You might notice, browsing Best of Chicago, that we’re big on specifics. We at the Reader use the occasion of our annual Best of Chicago edition to steer you to the people, places, and things you might not otherwise find, along a route you might not otherwise take. Craving red meat? Allow us to recommend not the city’s best NY strip, but its best NY strip at a strip club. Want to work out your issues with local elected officials—or at least watch them beat the crap out of each other? We hunted down the best gym for watching politicians spar. Have a taste for either “caramelized sugar” or “syrupy patois” of the particularly complex variety? Well, we’ve discovered not only the best pastry with an unpronounceable name but also the best rapper with one.

Those are just a few examples—but enough about the great lengths we’ve traveled to source nearly 150 of our favorite phenomena of the past year. Our readers (yes, you!) cast 145,000 votes in 250 categories to help determine once and for all (or at least until 2015) Chicago’s best activist and best LGBTQ organization, best bike shop and best record store, best underground art space and best street artist. You guys are the best.

We’re also appreciative of the contributions our past winners have continued to make to the city—and to the Reader. Both our covers, as well as various pages of our website, were inked by musician/tattoo artist John Herndon (whose tattoo work earned him the honor, in 2012, of Best Tortoise Side Project). Oh, and if this is the year that you’re finally ready to get your first tattoo, it just so happens we have the perfect suggestion for you. —Mara Shalhoup