Hot Chocolate at Bar Toma ($4)
Located just across the street from the Hershey’s store and next door to Ghirardelli, Bar Toma has some competition on the chocolate front. But Tony Mantuano’s new espresso bar doesn’t back down; rather, it takes on the big guys and beats them handily. Bar Toma’s ultra-thick version has a viscosity far beyond any other in the city, and even comes with something of a challenge from the barista: “I doubt you’ll even be able to finish that whole cup.” Oh yeah? Just watch.
Hot Chocolate at Pierrot Gourmet ($6)
The hot chocolate at the Peninsula’s European-inspired cafe hits all the nostalgic notes: piled-high whipped cream, smooth milk chocolate, candy crunchies sprinkled on top, even an edible straw to drink it through. After you’ve satisfied your inner child, take in the decidedly grown-up atmosphere as a welcome respite from the madness of Michigan Avenue.
Hot Chocolate Bar at NoMI Kitchen ($10)
If you’re going to pay $10 for hot chocolate, it better come with some bells and whistles. At NoMI Kitchen, pastry chef Meg Galus starts you off with a blank canvas of Valhrona hot cocoa, then gives free reign of the toppings bar. The spread of housemade marshmallows, candy canes, whipped cream, cookies and syrups is equal parts Willy Wonka and French chocolatier, mixing novelty and fun with the elegance you’d expect from a Park Hyatt restaurant. After you’ve licked the bottom of your mug, the only thing left to drink in is the seventh-story views of the Water Tower.
Spiced Hot Chocolate at Cafe Jumping Bean ($3)
While the regular hot chocolate at this artsy Pilsen cafe is made with a respectable Ghirardelli mix, the spiced version is the one you really want to linger over. The barista uses a blender to combine various powders, milk, and chocolate to produce one frothy, velvety smooth concoction. Heavy on the milk, the drink is worth ordering in the largest size possible, not least of all because you’ll meet your daily calcium quota.
Cafe Jumping Bean, 1439 West 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60608 (map); 312-455-0019
Hot Chocolate at Canady Le Chocolatier ($4.50)
Don’t ask owner Michael Canady exactly what spices are in his housemade hot chocolate; he’ll merely tell you that it’s a secret family recipe. The affable owner of this South Loop chocolate shop will acknowledge that our perception of an unusual hint of ginger was spot-on, but that’s as far as he’ll go. Whatever goes into it, Canady’s hot chocolate is complex and full of cocoa flavor, which is just what you’d expect from one of the city’s master truffle makers.
Hot Chocolate at The Aviary ($45 for a three-cocktail tasting)
Yes, Grant Achatz makes hot chocolate. No, it’s nothing like you’re used to. After an appearance on Next’s childhood menu, hot chocolate is now available as the last of a three-cocktail progression at next-door cocktail lab The Aviary. As your server reverently places the cup before you, the pungent chile foam already makes it way to your nose, portending the intense heat that is to come. More powerful (and alcoholic) than most, this drink is as serious as Achatz himself.
Bianca Couture Cocoa at Vosges ($5 each)
Okay, chocolate snobs, we hear you: white chocolate isn’t technically chocolate, but after one sip of this delicate Vosges creation, you’ll be won over nonetheless. An infusion of Australian lemon myrtle and lavender yields floral and citrus notes, while the sweetness of the white cocoa balances the exotic flavors. If you’re overwhelmed by the purple and white wonderland of the Vosges boutique, pick up a package of the mix and recreate the drink chez toi.
Aztec Hot Chocolate at XOCO ($2.75 each)
There are a few things Rick Bayless really deserves credit for: namely, rescuing harried O’Hare travelers from the horrors of airline food with Tortas Frontera, and for introducing the masses to freshly roasted and ground Mexican chocolate, especially when it is used in the spicy Aztec hot chocolate. On a biting winter day when your nose is stuffed up and your ears feel like icicles, a swift kick of chile clears up those sinuses, while fresh-ground chocolate and allspice soften the blow. Add a light, sugary churro for a match made in Mexico City.
Affogato at Hot Chocolate ($8)
When you name your restaurant after a signature drink, well, it better deliver. Of course Mindy Segal does, notably with the Affogato, her favorite of the menu’s seven decadent hot chocolate options. The drink is ⅔ medium hot chocolate, ⅓ dark hot chocolate, part coffee cocoa nib ice cream, and 100 percent rich. Though you’ll hardly be able to find room for it, don’t skip the housemade marshmallow.