With his undisputed reputation as a master of Spanish cuisines, Iron Chef Jose Garces was pivotal in bringing Mercat a la Planxa to his hometown of Chicago in 2008. The menu includes traditional tapas, steaks, seafood, artisanal cheeses, cured meats and more, all prepared with modern aesthetics in mind and beautifully presented. Dishes are reasonably priced, allowing diners to sample several per visit.
Standouts include pulpo con patatas (baby octopus with confit potato and smoked paprika; $12), and you can’t go wrong with the chef-chosen selection of tapas ($35 per person at lunch). For dessert, don’t miss the croquetas de xocolata—crunchy chocolate shells filled with warm chocolate-caramel sauce served with banana marshmallow, rosemary caramel and arbequina olive oil ($10). The dinner menu offers the most extensive selection; the prix fixe Catalan Express at lunchtime simplifies choices. There is brunch on weekends, but the lunch and dinner options are more appealing and unusual.
Though the restaurant is essentially a high-ceilinged open room, it feels intimate thanks to a sensible arrangement of tables and low divider walls. Some of the windows offer views of Grant Park, and simple bird and streetscape designs decorate the streamlined space.