The popularity of the tapas concept—small plates to be shared by the entire table—has taken off in recent years, and Chicago has no shortage of places where you can partake in the communal dining experience. As some of Chicago’s most creative chefs have proven, tapas dishes don’t have to be based on traditional Spanish or Mexican food: they can focus on Asian or Mediterranean cuisine, as well. If you’re searching for a great tapas restaurant in the Windy City, look no further than these five gems.
Mercat a la Planxa
Mercat a la Planxa expertly focuses on dishes from the Catalonia region of Spain. The open kitchen design allows the aroma of veggies and spices to permeate the dining room, so your taste buds will be excited before you even sit down to order the gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp with chiles) or setas al horno (baked wild mushrooms with potatoes and shallots).
Emilio‘s Tapas Sol y Nieve
Looking for a tapas restaurant close to downtown? With more than 30 different small plates as well as separate cold and warm tapas menus, Emilio’s offers some of the most creative Spanish and Mexican food in the Navy Pier area. The tiled floors and colorful artwork on the walls make you feel as though you’re in the heart of Spain while you dine on the award-winning restaurant’s bacon-wrapped dates, marinated octopus, garbanzo bean puree with red peppers, lemon-drizzled calamari, and chorizo tostadas.
Bites Asian Tapas & Sushi
Although the concept of tapas originated in Spanish cuisine, Bites successfully puts an Asian spin on the idea. This Lakeview establishment serves up small fusion plates like Korean Sliders, which are pork shoulder slathered in spicy BBQ sauce; and Jumbo Shrimp Shumai, which are steamed with garlic, cilantro, and an Asian whiskey sauce. The cozy dining room exudes modern elegance, with large sidewalk windows, wooden tables, and wood-paneled walls. But don’t overlook the bar, where you can treat yourself to a wasabi ginger cocktail.
Cafe Iberico in Chicago’s Near North Side has been serving Spanish tapas since 1992—long before the tapas restaurant concept was considered trendy. The massive space boasts five different dining rooms that each have their own distinct flair, with patterned walls and various types of art on display. In addition to their famous paella, Cafe Iberico’s most mouthwatering dishes include the baked goat cheese with tomato basil sauce known as queso de cabra, and a flavorful potato and veggie omelet called the tortilla Española.
The tapas at Kurah in the South Loop highlight common Mediterranean flavors, using organic meats and vegetables. Offerings range from basic falafel, spicy hummus, and baba gannoush to elevated tapas such as kubbeh Tripoli (deep-fried beef dumplings with cucumber and dill sauce) and Mediterranean spaghetti squash. The atmosphere is comfortable and inviting—whether you’re dining on the sidewalk patio or sitting in the indoor dining room—with high ceilings, plenty of natural light, and the original armchairs from famed chef Charlie Trotter’s former restaurant.