Gallery: Joe's 5 Best Fried Bites of 2011 in Chicago

Mozzarella Sticks from Root's Handmade Pizza
Mozzarella Sticks from Root's Handmade Pizza
Most restaurant mozzarella sticks are an afterthought: frozen, rubbery, and with the shape and flavor of Lincoln Logs. Their purpose is to soak up beer after a long night of drinking. This isn't the approach they take with the mozzarella sticks at Root's Handmade Pizza. Everything from the mozzarella to the marinara to the garlic-herbed breadcrumbs is made from scratch, in house. If Root's pizza wasn't so good, I would consider making a dinner out of these beauties alone. On second thought, maybe I will anyway.

Root's Handmade Pizza, 1924 W Chicago Avenue Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-645-4949; rootspizza.com

Carnitas Gordita from Taqueria Moran
Carnitas Gordita from Taqueria Moran
I've already written up Moran's carnitas torta, but this is the dish that really keeps me coming back to my friendly neighborhood taqueria. A masa pocket is fried until crisp, split open, and stuffed with carnitas, refried beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and onions. When I'm in the mood for something much more excessive than Taqueria Moran's well balanced tacos, I'll take this over a burrito any day.

Taqueria Moran, 2226 N California Avenue Chicago, IL60647 (map); 773-235-2663

Applewood Smoked Wings from Revolution Brewing
Applewood Smoked Wings from Revolution Brewing
Although the rest of their menu can be hit or miss, the smoked chicken wings from Revolution Brewing are a reason to come for more than the beer, and often. The wings are smoked before being deep fried (why aren't more places doing this?) and tossed in a spicy, clingy, sauce. The wings come plated with bleu cheese potato salad (again, why aren't more places doing this?), and you shouldn't feel at all guilty at upping the fried ante by ordering some of their twice cooked fries. Trust me.

Revolution Brewing, 2323 N Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-227-2739; revbrew.com

Fried Chicken from Harold's Chicken Shack in Wicker Park
Fried Chicken from Harold's Chicken Shack in Wicker Park
I know Dennis gave Harold's an obligatory mention in his fried chicken round up, but the chicken they put out at Harold's Wicker Park location deserves a little extra fussing. Even if you call ahead and swear up and down that you are less than 15 minutes away, they refuse to drop your order in until you walk through the door. This is a good thing. The 20 minute wait will become a distant memory after your first bite. This isn't the kind of fried chicken where you avoid the breast meat for fear of an instant case of cotton mouth. Succulent, juicy, lip-smacking—I feel like Dennis is writing a dirty post about it in his head as he's reading this. Maybe he's onto something.

Harold's Chicken Shack, Wicker Park Location, 1361 N Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-252-2424

Fries at Redhot Ranch
Fries at Redhot Ranch
Even at my most famished, a double dog from Redhot Ranch should be more than enough to hit the spot. So what would compel me to ever order two hot dogs? The fries. You see, every minimalist hot dog they serve at Redhot comes wrapped with a pile of fries, whether you like it or not. And I love it. These fries may be my favorite in the city for two reasons. First, they actually oblige when I order the fries "extra crispy." Do this from now on if you're not doing it already. Second, since the fries are cooked right in front of me, I can politely request that they drop them a little longer if they aren't as dark as I prefer. Don't be afraid to do this from now on, as well. Really. I guess I could just order a double order of fries on their own, but that seems like it would miss the point. The mustard and onion perfume that emanates from the hot dog adds much more flavor than you'd think.

Redhot Ranch, 2072 N Western Avenue Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-772-6020