-owners Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, yet they come up with one heavenly dish after another. Mandu, the thin-skinned Korean dumplings, might be vehicles for duck and minty perilla, or veer Italian with fillings of ground pork, ginger, and ’nduja served in a glossy pecorino Romano broth. Look around the snug, 40-seat dining room: Everyone is eating the baked potato bing bread, shot through with bacon, cheddar, and scallions and pan-fried. Follow that caloric wonder with a Gallic-inspired entree like skate with hollandaise. — B.A.

Mandu.
Bill Addison

5. Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio

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1020 W Madison St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 888-3041
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WHAT: An unrepentant celebration of pasta. WHY: Sarah Grueneberg’s ever-changing list of shapes and strands isn’t long. There will be several creative twists, like cappelletti filled with pork and veal and staged in an autumn tableau of mushrooms, sage, apple, and truffles. There are the recognizable pleasures: cacio e pepe, gnocchi in pesto, spaghettini with tomato and basil (though slyly zinged with za’atar in a nod to Southern Italy’s Arabic influences). All are magnificent. Start with ’nduja arancini or skate schnitzel over polenta. Really, though, save most of your appetite for pasta. — B.A.

Agnolotti at Monteverde.
Bill Addison

6. Ramen House Shinchan

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1939 S Plum Grove Rd
Palatine, IL 60067
(847) 496-4189
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WHAT: On the shortlist for the finest bowl of ramen between the two coasts. WHY: Tonkotsu, the most hedonistic of ramens, often connotes heavy, creamy, rich, heartstopping. But a proper bowl of tonkotsu shouldn’t require a two-hour nap afterward; it toes the line of overindulgence without crossing over. At Ramen House Shinchan, inside a cookie-cutter suburban strip mall 30 miles outside downtown Chicago, chef Shinji Sugiura spends 15 hours producing a broth wondrously luscious and silky, yet balanced and restrained from the excess of porky bombast. Chicago’s ramen scene has flourished over the last decade, and Ramen House Shinchan’s tonkotsu just might be — oh heck, forget qualifiers — it is the best bowl of ramen within 100 miles. — Kevin Pang

Ramen at Ramen House Shinchan.
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7. Schwa Restaurant

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1466 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 252-1466
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WHAT: The restaurant that pioneered the marriage of the multi-course tasting menu with the dim, loud setting of a rock club. WHY: By the time your ears and eyes adjust, your bottle of wine opens up, and you figure out the odd service rhythms, Schwa really gels, delivering an evening like none other. Chef de cuisine Wilson Bauer is largely responsible for the menu these days, where each dish plays loosely off a theme. “Glogg” seems a bizarre conceit for crudo, but when you pull together a mouthful of candied almonds, macerated raisins, foamy “spice clouds,” and slips of raw cuttlefish, the mulled wine flavors come into focus and make a kind of weird, bright sense. Best is mulligatawny soup, where pickled apples, shaved carrots, and crisp-fried beluga lentils come together over a piece of crisp-skinned branzino. Once the exciting textures sort themselves out, you taste the gentlest of coconut curry spice. — John Kessler

Meat and carrots at Schwa.
Bill Addison

8. Mi Tocaya Antojería

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2800 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647
Chicago, IL 60647
(872) 315-3947
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WHAT: The Windy City’s new lodestar of Mexican cooking. WHY: With one of the country’s largest Mexican-American populations — and of course Rick Bayless’s famous restaurant empire — Chicago offers a serious selection of tacos, tortas, stews, regional specialties, and alta cocina Mexicana. In the spiritual center of the many options stands Diana Dávila’s casual, 38-seat Logan Square charmer. Her menu is a love letter to family and identity and place. She approaches cooking with a fierce individuality you can taste in her signature starter of “peanut butter y lengua,” in an elaborate sculpture of elotes, the cactus stew in which a blob of burrata melts like ice cream, and especially on Sundays in the caldo de res, modeled after her father’s beef stew. — B.A.

Cochinita pibil at Mi Tocaya.
Courtesy of Mi Tocaya

9. BoeufHaus

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1012 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 661-2116
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WHAT: A Chicago steakhouse that’s not a “Chicago steakhouse.” WHY: The mighty Chicago steakhouse is more than a category in a restaurant guidebook, it’s an idea. They are the sum of many parts — mahogany bars tops, Caesar salads, and $20 valet fees — the majority clustered in the River North neighborhood frequented by corporate muckety-mucks with black credit cards. Boeufhaus lies several miles west of that scene, and despite calling itself a French-German brasserie, the restaurant is one of the city’s finest practitioners of the seared beef steak. The money item is the dry-aged ribeye, cooked flawlessly in a cast-iron skillet. At lunch, Boeufhaus transforms into a delicatessen, applying its meat-cooking knowhow to a slate of classic sandwiches. — K. Pang

Dry-aged ribeye at BoeufHaus.
Maggie Rife Ponce

10. Big Jones

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5347 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 275-5725
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WHAT: The sexy nerd among the country’s great Southern restaurants, helmed by an impassioned (and, yes, Midwestern) chef-scholar. WHY: Paul Fehribach acknowledges the universal hankerings for fried chicken, pimento cheese, and shrimp and grits, and serves stunning versions of them all. But he also deeply researches the breadth of the Southern lexicon, updating 1800s-era dishes like Florida red snapper “caveach,” calas (sourdough rice fritters), and fried steak. His approach brings richer context to Southern cooking, but most importantly, he recognizes the countless hands, many of them African American, that made our finest regional cuisine the glory that it is. — B.A.

Soft shell crab at Big Jones.
Courtesy of Big Jones

11. Honey 1 BBQ

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746 E 43rd St
Chicago, IL 60653
(773) 285-9455
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WHAT: One of the last bastions of true South Side Chicago barbecue. WHY: South Side Chicago-style barbecue pitmasters are a dying breed. In the last two years, two of the city’s best-loved practitioners passed away, and it’s a trade few new-generation cooks are interested in pursuing. At Honey 1 BBQ in the Bronzeville neighborhood, pitmaster Robert Adams Sr. is acclaimed for the care and attention paid to his rib tips and hot links (the genre’s two defining meats). Cooked over hard oak, Adams’ tender ribs emerge with a crusty bark, fat pulling away from cartilage with a toothsome tug. His smoked hot links sport a crackling casing and a chile spice not for the meek. Like most South Side barbecue restaurants, Honey 1 is takeout-only and void of frills. But to eat barbecue minutes out of the smoker, on the hood of your car and straight from the styrofoam container, is one of the great tactile experiences of Chicago gastronomy. — K. Pang

Barbecue.
Kevin Pang

12. Epiphany Farms Restaurant

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220 E Front St
Bloomington, IL 61701
(309) 828-2323
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WHAT: A fine dining restaurant connected to a farm in small-town Illinois. WHY: First, the food: it’s lovely, considered, thoughtful. It’s classic French technique with American roots and the occasional hat tip to Korean cooking. It’s approachable for city and suburban palates alike. But here’s the backstory: Ken Myszka — a veteran of kitchens of Guy Savoy and Thomas Keller — grew tired of luxury dining culture and moved back to his Central Illinois hometown, population 760. He convinced three others to buy into his wild experiment: build a farm from the dirt up and use the produce grown and animals raised to supply a sustainable restaurant. Epiphany Farms now has three restaurants to its name — the eponymous fine dining flagship, a pizza/dumpling parlor, a diner inside an old bank — with two more on the way. — K. Pang

Berry fruit tart with strawberry sorbet.
Kevin Pang

13. Milktooth

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534 Virginia Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46203
(317) 986-5131
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WHAT: A sunny, postmodern diner that redefines our notions of daytime Americana dining. WHY: Chef-owner Jonathan Brooks continually finds ever-fresher ways to recast morning foods. He stirs together sourdough zucchini-bread batter for waffles, which he zings with chocolate, maple, orange cream cheese, and, for crunch, pearl sugar. Puffy, bronzed Dutch babies might cradle the flavors of chorizo and manchego, or berries with cucumber-lemon curd. Around noontime, the lamb burger tempts, but you’ll still want a corn biscuit with cherry jam on the side. To drink: a righteous macchiato or a shockingly boozy cocktail laced with pisco and mezcal. — B.A.

Dutch baby with berries at Milktooth.
Courtesy of Milktooth

14. Rook

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501 Virginia Ave #101
Indianapolis, IN 46203
(317) 737-2293
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WHAT: A hyper-stylized noodle house along the city’s newest restaurant row. WHY: The embellished ramens, rice bowls, and umami-rich East-meets-Midwest dishes explore the soulful territory between innovation and tradition. Head chef Carlos Salazar is at his best when he’s deconstructing the Filipino standards he grew up eating, like crunchy crab lumpiang fried inside purple-yam crepes and halo halo with lemongrass milk and a rainbow of Fruity Pebbles. This is Hoosierfied Asian with a wink: Dainty steamed buns hold a delicious (if daring) mash-up of sizzled Spam, American cheese, house pickles, and white barbecue sauce. The head-turning Rook Burger is a knife-and-fork tower of meat, cheese, and overlapping sauce streaks — banana ketchup, and charred scallion mayo — between thick Chinese pancakes. Nouveau-tiki cocktails provide pops of color in a dining room as sleek and blocky as an Ikea showroom. — Julia Spalding

Coconut-curry ramen with jumbo prawns.
Sergio Bennett

15. Al Ameer

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12710 W Warren Ave
Dearborn, MI 48126
(313) 582-8185
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WHAT: A welcome center for the fresh, diverse, and subtly spiced pleasures of Lebanese cuisine. WHY: Michigan is home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the United States; Dearborn, just outside Detroit, houses dozens of Lebanese restaurants specializing in mezze (a spread of salads, small plates like falafel, and dips such as hummus and baba ghanoush) and extravagant kebabs. Al-Ameer stands out for its front-of-house conviviality and its superbly skilled kitchen. Breathe in the warmth of pita baking in the oven near the entrance. Indulge in stuffed lamb with rice and yogurt as well as the Middle East’s equivalent to steak tartare — kibbeh nayeh, minced raw meat kneaded with pureed onion and bulgur wheat. — B.A.

Kebabs.
Courtesy of Al Ameer

16. Sister Pie

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8066 Kercheval Ave
Detroit, MI 48214
(313) 447-5550
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WHAT: A tiny pie shop brimming with heart, talent, and incredible pastries. WHY: Lisa Ludwinski, a 2015 Eater Young Guns winner, masters the tricky art of balancing tradition and understated imagination in her baking. Her crust recipe leans buttery, but with enough sturdiness to cradle generous fillings. Count on salted maple as a year-round staple, but make a special trip for summer flavors like Michigan cherry perfumed with bourbon, gingery peach, blueberry with lemon thyme, and plum covered with oat streusel (and billows of whipped cream). On quieter mornings, relax at the communal table with a slice of pie — or maybe the potato galette topped with an over-easy egg — and a mug of coffee to savor the shop’s radiant cheer. — B.A.

Cherry pie.
Bill Addison

17. Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant

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24443 Gratiot Ave
Eastpointe, MI 48021
(586) 777-5391
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WHAT: Crisp-edged, deftly proportioned, wholly satisfying Detroit-style square pizza. WHY: In America’s restless and unending hunger for pizza, the national floodlights have recently beamed down on Motor City’s square pie, a pan-baked variation (technically a rectangle) with roots in Sicilian focaccia that has been around since the 1940s. Gus Guerra originated the square at Buddy’s Rendezvous — now Buddy’s, the most famous of the city’s Detroit-style pizzerias. Guerra left Buddy’s in 1953 and bought Cloverleaf, which is still run by his children. Its pizzas stand out particularly for the all-important crust: singed and lacy on the fringes, not too bready in the middle. Skip Cloverleaf’s carryout locations and head to the Eastpointe original. — B.A.

Supreme pizza.
Bill Addison

18. Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles

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19345 Livernois Ave
Detroit, MI 48221
(313) 861-0229
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WHAT: The perfect plate of chicken and waffles. WHY: Four years ago former Detroit Lions football player Ron Bartell set out to bring a homey spot with great food to the neighborhood where he grew up. Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles opened in 2015 and demonstrated how new businesses could not just survive outside the city center, they could thrive. Any day of the week you’ll find the place teeming with locals feasting on juicy morsels of light- and dark-meat chicken affixed with light and crunchy batter and stacked high on top of thin, cinnamon-spiced waffles. Don’t hold back on the syrup. — Brenna Houck

Chicken and waffles.
Michelle and Chris Gerard

19. Mabel Gray

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23825 John R Rd
Hazel Park, MI 48030
(248) 398-4300
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WHAT: Local Michigan ingredients transformed into an ever-changing lineup of globally inspired small plates. WHY: An upbeat soundtrack pumps through the low-key fine dining destination, perched on the outskirts of Detroit in the blue-collar city of Hazel Park. The setting is as unexpected as the handwritten menu, which might highlight crispy octopus with kimchi one night or a pile of tender pappardelle pasta with confit chicken the next. When owner James Rigato isn’t bringing his improvisational style and personality to the kitchen, he’s handing over the restaurant entirely to his talented chef friends from across the country. The operation leans high end, but its spirit is unpretentious. — B.H.

Asparagus with Béarnaise mayo.
Bill Addison

20. Zingerman's Delicatessen

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422 Detroit St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 663-3354
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WHAT: An Ann Arbor institution, as famous for its Jewish deli fare as its exceptional customer service. WHY: For 35 years, Zingerman’s Delicatessen has made its home in a brick building across the street from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. Thanks in part to its mail-order service and well-regarded hospitality training program, the small shop has developed a reputation that far outstrips Michigan’s borders. The sheer variety (and free samples!) of meats, breads, jams, and cheeses is overwhelming, but trust the process. Just past the mesmerizing maze of deli cases and counters you’ll find all of those enticing components folded into an incredible selection of superb sandwiches. — B.H.

Pastrami sandwich.
Zingerman’s

21. Spoon and Stable

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211 N 1st St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 224-9850
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WHAT: Minneapolis’s restaurant of the decade — a handsome, soaring space (indeed, once a horse stable) steeped in natural light and designed for maximum usefulness. WHY: Gavin Kaysen uprooted his life in New York, where he gathered accolades as the chef de cuisine at Cafe Boulud, to return to his home state in 2015 and command his own dominion. Spoon and Stable, his flagship, serves the community equally as a special-occasion restaurant and, with its brick-lined front bar, as a casual stop-off for drinks and apps. The modern American cooking shows polish without too much rigid control; I loved the way that burrata, topped with dandelion greens for a smack of bitterness, slowly seeped cream into thick peach compote underneath. For a wink at state fair food, order the creamy greens crowned with fried cheese curds. — B.A.

Burrata with peach chutney and dandelion greens.
Bill Addison

22. Young Joni

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165 13th Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 345-5719
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WHAT: Globally inspired small plates… plus pizza. WHY: The elevator pitch for Young Joni might sound like a boilerplate template for contemporary casual American dining, but chef and co-owner Ann Kim evades cliches by winningly personalizing every element of her restaurant. Feast first on the design details: the copper pizza oven, the Japanese tiles that shimmer black and green around the oak-burning oven, the communal table near the entrance built from smooth walnut wood. Kim runs Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza, two Twin City institutions, so of course the pies are fantastic. But start first with finessed dishes like lamb kofta kebabs over pureed eggplant, and the signature Japanese sweet potatoes covered in undulating bonito flakes. — B.A.

Sweet potatoes.
Bill Addison

23. Matt's Bar and Grill

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3500 Cedar Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 722-7072
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WHAT: A dive bar that serves the definitive “Jucy Lucy” burger. WHY: It’s unclear whether Matt’s or 5-8 Club, another South Minneapolis bar, originated the Twin Cities culinary mascot, a burger with the cheese (traditionally a lava flow of American cheese) stuffed into the center of the patty. Matt’s has served their willfully misspelled Jucy Lucy since 1954; their burger, presented in wax paper, is a small, unceremonious thing of blue-collar beauty. A cook mans a small flattop near the entrance, griddling the hell out of the meat until its edges are browned, frizzled, and crisp. Ask for griddled onions, and let the burger rest for a couple of minutes to avoid a scalding liquid-cheese facial. — B.A.

Jucy Lucy.
Bill Addison

24. Meritage

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410 St Peter St
St Paul, MN 55102
(651) 222-5670
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WHAT: A modern brasserie in the truest sense — a restaurant, wine and oyster bar, and neighborhood anchor. WHY: French cuisine is re-emerging overtly in both casual and upscale restaurants across the country. Desta and Russell Klein beat the trend by a decade, opening Meritage in 2007 and drawing on Russell’s training under Jacques Pepin at New York’s French Culinary Institute. Beyond the textbook menu of raw seafood platters, moules frites, eggs poached in red wine, and crackly-skinned roasted chicken, look for spectacular shout-outs to Minnesota, including sublime foie gras from local supplier Au Bon Canard and squid tossed with native wild rice in bacon vinaigrette. — B.A.

Foie gras terrine.
Bill Addison

25. Sokolowski's University Inn

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1201 University Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-9236
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WHAT: A humble, family-owned eatery overlooking Cleveland’s post-industrial Flats. WHY: This Polish cafeteria is miles removed from Cleveland’s contemporary dining scene, which is exactly the niche it was designed to fill: a welcoming spot for cheap, familiar eats, just right for the Eastern-European steelworkers who once toiled in the nearby mills. Today, it functions as a sort of living shrine to the city’s blue-collar heritage. — Elaine T. Cicora

Smoked kielbasa.
Lesley Suter

26. Spice Kitchen + Bar

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5800 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 961-9637
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WHAT: A farmhouse-chic space on the edge of one of Cleveland’s most up-and-coming ’hoods, serving a relentlessly seasonal menu. WHY: As chef, owner, and farmer, Ben Bebenroth takes his daily inspiration from the produce that gets planted, picked, packed and plated by his small, hardworking team, including farm manager Andrea Heim and culinary director Joshua Woo. The result is the freshest menu in town — an ever-changing array of rustic but authoritative compositions that reflect both classical culinary technique and an extraordinary commitment to the Midwest’s bounty. Be sure to check out the “botanical bar” on the garden-like patio, where herbs illuminate the potential of your everyday cocktail. – E.T.C.

Butter lettuce salad.
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27. Mitchell's Ice Cream (Ohio City Kitchen & Shop)

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1867 W 25th St
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 861-2799
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WHAT: A Vaudeville-era performance house—completely and totally dedicated to ice cream. WHY: The flagship location of Cleveland's beloved Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream doubles as an observation deck for the entire eight-shop enterprise, churning out classic and innovative flavors like almond caramel apple and wildberry crumble, many with ingredients sourced from Ohio farmers. Brothers Pete and Mike Mitchell converted this Cleveland nightclub into their operational home base, where cone-lickers on one side of soaring glass walls can watch dozens of workers on the other side as they mix, churn, and freeze award-winning ice cream — always in batches of three gallons, max, so quality stays sky-high. — H.R.

Tiramisu ice cream.
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28. The Plum

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4133 Lorain Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 938-8711
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WHAT: A low-key, casual, and continually surprising restaurant with a pinball machine at the front, well-inked servers patrolling the floor, and a small menu of playful, yet exacting, dishes. WHY: Offerings like the painterly beet taco — a tart and earthy blend of beets, buttermilk, and fermented hot sauce — may sound whimsical, but they are seriously innovative, dynamic, and alive with flavor. Chef-partner Brett Sawyer deftly combines familiar, farm-fresh ingredients with such unlikely companions as spruce tips, black tahini, and soy pickled eggs, and serves them up, like tiny works of art, on a canvas of mismatched china. — E.T.C.

Fish with spiced chickpeas.
Bill Addison

29. Sotto

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118 E 6th St
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 977-6886
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WHAT: An intimate underground (as in, it’s in a basement) trattoria that serves the city’s best pasta in a room that feels like an Italian farmhouse fantasyland. WHY: When it comes to pasta, David Falk is Cincinnati’s Midwestern virtuoso. He started out small, serving rustic dishes at Boca, a beloved spot in the working-class neighborhood of Northside. While Boca is now an enormous (and rather pricey) fine dining establishment downtown, it’s downstairs at Sotto where the rustic pasta dishes that made Falk famous can best be savored. The candlelit wood-beamed and brick dining room serves perfect briny campanelle con cavolfiore (cauliflower, anchovy, and parm), and sublimely meaty short-rib cappellacci. There are also wood-grilled dishes like branzino and bistecca fiorentina. — Keith Pandolfi

Wood-grilled bruschetta made with caper aioli, yellow fin tuna, hard-boiled egg, and chili oil.
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30. Tucker Restaurant

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1637 Vine St
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 954-8920
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WHAT: A welcoming downtown diner serving comfort food and Cincinnati specialties. WHY: Almost 80 years ago, Mamie and E.G. Tucker opened a diner in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood to nourish its growing Appalachian community with dishes like pot roasts, pork chops, and soup beans. These days, their son Joe Tucker and his wife Carla offer a diverse clientele the best breakfasts and lunch in town, rife with phenomenal biscuits and gravy and country fried steak. Joe is known for his goetta, a local specialty of sausage and steel-cut oats, while Carla makes a veggie chili that could win any cook-off. Feeding so many people at affordable prices in this gentrifying neighborhood is tough. But whenever the Tuckers fall on hard times (including a 2014 fire many here thought spelled the end), the community props them back up, donating as much money and manpower as needed. — K. Pandolfi

Breakfast burger.
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31. Camp Washington Chili

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3005 Colerain Ave
Cincinnati, OH 45225
(513) 541-0061
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WHAT: A 60-plus-year-old favorite for Cincinnati chili — the cinnamon-, paprika-, and (sometimes) chocolate-spiked meat sauce invented by Greek immigrants in the early 20th century. WHY: Of the more than 250 chili parlors in and around the city, Camp Washington is a local favorite when it comes to its signature “sauce,” which is either served coney-style or on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese (aka, a three-way). Opened in the 1950s by Johnny Johnson, a Greek immigrant, Camp Washington has a version that’s a little spicier than most, and the owners insist on using lean bull meat instead of regular beef, giving the bowl some appealing chew. The retro-1950s dining room only adds to the experience. — K. Pandolfi

Chili.
Bill Addison

32. Tony Packo's

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6399 Bridgetown Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45248
(513) 481-5950
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WHAT: An 80-year-old sausage landmark that’s become Toledo’s most celebrated restaurant. WHY: The inexorable march of time means that fewer people each year step into the ruddy light of Tony Packo’s dining room and declare their fulfillment at visiting Corporal Klinger’s favorite hometown restaurant. The M*A*S*H fandom may make up less of the clientele than it used to, but the garlicky sausages, heartily spiced chicken papricaś, and flaky strudels are more than enough to keep the seats filled. It’s been a stopping point for most of the celebrities who’ve come to town, and they leave their mark on baked goods — yeah, that’s really Burt Reynolds’s signature on the hot dog bun next to your table — H.R.

Packo’s original hot dogs.
Tony Packo’s

33. L'Etoile

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1 S Pinckney St #107
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 251-0500
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WHAT: The Chez Panisse of the Snow Belt, with an identity and evolution all its own. WHY: Founder Odessa Piper opened L’Etoile in 1976 and spent decades cultivating relationships with Wisconsin producers. In 2005 she sold it to her chef de cuisine, Tory Miller, who carries on Piper’s commitment to hyper-regionalism. The dining room looks out on a sweeping view, through floor-to-ceiling windows, of the city’s Capitol Square — which, conveniently for Miller, hosts one of the country’s largest farmers markets. The geometric plating of his daily-changing, purely New American dishes reflect his time cooking in New York fine dining stalwarts like Jean-Georges. But the ingredients themselves brim with such life, such barefaced freshness, that they transcend any fussy presentations and simply radiate goodness. — B.A.

Quail at L’Etoile.
Bill Addison

34. Forequarter

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708 1/4 E Johnson St
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 609-4717
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WHAT: A neighborhood restaurant with the ambition and chops to represent the modern Midwest’s culinary diversity. WHY: Forequarter does all of the things today’s trendier restaurants do, but it does them because they make sense, not just headlines. For instance, dishes like pan-fried mushrooms with black garlic or green and wax beans with sobrasada are served in petite portions because the flavors are intense, not because small plates are a thing. Trout, served in the summer with radishes and butter, is cured in-house because it’s just better that way. Executive chef Jonny Hunter’s passions — from bagels to brisket — inform the plates and perspective here. The weekend late-night menu has a truly killer double cheeseburger. — Kyle Nabilcy

Buckwheat cavatelli at Forequarter.
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35. Ardent

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1751 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 897-7022
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WHAT: The standard bearer for molecular Midwestern comfort food. WHY: Ardent is a triumph of rustic Midwestern flavors served with modernist cooking panache. Chef-owner Justin Carlisle’s pedigree spans from sushi to haute-French, but as the product of a local farming family, the terroir of Wisconsin is his muse. He takes weekly trips across the state to his family’s land to procure ingredients, which he then plates at Ardent with an adroit, inventive, and sentimental mind. It’s not often a restaurant is named a semi-finalist for a James Beard Foundation award within eight weeks of opening. This place is just that good. — Kyle Cherek

Pasta with escargot.
Kevin J. Miyazaki

36. Three Brothers

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2414 S St Clair St
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 481-7530
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WHAT: Sublimely executed traditional Serbian dishes that — much like the timeless space — feel straight outta Belgrade. WHY: It was already crowned an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2002, and the accolade echoes what so many in Milwaukee already knew: Three Brothers Restaurant — a third-generation spot opened in 1955 — is intimate, humble, and caught in amber. Situated in an old Schlitz bar, the menu nails classic Eastern European recipes to a T. I am Hungarian, and it is the only place outside of Budapest where I can reliably revisit the flavors of my mother’s and grandmother's cooking. The legendary made-to-order bureks require an hour wait — just enough time to travel the menu. — K.C.

Courtesy of 3 Brothers

37. Driftless Cafe

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118 W Court St
Viroqua, WI 54665
(608) 637-7778
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WHAT: A reverent homage to the land through inventive farm-to-table menus and masterful flavors. WHY: The Driftless Café, owned by Ruthie Zahm and her chef husband Luke, is a small town cafe in Viroqua, Wisconsin, that feels as if buoyant hipsters snuck in and staged an ongoing pop-up dining concept. Situated in the Driftless region (where there is a higher concentration of organic farms than anywhere in the state), the cafe is a magnet for locals and visitors alike who appreciate rustic cuisine and sustainable ingredients grown nearby. Chef Zahm’s menu is all heart, strained through a nouvelle cuisine-farmboy aesthetic. — K.C.

Courtesy of American Rivers Tour

38. Hoyo's Kitchen

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5788 Columbus Square
Columbus, OH 43231
(614) 899-8800
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WHAT: An authentic Somali restaurant. WHY: Columbus’s northeast side is a sea of strip-mall restaurants owned by immigrants from nearly every continent. Hoyo’s Kitchen is the neighborhood’s welcome mat, and owner Abdilahi Hassan (regulars know to call him A.B.) is its affable host. He opened the restaurant in 2014 to serve the east African food he grew up eating — dishes known more for their comforting spices than aggressive heat, like tender goat meat tossed in aromatic berbere sauce. The kitchen really shines with its plentiful vegetarian options, including lentils long-stewed in tomato and paprika. — Beth Stallings

Kathryn Heitkamp

1. Alinea

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614
Dry ice centerpiece at Alinea.
Bill Addison

WHAT: Dinner theater for the new millennium. WHY: One can’t overstate the influence of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s star restaurant, a modernist playground that’s continually evolved to include themes of nostalgia, Americana, and culinary globalism. It gave a generation of chefs the permission to explore connections between science, art, and cooking, and its fame helped turn Chicago into one of the nation’s energized hotbeds for tasting-menu dining. The restaurant currently offers three menus of different lengths and complexities; they range from $175 to $385 per person. Whether the torrent of courses ultimately evokes wonder or whimsy or puzzlement, every food obsessive should splurge on the Alinea experience at least once. — Bill Addison

1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614

2. The Publican

837 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607
Publican
The chicken platter.
Bill Addison

WHAT: One of those ineffably Chicago restaurants that splits the difference between highbrow and salt-of-the-earth, whose chefs look to the fresh waters of the Great Lakes and the dark-soil farms of Wisconsin, but also know their way around a California peach or an Italian prawn. WHY: Publican — a Paul Kahan endeavor, which modestly bills itself as a beer hall and oyster bar — was the first and remains the best of this group. The food is exquisitely executed, massively portioned, and indefinably global, fueled by ingredient quality and a dazzling culinary creativity. — Helen Rosner

837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

3. Fat Rice

2957 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Baked pork chop at Fat Rice.
Bill Addison

WHAT: A restaurant that doubles as a culinary culture seminar. WHY: Drawing in part on their backgrounds, chef-owners Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon interpret the uniquely East-West dishes of Macao and other postcolonial Portuguese cuisines. The kitchen’s repertoire veers through creamy bacalhau, chive pancakes riddled with enoki mushrooms and dried shrimp, and turmeric-stained cabbage fragrant with mustard seed and curry leaf. It sounds like a random jumble, but in the subtle interplay of ingredients and techniques between dishes, a meal here winds up making a delicious sort of sense. — B.A.

2957 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

4. Parachute

3500 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618