Best Spanish restaurants in Chicago: Tapas, paella and more

From tapas, small plates and paella to gintonics and pintxos, these are Chicago's best Spanish restaurants.

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  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Mercat

  • Photograph: Kate Cole

    Cafe Marbella

  • Photograph: Colin Beckett

    Tavernita

  • Photograph: Erica Gannett

    Vera Wine Bar

Photograph: Martha Williams

Mercat

Chicago may not have an abundance of Spanish restaurants, but the ones we do have are very, very good. If you're in the mood for classic tapas like gambas al ajillo or patatas bravas, head to Cafe Marbella. If you're craving tiny pintxos and sangrias or paella, head to Tavernita. Plus Vera offers a terrific sherry program, Spanish-style gintonics and refined small plates, while Mercat a la Planxa specializes in Catalan cuisine. Here are the best Spanish restaurants in Chicago.


RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best restaurants in Chicago


Café Marbella

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

This standout tapas spot is a bit out of the way on a fairly desolate stretch, but offers a comfortable setting, hospitable staff and, most important, great food. The signature menu includes unbeatable paprika-rich garlic soup, plump mussels in parsley-flecked cream sauce, crispy potatoes that soak up flavorful chorizo grease and bacon-wrapped figs with brandy cream sauce so decadent it leans more toward dessert (but have both if you can).

  1. 5527 N Milwaukee Ave, (between Catalpa and Bryn Mawr Aves)
Book online

Mercat a la Planxa

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Under the helm of Jose Garces, Philly's famed Spanish chef, this colorful spot in the Blackstone Hotel offers a prime view of Michigan Avenue, but the cooks’ focus is on the grill. We’re not talking burgers and barbecue, but elevated Catalan cuisine. Flavorful charred octopus is tossed with green olives and confit potato while grilled flat-iron steak is marinated in a rich sauce of nora chilies, roasted garlic and honey. Signatures like the spicy housemade pork sausage make enough of an impact that you’ll believe Garces’s claim that Mercat is different from a “run-of-the-mill tapas bar.”

  1. 638 S Michigan Ave, (at Balbo Ave)
Book online

Tavernita

  • Price band: 2/4

It’s better not to spend too much time pondering here. For one: It’s so loud you can’t hear your own thoughts. For two: The Spanish plates—meltingly rich ham croquettes, tender lamb sausage paired with spunky giardinera, toasts piled with escalivada (roasted peppers and eggplant) and goat cheese—are better at being immensely satisfying in the heat of the moment than they are at creating some sort of timeless food memory. And for three: Time spent looking at your food is time lost looking at the other dolled-up singles who possibly may be looking at you.

  1. 151 W Erie St, (at LaSalle St)
Book online

Vera

  • Price band: 2/4

Mark and Liz Mendez, both formerly of Carnivale, seek to escape the trappings of their former employer with this quiet, plain-looking spot. The room is mostly set up like a proper restaurant, but with a focus on wine and small plates, it is better approached as a wine bar with food. Snacky items that will help you get through a bottle or two include the warm bread with a trio of butters; anything from the cheese station; and a hearty paella laced with luscious morsels of rabbit. Wait for a seat at the bar for maximum enjoyment.

  1. 1023 W Lake St, (between Morgan and Carpenter Sts)
More info


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