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The Nightwood cheeseburger at Nightwood
Photograph: Martha WilliamsThe Nightwood cheeseburger at Nightwood

Your Chicago Restaurant Week cheat sheet to getting the best deal

Amy Cavanaugh
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Amy Cavanaugh
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Reservations are now open for Chicago Restaurant Week, which runs January 30-February 12 this year. With $33 or $44 prix-fixe dinner menus, and $22 lunch menus, it can be a way to try great restaurants for much less than a typical meal there.

Can is the key word, since not all Restaurant Week menus are created equal. Sometimes restaurants offer reduced menus, cheaper dishes and smaller portions. Or, they offer special dishes that aren’t normally available—and don’t you want to try dishes the restaurant is known for? Here’s a couple examples.

At Bottlefork, the $22 lunch menu includes a choice of starter, entrée and side. Start with the bag of crisps and an egg ($5) or the popcorn sweetbreads ($7), and then pick an entrée like the fish and crisps ($18), the quinoa salad ($12) or the bacon burger ($16). For sides, the fries are $6 and the tots are $5. While you’ll likely save a couple dollars, if you order the sweetbreads, quinoa salad and tots, your meal would normally cost exactly what the “deal” does.

At CH Distillery, for $33, you get a choice of arugula salad with smoked trout (off menu) or potato leek soup (off menu); gnocchi ($13), crab cakes ($16) or gravlax ($11); and gooey butter cake ($6) or a cheese selection (varies by cheese) for dessert. So if you order the gravlax and butter cake, which costs $17 total, for the meal to be worth it, the salad has to be $16.

Blackbird, which normally offers a $25 prix fixe lunch, is serving it for $22 during restaurant week. Saving $3 is great, but I’d rather save even more at other places.

GT Fish & Oyster usually makes my list of picks, and on its Restaurant Week lunch menu this year, you can get clam chowder ($11) or seared tuna salad ($14) to start, then an oyster po’boy ($4) or an off-menu grilled whitefish, then key lime pie ($9) or an off-menu chocolate ganache. It used to offer its $28 lobster roll, which made it a must-visit, but now you’ll just save a few bucks.

At the Dawson, you pick from four appetizers and four entrees, which is more than most restaurants offer, plus a peanut butter and jelly whoopie pie for dessert. The chicken-fried lobster ($16) and the quinoa curry ($21) are the only regular menu items available, but since the Dawson is a fairly pricey restaurant (most appetizers are in the $15 range, entrees are in the $25 range and desserts are $10), you’ll save a few dollars if you dine here.

And then there are a couple that really seem worth it.

Moto is offering a $44 small-bite and wine-pairing event in the Moto Lab for restaurant week, and since the eight-course tasting menu is $125, this is a really good way to try the restaurant out for much less.

Nightwood will be opening for lunch February 4–6 and 11–12, which is notable since the restaurant is normally only open for dinner and Sunday brunch. The $22 lunch price includes the choice of the excellent $16 cheeseburger, so for $6 more, you can also get an appetizer and dessert. 

Perennial Virant is offering a set four-course dinner menu for $44, comprised of its regular offerings. The pickled perch salad ($12), gnocchi with chicken currywurst ($13) and grilled garlic sausage ($26) adds up to $51, and there’s also an off-menu lemon meringue tart (desserts are typically $10). So while you don’t get a choice, if the menu appeals to you, you’ll save $17. 

Reservations are available here.

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