Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, or Ol’ Reliable as we like to call it, has been around for thirty years. In restaurant years, that makes it a dinosaur. But just like The Stones or your mom after 1.5 margaritas, it’s still here to party. They do it up big - big space, big menu, and big noise, supplying a lively atmosphere that makes it perfect for Early In The Game Dates or Big Groups. Plus, they have five types of sangrias on tap. We like.
Ba-Ba-Reeba hopped on the tapas bandwagon early, billing itself as Chicago’s Original Tapas Bar. We can't confirm whether or not that’s true, but we can confirm that it gives you what every good tapas concept should - a large, diverse menu so you can choose a variety of dishes, ample portions that are easily splittable, and worthy Spanish classics. Some plates are better than others, but you’ll be pleased more often than not. Try a little bit of everything because that’s what tapas are for.
Ba-Ba-Reeba is a well-oiled machine, and we mean that as a compliment. The place is a labyrinth with one dining room leading to the next, and they’re cycling people in and out at record speed. For this reason, Ba-Ba-Reeba is great for a last minute reservation because you can almost always snag a table, but they also restrict capacity to specific rooms so it always feels full.
Because it’s a production with a heavy emphasis on efficiency, you lack some of the charm that you might get from your neighborhood tapas place. But we’ll gladly take that trade-off if it means we can get a seat for a good meal that doesn’t require a month’s advance notice.
Ba-Ba-Reeba offers a selection of pintxos which are single-serve tapas traditionally paired with a happy hour drink. We’re partial to the chorizo-wrapped dates because dates wrapped in salty meat is never a letdown, and this chorizo has a bacon-like crispiness.
This appetizer comes with a tangy tomato marmalade. We’re into it.
We appreciate that Spain doesn’t restrict eggs to morning activities. This one makes for a solid accompaniment to some of the more flavorful dishes.
Patatas bravas sound a lot less sexy when you spell it out like that. But these are still pretty darn good.
A bowl of rich tomato sauce with a hefty dollop of goat cheese surrounded by thick, crispy garlic bread.
A brick of short rib with cheesy potatoes and veggies. An unfortunate letdown. The flavors aren’t bad, but the short rib is dry and flavorless.
A simple and tasty preparation of grilled squid.
A decent empanada. You won’t write home about it, but it’s hard to go and not split one amongst the group.
With your choice of four different paellas, we’d steer you towards the seafood paella with shrimp, scallops, and monkfish.