Stuffed Fried Tofu at Sticky Rice ($4.25)
At most bad Thai restaurants, tofu is often used as vegetarian substitute, meaning it doesn't get much love. But at Sticky Rice the tofu gets to be the star—at least for one of the appetizers. The tofu is stuffed with ground pork before being fried, where it puffs up slightly, and comes away with loads of jagged little edges. Some chopped peanuts add even more crunch to each bite, while the sweet and sour sauce and lime juice help cut through it all.
Marinated Tofu Sandwich at John's Place ($8.50)
John's Place in Roscoe Village, as well as its sister location in Lincoln Park, has long been a tofu-friendly establishment. And the latest iteration of its marinated tofu sandwich has been shaping up deliciously. The centerpiece is a hunk of juicy, balsamic-marinated tofu, cut nice and thick, which has been seared on the grill for a nice, crispy char. For toppings, a handful of sprouts, tomato, cucumber, and a homemade sriracha mayo. Everything cozies up in a tomato focaccia roll. If you have a hankering for tofu that eats like a burger, this is the way to go.
House Special Crispy Tofu at Lao You Ju ($8)
You can get just about anything dry fried at a Tony Hu restaurant and it will be good. That's partly due to the addictive mix of chiles and Sichuan peppercorn on the outside, which creates a numbing and hot sensation in your mouth. Add to that the crispy coating both the chicken and pork get, and you're dealing with something truly special. But who knew that the tofu version was equally delicious? The little hunks are coated with the same chili and Sichuan pepper coating, but here the crispy exterior on the tofu gives way to a luxurious and creamy interior.
Seared Tofu at Bombay Spice ($6.95)
Searing tofu over high heat is almost always a good idea, so Bombay Spice is already on the right track with this appetizer. But it's the restaurant's seven spice blend that really elevates this dish, adding a touch of a heat and complexity to each bite.
Tofu And Mushrooms Noodles at Slurping Turtle ($14)
At both Slurping Turtle and Noodles by Takashi, you can regularly get your hands on chef Takashi Yagihashi's outstanding tofu mushroom ramen. Which is handy, given how popular Slurping Turtle has become in just a few short months. This bowl comes loaded with sizable tofu cubes to play opposite the other star here, thick-cut mushrooms. The hearty broth helps give the tofu a rich, savory flavor. Real tofu junkies out there could conceivably—although this is not recommended by any means‐fish out only the tofu and still walk away satisfied.
Spicy Seafood Tofu Soup at So Gong Dong Tofu House ($6.90)
How could we skip a restaurant that calls itself a tofu house? So Gong Dong Tofu House on the North Side serves a collection of tofu soups, including this spicy seafood version. The mussels mixed in are fine, but the silky tofu is really the main draw. The almost custard-like texture of the tofu is a great foil for the spicy broth.
So Gong Dong Tofu House, 3307 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659 (map); 773-539-8377
Lemongrass Tofu Bánh Mì at Nhu Lan Bakery ($3.50)
The ladies behind the counter at Nhu Lan Bakery not only know their bánh mì, they have quite a way with tofu, too. The lemongrass tofu bánh mì eschews the cubed variety for a more free-form tofu that resembles sliced beef, and it's just as rich and meaty, in its own tofu-y way. The tender tofu chunks come marinated and crusted in sesame seeds. The other usual suspects are present, too: fresh cilantro, thinly sliced jalapeño, Vietnamese slaw, a crunchy slab of cucumber, and let's not forget Nhu Lan's perfect French roll. If lemongrass doesn't appeal to your tastes, Nhu Lan also does a ginger tofu banh mi that similarly rocks.
Grilled Tofu at Yusho ($4.75)
Sure, the grilled chicken dishes at Yusho are exceptional—especially the chicken thighs—but Matthias Merges's yakatori-inspired joint in Logan Square also knows what to do with tofu, even if we could never have put this flavor combination together. Would you have guessed that grilled tofu goes exceptionally well with pineapple, walnut, and chrysanthemum?
Boricua at Belly Shack ($9)
Nearby Humboldt Park is littered with restaurants serving jibaritos—that Chicago sandwich original, which uses fried plantains in place of buns. But it's safe to say that none is quite like the one coming out of Belly Shack. First off, there's tofu; a big hunk of it, to be exact. Then there is the hoisin barbecue sauce and the brown rice. That it all works so well is kind of astonishing.
Ma Po Tofu at Mana Food Bar ($6, small)
It's hard to think of a dish where tofu plays such a lead roll as ma po tofu, that Sichuan classic where tofu is suspended in a thick and gloriously spicy sauce. But one wouldn't be able to call that dish vegetarian. At all. Except at Mana Food Bar, where the vegetarian ma po tofu has all the funk and spice you'd expect from the dish, without any of the meat.