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Best of Chicago 2011 Winners 

An ode to the city that's second to none

->Best of Chicago: Goods and Services ->Best of Chicago: Music and Nightlife ->Best of Chicago: Sports and Recreation ->Best of Chicago: Food and Drink ->Best of Chicago: Arts and Culture ->Best of Chicago: City Life

If there ever was a time and place for offering a nod to the old guard while plowing ahead into an uncertain and exciting future, the time is now and the place is Chicago.

Sure, there's Richard M.'s swan song and Rahm's grand entrance (not to mention Obama 2012). But there are also quieter tectonic shifts, from the fresh blood pulsing through local government to an ever-evolving world-class dining scene to a budding grassroots arts movement that's commingling with the city's venerable cultural offerings. These changes—the churning of the refined and DIY landscapes into one beautiful mess of highbrow and low—are what makes Chicago so fascinating at this very moment.

Such are the observations we at the Reader weighed when approaching our daunting Best of Chicago issue. As you can probably imagine, we're an overly analytical and obsessively contemplative bunch, and the publication's own 40-year anniversary this year has made us even more cognizant of the importance of legacy and the necessity of reinvention. And so we wanted this issue to call out not just the notable achievements, the grand openings, and the high points of the past year, but also the longtime perseverance and admirable steady-handedness that pervades the city. Basically, we tasked ourselves with unearthing noteworthy examples of the way life in Chicago historically has been lived (hence the five different awards bestowed upon the Fine Arts Building)—as well as the ways in which the Chicago experience has recently changed for the better.

This year's Best of Chicago is partly about remembrances. We sought out the best 40th (and 140th) anniversaries to celebrate along with our own, the best bar for quiet reflection on the legacy of Richard J. Daley (yeah, we went super-old-school on that one), and the best restaurant founded the same year as the Reader.

The issue is also about resurgence. We dug up the best revival of a great lost theater project, the best use of old styles in new art, the best reinvention of an old musical medium, and the best new band that will make you think it's 1995 again. We also asked you to tell us the best local shop that's withstood the test of time and the best restaurant that's been around forever and is still worth the trip.

And, of course, the issue is filled with the people and places that have us optimistic about the years to come: best alderman whose dreams haven't yet been crushed (not as cynical as it sounds, I swear), best newly minted neighborhood for destination dining, best new art space adjoining a loading dock, and best musical wunderkind who could use a nap.

In some Best of Chicago categories, we made it a point to steer away from the obvious—hey, we have that counterculture Reader legacy to uphold. But we also set out to find what is truly remarkable about the city and give recognition where it's due. If that sounds shockingly low on cynicism—though not devoid: see best evidence Chicago ain't ready for reform—well, maybe we're a bit swept up in all this change. At least until next week.

—Mara Shalhoup

Browse by section:

City Life

Goods & Services

Sports & Recreation

Food & Drink

Arts & Culture

Music & Nightlife

Critics' Picks

Best eccentric wristwatch collection

Unemployed Philosopher's Guild watches at Eclecticity continue

Best place to learn yoga and French in the same class

Alliance Francaise 810 N. Dearborn 312-337-1070 af-chicago.org I've been taking yoga classes for about a dozen years now and have only been able to completely… continue

Best dance school for students from age five to 65

4630 N. Francisco Ave. 773-463-3385
Le Ballet Petit School of Dance continue

Best root canal to change your mind about root canals

2551 N. Clark St. 773-244-1933
Carrara and Goodman Endodontics continue

Best place to get your lady parts vacation-ready without waxing your wallet

Christina Bents at Pearl Beauty Spa 3125 N. Lincoln 773-868-0988 Summer is finally here, which means we ladies need to be ready to don a… continue

Best stylist to makeover your hair color and become your new best friend

Daniel Fabry at Asha SalonSpa 1135 N. State 312-664-1600 ashasalonspa.com Daniel Fabry is a teeny bit Stefon from Saturday Night Live and a touch of… continue

Best relaxing $25 overnight stay

809 Civic Center Dr. 847-972-2540
King Spa & Sauna, Niles continue

Best $75 hotel room

The Inn at Longman and Eagle continue

Best bargain Michelin chef

Danny Grant of Balsan continue

Best use of alcohol at breakfast

Burton's Maplewood Farm rum-infused maple syrup continue

Best tater tots

2535 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-486-0011
The Rocking Horse continue

Best few square blocks to eat really well, and cheaply

1812 W. Montrose Ave. 773-769-2000
Lawrence between Rockwell and California continue

Best one-woman kitchen

6930 N. Glenwood Ave. 773-338-9494
Noon Hour Grill continue

Best joke in a cemetery

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's tombstone continue

Best-ever film fantasy of Chicago

The Man With the Golden Arm continue

Best urinal

2428 N Western Ave 773-486-7774
The Mutiny continue

Best beer inspired by a Chicago band

Three Floyds' Pelican tribute The Creeper continue

Best bar for drinking on pocket change

7006 N. Glenwood Ave. 773-274-5463
Red Line Tap continue

Best fake dinosaur

Novelty Golf & Games continue

Best local band that's been around forever

The Lawrence Arms voted best local band that's been around forever continue