Slideshow: The 12 Best Surprises from Serious Eats Chicago's First Year

Gym Shoe at Sun Submarine
Gym Shoe at Sun Submarine
And the award for the biggest surprise definitely goes to the gym shoe, a West and South Side original that is sort of a cross between a roast beef sandwich and a gyro. Very, very little has been written about this sandwich, and I was only clued in because my wife heard about it from the kids she taught in the Austin neighborhood. I found a couple places that served one, but Sun Submarine's version was the clear winner. To my astonishment, it was genuinely awesome, if definitely kind of crazy. Read more here >>

Sun Submarine, 5542 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60639 (map); 773-622-8240

The Mother-in-Law at Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots
The Mother-in-Law at Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots
As I mentioned in my review, I expected the mother-in-law to be greasy and ridiculous. I mean, it's a cornmeal tamale tossed on a bun, covered in chili, and topped with most of the ingredients on a Chicago-style dog. I wasn't expecting the tamale to actually lighten things up, while also adding a faint sweetness. It's still a mess, but this one deserves to be even more popular than it already is. Read more here >>

Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots, 7242 South Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60636 (map)

Schnitzel Sandwich at Olga's Deli
Schnitzel Sandwich at Olga's Deli
Walking into Olga's Deli for the first time is a surreal experience. It's like you've stepped back in time, or that you've unwittingly entered someone's living room (who just so happens to sell dry goods). Though strange, within seconds Olga, the actual store owner, puts you at ease. "Are you hungry?" she yells from the back room. And you better be. The schnitzel sandwich features five layers of fried meat. Luckily, they are five wonderfully fried layers of schnitzel, making this one hell of a great sandwich, even if it will feed you for the next three days. Read more here >>

Olga's Delicatessen‎, 3209 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618 (map); 773-539-8038

Turtle Sundae at Scooter's Frozen Custard
Turtle Sundae at Scooter's Frozen Custard
I wasn't on some huge hunt to find the best frozen custard in Chicago, but even if I was I probably would have given up my search after one stop at Scooter's. I like a lot of its offerings, but something about the turtle sundae gets me every time. Read more here >>

Scooter's Frozen Custard, 1658 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-244-6415; scootersfrozencustard.com

Special Toroniku Shio Ramen at Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace
Special Toroniku Shio Ramen at Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace
So, this is one of those places that ramen fans talk about endlessly, but I was still dubious. How could a ramen joint in the food court of a suburban grocery store really stand up to the best versions in the city? Very well, as it turns out. Sure, you have all the ambiance of a crowded food court, but there is no denying the astonishing complex shio broth or the bouncy noodles. Read more here >>

Mitsuwa Marketplace‎, 100 E Algonquin Rd, Arlington Heights, IL 60005 (map); 847-956-6699; mitsuwa.com‎

Rib Tips and Hot Links at I-57 Rib House‎
Rib Tips and Hot Links at I-57 Rib House‎
Of all the barbecue joints I visited to put together my list of the Best Rib Tip and Hot Link Combo in Chicago, I-57 Rib House was the only legitimate surprise, coming in at number four. Located on the far South Side right off of I-57 (how else did you think it got the name?) this place deserves to be mentioned in the Chicago barbecue conversation. Read more here >>

I-57 Rib House‎, 1524 West 115th Street, Chicago, IL 60643 (map); 773-429-1111

Biscuits at Ruby's Restaurant
Biscuits at Ruby's Restaurant
Ruby's is one of those places that I had always wanted to try, but I could never find the right excuse. Luckily, we decided to put together a biscuit roundup, and I had to visit. But even with the advance warning about the restaurant's biscuits, I wasn't prepared for how pillowy and soft they would be. They taste amazing topped with all manner of things, including gravy and ham. But even a little butter is enough. These are a real treasure. Read more here >>

Ruby's Restaurant, 3175 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL 60612 (map); 773-638-5875

Double Cheeseburger at Burger Boss
Double Cheeseburger at Burger Boss
I have definite opinions about burgers, preferring the smashed and griddled style over the gargantuan pub burger crowd. Apparently, not many people agree with me in Chicago, because it's exceptionally hard to find a truly remarkable example. Turns out you just need to leave the city. I already knew about Schoop's, but even closer is Burger Boss, which Jeff Mauro showed to me in nearby Elmwood Park. Read more here >>

Burger Boss, 7512 West North Avenue, Elmwood Park, IL 60707 (map); 708-452-7288; theburgerboss.com‎

Chimney Cake at Chimney Cake Island
Chimney Cake at Chimney Cake Island
I almost didn't believe Lindsey Becker when she first wrote about the chimney cake at Chimney Cake Island. It looked like the strangest, most bizarre dessert out there. How could this be anything but a massive, doughy mess? But a day later I found myself near the shop and had to find out for myself. And to my utter surprise, the chimney cake is as light and airy as advertised. Read more here >>

Chimney Cake Island, 1445 West Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60660 (map); chimneycakeisland.com