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Truth: When it's grey and wintry like this, we can hardly motivate to drive to the gym. But when we think about the empanadas at Folklore, or the egg-topped fries at Au Cheval, we’ll hop in the car and head to any ’hood, day or night. Here are the city’s guiltiest pleasures, exposed.

swirls

Lincoln Park: Swirlz Cupcakes

We know that “Chicago’s best cupcake” can be a contentious topic. So we’ve done our research and come up with a clear winner. (You’re welcome.) There’s something about the dynamite frosting on the cupcakes here that makes us worry: What would happen if we were left alone with a 12-pack?  

705 W. Belden Ave.; 773-404-2253 or swirlzcupcakes.com

mozzsticks

West Town: Mozzarella Sticks at Roots Pizza

So we bravely tackled the cupcake debate…but we won’t touch best pizza with a ten-foot pole. While we do endorse the pizza at Roots--just saying--its mozzarella sticks are indisputably the best in town. First, they’re nice and thick (mm, more room for cheese); second, that cheese is fresh, house-made mozzarella.

1924 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-645-4949 or rootspizza.com

fries

West Loop: Fries at Au Cheval

McDonald’s drive-through. Point the car toward the West Loop. At Au Cheval, this is what comes on top of fries: Mornay sauce, garlic aioli, and a fried farm egg. And you were looking forward to ketchup.

800 W. Randolph St.; 312-929-4580 or auchevalchicago.com

folklore

WICKER PARK: EMPANADAS at Folklore Argentine Grill

One little fried snack won’t hurt you. But you should know: You’ll have to order about five here. Simply have to. Stuffed with beef, chicken, ham and cheese, or veggies and cheese, the plump turnovers are accompanied with a crazy-good, garlicky dip.

2011 W. Division St.; 773-292-1600 or or folklorechicago.com

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Lakeview: Bread Pudding Pancakes at Southport Grocery & Café

Indulging is not a nighttime-only thing. Start early with the bread pudding pancakes at Lakeview’s cute café. These suckers are made of bread pudding (wrap your head around that) and topped with cinnamon-sugar butter. (Mama’s tip: The wee ones tend to love them, too.)

3552 N. Southport Ave.; 773-665-0100 or southportgrocery.com

dip

Humboldt Park: Buttermilk Dip at Bar Marta

Oh, don’t worry. We’re not saying crudités are a guilty pleasure. (On what planet?) We are saying that we drown those crisp veggies in the surprisingly magical buttermilk-cottage-cheese dip that accompanies them. And we mean drown.

2700 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-697-4489 or barmarta.com

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