Hot chocolate may not have reached the popularity of coffee or tea, as Thomas Jefferson once predicted, but is there any better way to warm up after a frosty outing in a Chicago winter?
Rosy-cheeked kids everywhere (and young-at-heart moms and dads) will agree: There's something about hot chocolate that seems to just hit the spot when the weather turns cold. So I took Grace Peterson, 13, and Holly Peterson, 10, of Naperville, to hunt down the city's best hot cocoa, perfect for little tummies and grown-up taste buds alike.
Put down that packet of Swiss Miss and check out one of these five faves to appease your inner chocoholic. This is the cocoa you're sure to covet all winter long.
830 N. Michigan Ave.
When you need a break from all that Michigan Avenue shopping, head to this popular chocolate heaven, where squares of that famous candy are handed out at the door. In the ice cream parlor-styled café, "chocolate is everywhere," Holly said-and they certainly don't scrimp on the cocoa front.
Sweet-and-salty fans will love the Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa, while traditionalists will crave the Classic Ghirardelli Hot Cocoa. Only the truest chocoholics will go for the Decadent Drinking Chocolate, which tastes like a candybar-in-a-cup.
With a primo location right on the Mag Mile, Ghirardelli stays busy, and there's no bathroom for the public. But this American-style hot chocolate is sure to hit the spot.
108 E. Superior St.
For those craving a taste of Europe, Pierrot Gourmet, the restaurant of the Peninsula Hotel, is a great place to start. You'll feel like you've been transported directly to France once you see the macaroon-filled pastry case, which also features holiday treats to make your mouth water. On top are large glass canisters of crushed chocolate, the base ingredient for the ultra-rich cocoa.
The hot chocolate comes in two varieties-dark chocolate and white-topped with "tons" of whipped cream. While only the sweetest of sweet tooths likely will enjoy the white chocolate, all of the hot chocolate can be customized with flavor shots, so each cup is made-to-order. "This is just right," Holly said.
1636 W. Monstrose Ave.
The first sign that this isn't your ordinary restaurant is all the vintage Easy-Bake Ovens. The second is the hot cocoa, called the Barthelona, and made from chocolate imported from Spain.
The top half-inch of the cup is covered with the day's "best whipped cream," a housemade vanilla bean froth that perfectly countered the decadent sweetness of the chocolate. Although my taste-testers dubbed this one "not too rich," smaller appetites may want to try the "Shorty," a shot-glass sized serving that soothes the sweet tooth.
Parents of small kids will enjoy the collection of children's books to keep little ones occupied. And be sure to grab a DumDum lollipop or doggie treat on the way out.
1114 W. Belmont Ave.
The girls were sure to grab a sample on the way in to this airy café, where tantalizing treats line the pastry case. Bittersweet also offers savory options to balance out the sweet, helpful considering Holly quickly said the hot chocolate "tastes like a dessert."
Kids will enjoy the sophistication of serving themselves (with mom or dad's help), since the cocoa is brought to the table on individual trays, complete with cup, teapot and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. "That's a nice touch," Grace said.
So is the slight citrusy flavor of the Mexican hot chocolate, reminiscent of those milk chocolate oranges you used to get in the toe of your Christmas stocking.
1747 N. Damen Ave.
No hot chocolate tour of Chicago would be complete without a stop here, where the entire menu is built around the sweet stuff. The Wicker Park restaurant turns more lounge-like in the evenings, so for those with kids, it's best to aim for brunch, lunch or an afternoon treat.
With flavors ranging from kid-friendly Farmer's Market Mint and the Medium (a caramelly concoction) to the more adult cayenne-spiced Mexican and coffee blends, "there's lots of variety," Grace said.
And those for whom hot chocolate is synonymous with marshmallows will love the perfectly powdery housemade ones here-although there may be some disappointment that you only get one atop your steaming cup.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.