#13: La Boulangerie ($1.50 each)
La Boulangerie is a proper French bakery, complete with baguettes in basket and a crêpe station. The macarons are bright and very smooth, but the shells didn't pack much of a crunch. Pistacchio is pleasantly nutty and delicate, best nibbled with an espresso and a Sartre book. Other flavors include mango, chocolate, and berry.
#12: Al's Deli ($1.83 each)
The macarons at Al's Deli are a direct result of their environment: a little European with a handful of homemade thrown in. What the Valrhona Chocolate and Salted Caramel lack in visual appeal they more than make up for in taste and texture. I found myself eying the large individually wrapped salted caramels at the register, but after trying the caramel macaron, I was glad I didn't get one. I think they may just take those wrapped caramels and throw them between two soft macaron shells.
#11: Bittersweet ($1.75 each)
Bittersweet is another French café and bakery whose European charm seems to seep right into the cookies. The fruit flavors here are stand-outs, especially the strawberries and cream, which packs a jam-like filling. The salted caramel doesn't taste salted enough, so stick to the Easter egg colored varieties. True snobs might be a little disappointed with a few aesthetic flaws, but that hardly matters once you've started snacking.
#10: Vanille ($1.30 each)
Elegant, composed desserts like entremets and mousses are the main event at Vanille, but it's difficult to overlook the more than a dozen varieties of macarons spread like a rainbow through the pastry case. Unique flavors like green tea, stout, and red velvet are visually stunning, but are sometimes indistinguishable. Still, a simple vanilla is a knock-out, putting those other frilly flavors to shame.
#9: Fritz Pastry ($1 each)
There are new owners at Fritz, but those same pastel macarons remain. The blueberry is a true spring treat, packed with tons of berry flavor, while the strawberry is equally bright and not overly sugary. The shells are delightfully crispy, but sized inconsistently. The hazelnut is nearly half as small as the others, much to the chagrin of Nutella fanatics.
#8: Toni Patisserie ($1.60 each)
Toni Patisserie's macarons are nicely even-footed and brightly colored with mostly average flavors. Though it belies artificial coloring, I usually don't mind bright neon macarons. But when they taste as artificial as they look, as the peach and strawberry did, it's a little disappointing. The almond, however, is exceptional with a clear nutty flavor though the filling was on the tough side.
#7: Sarah's Pastries ($1.75 each)
We always enjoy seeing the kind of feet the macarons at Sarah's Pastries have, but were ultimately a little let down to find so many air pockets in the shells. The red velvet is one of the more successful flavors and actually tasted completely different than the chocolate, which had a pleasant nutty taste.
#6: Alliance Bakery ($1.50 each)
These are some of the prettiest macarons in the city, and most of the flavors are on-point as well. The yellow-and-black dotted lemon poppyseed is refreshing, as is the deep green pistachio. A bacon flavor isn't very appealing, and just seems like the love child of two culinary trends that shouldn't even be flirting with each other. Luckily, all the varieties are filled with a consistently smooth center.
#5: Slurping Turtle ($1.80 each)
You won't find any boring vanilla or pistachio macarons at Slurping Turtle. Unique flavors are the focus here, and the Sesame, which comes with a soft chocolate filling, is fantastic. These could easily be in the running for some of the most beautiful macarons in Chicago, and the shell texture is superb, but it's a shame that most of the flavors don't work quite as well as the Sesame. Since Slurping Turtle has only been open a few months, we have high hopes the flavors will eventually be tweaked and improved over time.
#4: Floriole ($1.25 each)
Sandra Holl's macarons are perfectly at home in Floriole's elegant pastry case alongside seasonal baked treats. They're light, airy, and full of delicate flavor, leagues beyond usual sugary versions. A lemon filling is bright and zesty, while plain vanilla holds a filling so whipped and mousse-like, it begs to be savored in the tiniest of bites.
#3: Bennison's ($1.17 each)
It's worth hopping on the Purple Line for the compact macarons at Bennison's, even when the train's not running express. Each flavor, including pistacchio, passionfruit, and lemon, is distinct and not overly sweet. They're also technically near-perfect, with pebbled feet and smooth, well-aligned shells. Equal parts style and substance, they're nearly the whole package, except for a slightly disappointing chocolate flavor, which could use more richness.
#2: Pierrot Gourmet ($2.25 each)
At Pierrot Gourmet, you get exactly the kind of macarons you would expect from a restaurant in one of the best hotels in Chicago. The shells are satin smooth and beautifully colored. Most have a great texture, though you may run into a pocket or stale one every once in a while, and they are occasionally skimpy on the filling. The standout flavors include the choco-coconut, which tastes like a high-end Samoa and the mint, which also tastes like its Girl Scout cookie counterpart.
#1: Sugar Fixe Pâtisserie ($1.17 each)
We walked into Sugar Fixé Pâtisserie without any specific expectations and were completely caught off guard by the exceptional quality of their macarons. Not only was the texture ideal-a delicate eggshell crisp that gave way to an airy, but substantial interior-but each of the classic flavors was uniquely nuanced and fresh. The lemon in particular was so well flavored that biting into it was more akin to catching a whiff of a freshly zested lemon than eating. This was the last place we visited, and they made us excited about macarons again.