Chicago Restaurant Week
January 24 – February 6, 2014
At its, best, Chicago Restaurant Week is a celebration of Chicago’s many restaurants, exposing Chicagoans to food and small businesses they might not have otherwise experienced.
An admirable idea!
But is Chicago Restaurant Week really worth it? Portions can vary, may not be as special as advertised, and then there’s the price…
Since restaurants are using special menus during restaurant week, do we really know if the price is truly a deal compared to their usual fare?
We took a look at five Chicago restaurants, determining whether their Restaurant Week prices were fair when compared to their regular menu.
How Chicago Restaurant Week Works
From January 24 to February 6, restaurants will participate in Chicago Restaurant Week (yeah, I know, it’s two weeks long this year). This means they’ll offer prix fixe meals at three possible price points: $22 for lunch, $33 for a three course dinner and $44 for a four course dinner (drinks, tax and tip are not included in these prices). Ideally, Chicago Restaurant Week meals offer great food — oftentimes with one or two courses that aren’t on the regular menu — that’s also a little kinder to your wallet.
The restaurants we took a look at are restaurants we’re familiar with, making it easier for us to determine exactly what kind of deal you’re getting. Hopefully this helps you determine whether Restaurant Week is worth it for your needs, whatever they may be. Regardless of what you read here, you might want to do your own research before going out during restaurant week. With over 280 restaurants participating, there are a lot of options (though they seem to mostly exist downtown and in River North, with but a handful of restaurants in other neighborhoods). Be prepared to take a look at a restaurant’s prix fixe menu, comparing it to their normal menu, and don’t be afraid to call the restaurant to ask about the portions.
Also, if you love Chicago Restaurant Week and aren’t concerned about price, you’re welcome to skip the rest of this article and just leave angry comments below.
A vegetarian restaurant with a focus on organic food and clean, minimal design, Green Zebra has a lot to offer — even to meat lovers. Meals like their Duck Egg or Sweet Potato Risotto are good enough to make diners forget about meat, for one night at least. Green Zebra is best enjoyed when you get a bunch of things to share with some friends — it’s nice to try a little bit of everything.
Green Zebra is offering two $33 dinner options for Chicago Restaurant Week. Compared to their regular priced menu items, it seems like you’ll be saving a few bucks.
If you order Chilled Somen Noodles, Celery Root Soup, Pearled Barley Risotto and Pear Cabernet Sorbet from their Restaurant Week options, you’ll be saving about six bucks, since the regular menu price for those would have ran you about $39. If you go with the Seedling Farm Roasted Pear, Acorn Squash Dumplings, Housemade Fettucine and Dark Chocolate Mousse, you’ll be saving about 11 bucks, since those items together would usually cost about $44.
Restaurant Week Price: $33
Regular Menu Low: About $39
Regular Menu High: $44
Possibly the only restaurant participating in Chicago Restaurant Week that’s in Pilsen, Nightwood specializes in American contemporary food (whatever that is) and is the little sibling to Logan Square’s Lula. Nightwood’s menu is filled with amazing meats that are wood grilled along with awesome, gut-busting desserts (think homemade donuts and cinnamon rolls).
Nightwood is offering the pricier, four course $44 option for Restaurant Week. The food on their Restaurant Week menu isn’t on their regular menu, which offers an interesting duality. On one hand, you’re getting something a little more special than the usual. On the other hand, it’s difficult to tell what kind of deal you’re getting, even if you’re somewhat familiar with Nightwood.
Order four, cheap courses off their regular menu, and you could spend as little as $32. Go the opposite route and choose pricier food, and a meal could cost you about $57. It seems like you’ll be saving, but it’s hard to know for certain. With this in mind, it seems more ideal to go to Nightwood during Restaurant Week if you’ve had Nightwood before and like it, since you’ll benefit from off-menu items. If you’ve never been to Nightwood before, maybe wait till Restaurant Week is over and stick to the regular menu.
Some of the highlights of their Restaurant Week menu are the City Farm Beets, Oyster Chowder, Spit-Roasted Pork Loin, and Apple Bread Pudding.
Restaurant Week Price: $44
Regular Menu Low: About $32
Regular Menu High: $57
David Burke’s Primehouse
One of Chicago’s most beloved steakhouses, David Burke’s is known for its great 40 Day Dry-Aged Prime Steak “Burker” (get it?) and Ribeye steaks.
David Burke’s is offering a $22 lunch menu and a $44 dollar four course dinner. You’ll most likely get a good deal, depending on what you order.
Order the Wedge, 40 Day Dry-Aged Prime Steak Burker and the Taste of Primehouse dessert for lunch and you’ll save a few bucks. Go with the Classic Filet Mignon for dinner and you’re bound to save about $20, since their filet mignon’s are usually in the $40 range alone (assuming, of course, the Restaraunt Week filet is the same size as their normal filet).
Restaurant Week Price: Lunch $22 / Dinner $44
Regular Menu Low: About $31
Regular Menu High: About $71
Apparently Chicago was in the culinary dark ages before a bright, blinding flash of light revealed Rick Bayless, the master chef born in Oklahoma who showed us how to really make Mexican food…
Sarcasm aside, Topolobampo and Frontera Grill are favorites by many thanks to their modern interpretations of Mexican dishes.
Topolobampo’s offering the $22 lunch deal for Restaurant Week. You seem to be getting a decent deal with this, essentially getting half off if the main entrees — Frijol con Puerco de Lujo and Berenjena Oscura — are as impressive as the regular menu items, the cheapest main course on the menu being $17.
Restaurant Week Price: Lunch $22
Regular Menu Low: About $44
Regular Menu High: About $50
Feast is ideal when you want to meet a friend or two for some casual chit chat. Usually you’ll be through your second glass of wine before you realize that the food is actually really, really good.
Feast is offering the $22 lunch and $33 three course dinner. It seems like you’ll be saving a few bucks, and only a few bucks — there isn’t a large bang for your buck.
The most interesting aspect of Feast’s Restaurant Week menu are the items not on the regular menu, like the Lobster Bisque and Rainbow Trout. So if you do go to Feast during Restaurant Week, get the most out of your trip by ordering something they don’t usually serve.
Restaurant Week Price: Lunch $22 / Dinner $33
Regular Menu Low: About $27
Regular Menu High: About $35
With over 280 restaurants participating in Chicago Restaurant Week, this is by no means the whole picture, but these five restaurants make one thing seem apparent: Chicago Restaurant Week can be a decent deal.
Key words: can be.
You’ll have to do your research before you embark on a Chicago Restaurant Week adventure. Make sure you take a close look at restaurants’ menus, comparing them to their Restaurant Week menus. If you have to, call the restaurant. Ask them about portion sizes and prices if this isn’t clear to begin with.
If you do your research, you’re liable to save a few bucks, try something new, or maybe even both.