So coincidentally last week, I had the pleasure of trying two of the more popular Spanish Tapas bars in the city, Café Ba Ba Reeba and Café Iberico. I’ve always wanted to try both and bam, I hit both up within two nights. This gave me perfect opportunity to really compare the two out and figure out which one I liked better. The verdict….I loved both!
I hit up Café Ba Ba Reeba the first night on a Thursday. We were there around 7:30 and it was packed!!! Luckily, we found a table at the bar and immediately took it. Looked like the bartender at the bar was also the waiter for the tables around there so I found service at the bar to be a bit slow and he was a bit short with us. Not sure if that is indicative of the service at the whole place. Anyway, for two girls, we decided to order five tapas and we each had a glass of sangria. I ordered the special of the day, Mango, and my friend ordered the Black Raspberry. Not sure how often Mango is served as the special but OMG, it was so delicious. It was fresh and fruity with just the right amount of sweetness. I think I could’ve chugged a whole pitcher!
First up was the spinach & manchego (cheese) stuffed mushroom. It had crunchy bread crumbs on top. SO GOOD. Baked to perfection. Next we had Escargot on top of a garlic crouton with sherry alioli. The crouton was crunchy and tasty but the escargot got lost in the mix and it basically tasted like garlic bread with something mushy on top. Good, but underwhelming. Then we tried the roasted chicken empanada. That was also ok. The crust was buttery and crisp, but the filling was also underwhelming. It tasted bland compared to the other tapas. Then, the whole meal was redeemed and shot over the top when the spicy potatoes and grilled shrimp came out. The potatoes were cooked so well, crunchy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. Drenched in a spicy oil, it was SOOO tasty. I almost wished it came out first so I could eat the potatoes with everything. The grilled shrimp was also good, very simple with olive oil and garlic. All in all, I throughly enjoyed Café Ba Ba Reeba, there’s a reason why it’s so packed everyday. When we walked out around 8:45, we could barely make our way out through the sea of people.
The next night, I went to Café Iberico with my boyfriend before we went to see our friend in a play. We had only an hour and I was afraid we would be rushed, but I was pleasantly surprised with the great service. Our waiter came promptly and took our drink orders and our plates were taken away throughout the dinner. I ordered the white sangria and my bf ordered the red. I took a sip and immediately gave Café Ba Ba Reeba the crown for sangria. Don’t get me wrong, mine was good. But I think I was spoiled by the sweetness and intense fruitiness of the Mango sangria from the previous night. Anyway, the food started arriving literally right after we ordered, which was a good thing in this situation. We first got the mixed seafood salad with shrimp, octopus and squid. It was very fresh tasting and the cold seafood with onions splashed with what tasted like balsamic vinegar reminded me of the conch salad I tried in the Bahamas. I imagine eating this under the shade on a hot beach. Lovely. Then we had their version of spicy potatoes. It wasn’t as crunchy as the other place as it was drenched in a thick tomato sauce. It was still very tasty though and I liked that it came early in the meal so I could enjoy them as a side with everything else. Then we had grilled mushrooms in olive oil and garlic. Oh my, the mushrooms were just injected with so much garlic flavor, it was heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better tasting mushroom dish. Next was the beef tenderloin skewer with fries and caramelized onions. I didn’t care much for the fries or onions. The beef was ok, it was cooked well but sort of gamey. Lastly, we tried their grilled shrimp and it didn’t disappoint. Like the other place, it was cooked in olive oil and garlic. Very simple but done well.
So what do I think? Ba Ba Reeba wins in the Sangria vote. But service and atmosphere goes to Café Iberico. Ba Ba Reeba is nice but Iberico just has that authentic feel to its setting. There’s cheesy euro trance music videos playing in the background but I actually feel like I could be in Spain. But at Ba Ba Reeba, there’s no doubt about it that I know I’m in Lincoln Park. Most importantly though, food-wise, I will just say they are both very good. They both do similar things, with their own distinctive style. Ba Ba Reeba makes sure it’s all in the details from the plating to each garnish. And Café Iberico is more for the experience and authenticity. I would definitely go back to both in the near future!
Café Ba Ba Reeba pictures
Took only one picture at Café Iberico! Whoops!