->Best of Chicago: Goods and Services

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->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

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