Chicago is rife with excellent dining, but oftentimes those expert plates come at high prices. But luckily, there are hacks to be found. From lunch specials to bar menus to prix fixe deals, many of the city’s most esteemed dining engagements offer more affordable options, even those with Michelin cred. Below, Chicago’s most budget-friendly dining deals from some of the city’s top players.Read More
How to Eat Cheap(er) at Chicago’s Finest Restaurants
These deals are too good to be true
Looking for Michelin-level cuisine but don’t feel like enduring a lengthy tasting menu? Then one-star Entente is a good option. The new American eatery isn’t cheap, but it offers solid value for what it’s serving. For example, before booze, sign up for a two-course meal that involves Aussi black truffles and lobster (the priciest dish on the menu) for just over $50. Of course tax and tip are still needed, but considering prices at some of the city’s other top fine dining haunts, this is indeed a deal. Also note, dish portions are pretty large and could be shared between two.
2. Fat Rice
Chef Abe Conlon just nabbed a James Beard award for his inspired Chinese-Portuguese cookery at Fat Rice. If seats can’t be snagged, or there’s desire to spend a bit less yet still see what all the fuss is about, head over to his adjacent bakery. Yes, the focus here is on sweets and drinks, but there are a number of savory preps, too. Think barbecued pork buns, mushroom bao, and the above pictured Chicago-style hot dog pastry.
3. Nico Osteria
Celebrated for its contemporary seasonal Italian cookery, Nico Osteria offers a value-driven lunch prix fixe. For $24, sample a three-course lunch, beginning with a soup or salad, followed by dishes like a burger or Brussels sprout bruschetta, and finally dessert.
4. RPM Steak
As its name suggests, RPM Steak focuses on beef. And it’s no secret that beef, especially types of wagyu, can cost a pretty penny, and even here plates can quickly surpass $100. But those who’d like beef for dinner (or lunch) at a more affordable rate should try the house steak frites. The dish costs $43 and guests land an 8-ounce wood-grilled cap (the most prized part of the ribeye), served with fries and Béarnaise sauce.
5. Roister Restaurant
Chicago, IL 60607
Southern-inflected Roister is The Alinea Group’s most casual engagement, and anyone can sign up for chef Andrew Brochu’s deft cookery at a lower rate. His four-course half-chicken dinner is a stellar deal, offered in the restaurant’s lower-level prep kitchen, for $49 to $59 per person. Expect to try his famed fried chicken along with buttermilk biscuits, chicken liver toast, a wedge salad, chicken noodle soup, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, collard greens, plus milk and cookies for dessert.
6. The Aviary
While many around the world are keen to dine at chef Grant Achatz’s three Michelin-starred Alinea—one of the world’s best restaurants—there could be a couple reasons preventing many from doing so. One, Alinea can be challenging to book, and two, dinner for one can cost nearly $400 before booze. To bypass this, sign up for a five-course cocktail and food pairing at Achatz’s progressive cocktail bar The Aviary, which mimics Alinea’s avant-garde cookery in cocktail form. That cost: $135.
Japanese cuisine isn’t always easy on the wallet, but one way to lower the bill at Fulton Market fixture Momotaro is to hit up its subterranean izakaya from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday nights. For $25 snag a three-course happy hour deal with dishes like spicy crab cucumber salad, king crab ramen, and a malted miso ice cream sandwich. To wash it down, a daily-changing cocktail or a beer and shot combo.
8. The Loyalist
Smyth is one of Chicago’s most exciting fine dining experiences. And while it is in no way a Japanese restaurant, chef John Shields cooks with a ton of inspiration from the country, in terms of seasonality, simplicity, and fermentation-driven techniques. Two-Michelin star Smyth is tasting menu only, and options run between $95 and $225. To get a taste of Shields cooking for a bit less, head to The Loyalist, his American bistro right below, which offers a few similar dishes with the same Smyth finesse.
9. Blackbird Restaurant
Chicago fine dining institution Blackbird plates one of the best dining deals in town. Typically diners can expect to drop approximately $20 for an entree during lunch, but if they opt in for the lunch special, they'll nab three courses for just $5 more. A sample meal could be: warm shrimp salad with horseradish, lime, and peanuts; followed by hanger steak with ratatouille; and finally cardamom chiffon cheesecake with peach, blackberry, and brown butter crumb.
While sky-high French boîte Everest serves a $165 tasting menu, the hack is to come Tuesday to Friday at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays between 5 and 5:30 p.m. for the three-course pre-theatre $59 special. That menu changes daily, and if diners drove, complimentary valet parking is also included.
In place of two-Michelin starred Acadia’s $155 eight-course new American tasting menu, hit up the bar for several similar plates at a lower price, a la carte. For example, Aleutian Islands King Crab with yuzu, parsley root, and a mint-nasturtium water becomes Peekytoe crab toast with scallion, garlic, butter, and arugula at the bar. Meanwhile, there’s also Stonington lobster with pickled mustard seed, celery, and caviar, which, at the bar becomes the Stonington, ME lobster roll.
12. Dusek's Board & Beer
One Michelin star gastropub Dusek’s offers two ways to cut costs. There’s the Tuesday three-course prix fixe for $29 in which guests can pick a small plate, an entrée, and a dessert off the menu; and then there’s the “The Ordinary,” a plate and beer pairing that changes regularly. Right now for $39 diners score jerked half lobster beside #5 Dovetail Lager.