Foodie Travels: Tapas at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (Chicago, IL)

Have you ever tried Spanish tapas? You should.

I say this as someone who, after trying tapas last month when we were in D.C., liked them so much that I was perfectly satisfied to have them again the next two nights. (And we did.)

The menu at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba | Foodal

Also, since I’m making commands, here’s another for those of you in Chicago: when you’re in Lincoln Park, you really ought to visit Café Ba-Ba-Reeba.

See, tapas are perfect for people like me, who like to try many new things but might not have the stomach capacity to try a lot of each of those new things.

A meat based appetizer at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba | Foodal

Essentially, tapas are small plates, like appetizers: reduced portions that allow you to order a little of this, a little of that, sharing them all at the table, dipping your bread and taking spoonfuls of side dishes to your dish.

You get the opportunity to taste not just one entrée but lots of little ones: it is grazing at its best.

As for Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, I first heard of it when I was going to school in Lincoln Park, then later when my brother visited with a friend and told me about it, and again when @CafeBaBaReeba started following me on Twitter.

An omelet dish at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba | Foodal

But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually stepped inside. At around 9:30 PM on a Saturday. Because the wait that night was over an hour, we ended up at nearby Nookies instead, which, by the way, is a great place for diner food on the weekends, since it’s open 24/7 on Fridays and Saturdays.

But this last Saturday night, we had the chance to try Ba-Ba-Reeba again, this time with reservations made through, which was a very good thing since the place was jam-packed just like before.

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba is part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain of restaurants, which includes popular Chicago destinations like Maggiano’s, Mon Ami Gabi, Big Bowl, Wildfire and Shaw’s Crab House.

It provides a fun, crowded atmosphere that’s great for big parties: this weekend, there were at least three bachelorette/wedding groups, as well as many crowded tables, and a week earlier, when we didn’t stay, I heard a woman raving to the manager about how fantastic her friend’s 40th birthday dinner had gone. (Although, full disclosure, she was a little tipsy, so it could have been the sangria talking.)

A potato based dish at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba | Foodal

Here are the small plates we tried: chicken curry salad made with sweet red grapes and spices reminiscent of Indian food; crispy spicy potatoes with sun-dried tomato alioli; baked goat cheese with tomato sauce and little toasts; sweet bacon-wrapped dates in a lovely apple vinaigrette; and, for dessert, a marcona caramel tart that was better than any pastry and a tiny dish of almond sorbet with amaretto.

On the down side, Ba-Ba-Reeba is loud (!), and there are just two single-person bathrooms, one for men and one for women, set right between the kitchen and wherever they take out trash, which is awkward when you’re waiting in line.

A baked potato dish | Foodal

But on the plus side: the food! the variety! the experience! I liked it enough that I’m willing to post about it, even with these photos taken in dim lighting.

And when we walked outside afterward, the air still bright with daylight and the summer air turning slightly cooler, it was slowly, happily and with satisfaction.

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba
2024 N. Halsted
Chicago, IL 60614
ph. (773) 935-5000

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home,, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

11 thoughts on “Foodie Travels: Tapas at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (Chicago, IL)”

  1. yum, tapas. i lived in spain for about a month, where they eat huge lunches, followed by a long siesta, and then a late, light dinner in the form of tapas, with lots of wine, sangria, and chatting until all hours of the night. yes, tapas are AWESOME.

    have you tried meson sabika in naperville? tapas in a beautiful old mansion!

  2. I went here for the first time when I was visiting my brother (he was living in Chicago, but I hadn’t moved there just yet). I told him I wanted Mexican food so that’s where he took me. Imagine my surprise when I opened the menu to find tapas and paella. 🙂

    The tapas place I frequented most when I lived in the city was Cafe Iberico. I highly recommend their patatas ali-oli and croquetas de pollo.

  3. Yay!

    Ba-Ba-Reeba is one of the restaurants I ashamedly confess I didn’t visit yet even if I live in Chicago!
    I always hear stellar reviews on it so I really don’t understand myself what stops me!!!

    Gabi @ Mamaliga.

  4. Jacqui – You lived in Spain! That’s it. I have been thinking this for a while now, but it is official as of this post: we need to hang out. Truly.

    DD – I saw there’s one in Vegas! Good to know it’s just as great!

    Kate – Thanks for the recommendation! I love trying new places, and it’s great to hear from a (former) local.

    Susan – Life. Saver. So much easier than waiting and so much easier than calling.

    Jessica – You are kind. These photos are a little rough, but it’s hard in dim lighting!

    Mamaliga – Like I told you on Twitter, I love your recipe for bacon-wrapped dates. If you want to try some good ones, Ba-Ba-Reeba is the place. Seriously.

  5. Thirsty Bear here in San Francisco does lovely Tapas as well. Tapas are on a short list of my favorite things to eat besides ice cream. 😉

  6. SDG: I’ll have to remember that next time I’m in SF! Thank you! (PS agreed about ice cream, although even more so about gelato)

  7. I LOVE Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! I took my mom for Mothers Day this past year (after a wine and chocolate pairing at Vosges) and we were both smitten! We got a variety of different things, including some yellow tomato gazpacho (out of this WORLD good), escargot served with some cheese and tomato sauce on crusty bread and a sausage platter that sneakily tempted me to try blood sausage for the first time, though I swore I’d never try the stuff. It was delicious and I know I’ll be going back again!


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