Stay warm with a cup of hot cocoa.
Radiators and down jackets can only take you so far. Hot chocolate is the go-to option for shaking the winter chills and calming your chattering teeth. But nix any notion of those powdered potions mixed with water; we'll point you in the direction of a creamy, dreamy mug of hot chocolate.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat (Lincoln Park)
For truly couture cocoa, it's Vosges or bust. This pint-size chocolatier (painted with purple cocoa pods) offers "haute chocolat" that will leave you permanently snubbing those packets of hot cocoa powder. The Parisienne, inspired by owner Katrina Markoff's time spent working in a Parisian hotel, combines cacao, cinnamon, vanilla and fresh orange peels for an intense, multi-layered drink; and the Bianca is a steaming, delicate mug of white chocolate infused with flavors from around the world, including lemon myrtle, lavender and Madagascar vanilla bean.
The Medici Bakery's Mexicana milkshake, which lures in chocolate lovers during summer months, gets a wintery warm-up as a piping mug of Mexicana hot chocolate. Made with stone-ground cinnamon and chocolate, it's a sweet, kicky cup of indulgence topped with a towering dollop of whipped cream and a shake of cocoa powder. The house-made whipped cream alone has earned this pint-sized bakery a loyal following. Regularly flavored with French vanilla, almond or hazelnut, a second scoop can be had mid-cup if you ask the counter staff oh-so-sweetly.
Given its name, it's no surprise the hot chocolate at this chocolate-hued Bucktown cafe is decadence done right. Chef/owner Mindy Segal serves up seven sinful drinks, ranging from light (white chocolate and cocoa nibs) to dark (72 percent French chocolate) to half & half (half espresso and half dark hot chocolate). The black & tan, made with medium hot chocolate resting atop a pool of hot, heavenly fudge is (almost) as pretty as it is tasty. Bonus: All mugs are topped with house-made marshmallows.
The tortas, caldos and churros get plenty of press at Rick Bayless's latest addition to his River North empire, but it's the selection of housemade hot chocolate that really has us swooning. Choose from five different varieties, ranging from Authentic (fresh ground chocolate with water) to the Aztec (authentic with chile and all spice) to the luxurious Ultra (chocolate shot and whole milk).
Angel Food Bakery
No slurping needed; here is a hot chocolate best sipped with a spoon. The "Barthelona," modeled on the hot chocolate chef/owner Stephanie Samuels sipped in Spain, is made with imported, solid chocolate that's melted with whole milk and cooked until it has the velvety consistency of chocolate pudding. Topped with a healthy dollop of house-made vanilla bean whipped cream (the light, sweet cream visibly studded with crushed beans), the Barthelona is available in 3.5-ounce and 10-ounce sizes.
Canady Le Chocolatier
Known for the superb quality of its ingredients and owner Michael Canady's dedication to the craft (he studied with sweet masters in New York, Switzerland and Belgium before settling in the South Loop), this boutique chocolate shop offers a wide roster of truffles, caramels and gelato. But during winter months skip all that and head straight for the homemade hot chocolate. Proving simple doesn't have to be boring, this rich, creamy mug is hot chocolate at its best.
Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop
A sweet staple for chilly shoppers on the Mag Mile, Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop & Soda Fountain will have you toasty in no time with its long list of hot chocolates. Belly up to the 1950s soda bar and order up the chocolate mocha, chocolate hazelnut or white chocolate mocha, each served with a healthy heap of whipped cream.
The decidedly less stuffy younger sibling of the Italian heavy-hitter Spiaggia, this cafe provides the perfect perch to sip a mug of hot chocolate on the Mag Mile. "Ciccolato Caldo" is a Northern Italy-style blend of melted Valrhona chocolate, milk, cream, sugar and vanilla, served with homemade biscotti for dipping in the silky whipped cream that tops the drink.
Step off of Rush Street into this bright corner cafe and you instantly feel your mood rise. Warm colors mixed with light wood and marble create a homey and luxuriant interior. The perfect pick-me-up on a cold winter afternoon, the whipped cream topped hot chocolate is steaming hot and deliciously light and frothy. Served in a bowl-like mug, the hot chocolate screams out for a flaky croissant.
Cafe Mozart's atmosphere is as comfortable as hot chocolate on a winter morning. The couches and tables are an assortment of misfits that call to mind the A-Team: a hodgepodge of likeable talents that complement each other delightfully. This coffeehouse means as much to the Davis Street scene as Mozart himself means to classical music.
Kouks Vintage Cafe
One part coffeehouse and many more parts private home stuffed to the gills with antique knickknacks and collectables, this Norwood Park cafe taps into small-town vibes that seem straight out of Door County. Georgia, the friendly face of the joint, commands the cafe most of the time, dishing it out with a smile: cookies and hot chocolate to neighborhood children; Columbian espressos, coffees and diverse loose leaf teas to lunchtime guests; and summertime smoothies to afternoon 'laxers.