If the kickoff to the main event is any indication — the January 19 Chicago Restaurant Week’s First Bites Bash at the Field Museum sold out in a flash — the 2023 Chicago Restaurant Week (CRW), which runs from January 20 – February 5, could be a very busy “week” — 17 days in this case — indeed. CRW is a numbers game: More than 356 Chicago-area restaurants are participating this year, 63 of them being newbies and 61 of them being women and/or BIPOC-owned businesses. 38 suburban restaurants are in on the fun for 2023, and nearly three dozen Chicago neighborhoods are represented.
What is CRW, exactly? Choose Chicago, our beloved city’s biggest booster, started this annual event 16 years ago to promote restaurant dining out in January by offering multi-course, prix fixe menus at a reasonable price — now $25 for lunch and brunch, and $42 or $59 for dinner, exclusive of beverages, tax and gratuity, of course. Aside from drumming up much-welcome excitement for dining out during the winter doldrums, CRW is also a fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds from the First Bites Bash goes to benefit Kitchen Possible, a Chicago-based nonprofit that empowers children through learning to cook, and the local arm of the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program.
With so many restaurants to choose from, you might be wondering where to go? Here’s a list of featured restaurants to get your engines started, and with prices like these, you’ll want to try more than one or two!
180 N. Field Blvd., Chicago
The views are magical at Avli on the Park, especially when the lights are still up. Enjoy a 3-course Greek dinner menu for $42 per person, starting with a choice of Saganaki, Kataifi Shrimp or Revithada (baked chickpeas); the Greek or Himoniatiki (pear and goat cheese) salads; and the Briam (vegetarian option), Lavraki Filetto (branzino with eggplant and tomato sauce), or Kotopoulo Hylopites (braised chicken with Greek pasta) for an entrée. If you have room for dessert, it will be off the a la carte menu.
2200 N. Clark St., Chicago
It’s been all over Insta, and you know you simply must have it. So why not as the starter for this $59 three-course offering from the very hot Bar Esmé, the more casual cousin of Chef Jenner Tomaska’s über-luxe Esmé next door? You’ll start with that Flamin’ Hot Cheeto, followed by a choice of Butternut Squash Soup or vegetarian Mushroom Conserva before your entrée of either New Zealand Trout with Sauce Normandy or a Texas Wagyu Pithivier with Beet and Balsamic. Don’t sleep on the gorgeous cocktails here either.
3235 W Addison St., Chicago
Everything is gluten-free and made from scratch at CheSa’s Bistro and Bar in Avondale. For Restaurant Week, this upscale Cajun-Creole spot is offering a $59, three-course dinner that starts with your choice of Lobster Louie Salad, Fried Green Tomatoes, and CheSa’s Devil Egg with Fried Shrimp Bites. For your entrée, choose from Lobster Etoufée, Crispy Skin Salmon with Orange-Braised Sweet Potato, Roasted Half Chicken with Black-Eyed Peas, or a Creamy Truffle and Mushroom Risotto. Dessert is either Banana Pudding Soufflé, Triple Chocolate Cake or Chocolate Mousse.
2124 Northbrook Court, Northbrook
Heading out to Northbrook Court? Seafood-focused Di Pescara has both three-course lunch for $25 and dinner for $42 on offer. Lunch options include a first course of Creamy Tomato Basil Soup, Caesar Salad, Di Pescara Chop Salad, or Orchard Salad; entrée choices are Chicken Milanese, Almond-Crusted Whitefish, or Tuna and Salmon Poke Bowl. Dessert is Key Lime Pie or Chocolate Mousse Cake. For dinner, start with Yellowfin Tuna Poke, Di Pescara Chop Salad, or Crispy Shrimp Pescara. Follow that with an entrée of either Broiled Mediterranean Sea Bass, Braised Beef Short Rib, or the Almond-Crusted Lake Superior Whitefish. Dessert is again Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Mousse Cake, or — yum alert — Homer’s Peppermint Ice Cream with Hot Fudge.
222 W. Randolph St., Chicago
You can opt for the $25 lunch or the $59 dinner at this Loop brasserie that features a revolving carousel bar, and it’s perfect for before-theatre. Lunch is your choice of French Onion Soup or Crispy Brussels Sprouts Chips as a starter, followed by Steak Frîtes, Scottish Salmon, or Chicken Caesar Salad for the main. Dessert is either Chocolate Mousse Cake or a Banana Éclair. Dinner starts with those same Brussels Sprout Chips for the whole table, followed by soup, appetizer (Market Greens, Classic Caesar, or Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Whipped Ricotta), and the Steak Frîtes, Scottish Salmon, or a vegetarian Black Truffle Gnocchi. The dessert choices are the same as lunch.
1800 S. Carpenter St., Chicago
One of Chicago’s best Vietnamese restaurants is tucked away in Pilsen. Chef Thai Deng’s $59 family-style CRW dinner menu is intended for two or more diners. The table will enjoy a Jicama Salad with papaya and dried squid, Fragrant Chopped Chicken with Thai Basil and toasted rice cracker, Braised Chicken with Lemongrass and Curry, Rice Noodle Salad with Chopped Clams and Vietnamese Herbs, Roasted Wild Mushrooms with Sweet Chili Soy and Smothered Onions, and Steamed Jasmine Rice. You’ll cleanse your palate with Whipped Banana Cream and Toasted Banana Crackers. A feast for the eyes and the senses! Open Wednesday – Sunday.
738 W Randolph St., Chicago
This West Loop Japanese spot on Chicago’s famed Restaurant Row is offering both a $42 three-course and a $59 five-course dinner. Start with the Asparagus Crab Soup or Lobster Salad with Ginger Dressing; the second course is Tuna Tartare. Your third course is a choice of Duck Breast, Salmon, or Beef Tenderloin served in sweet soy with seasonal veggies and rice. The additional courses for the expanded menu are Salmon Maki or Nigiri before the entrée, and Green Tea Crème Brûlée or Asparagus Pudding with Strawberry Purée for dessert. Yes, asparagus pudding, not a typo. An interesting option and we are intrigued!
616 N. Rush St., Chicago
If you’re looking for a lunch or dinner spot in River North, you might check out Lure Fishbar. Their Chicago location — with others in NYC and Miami — made quite a splash when it opened last year. The $25 three-course lunch starts with an appetizer of Shrimp Tempura, New England Clam Chowder, or Salmon Tartare. Choice of entrée includes Sesame-Crusted Tuna Salad, Miso-Glazed Salmon, Pan-Roasted Organic Chicken, or the Bash Burger with bacon & onion jam and American cheese. For dessert, opt for either Warm Chocolate Cake with Caramel Popcorn and Salted Caramel Ice Cream, or the Matcha Panna Cotta. The three-course $59 dinner deal offers Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Pancetta, Spicy Salmon Roll or Tuna Tartare to start, Nori-Crusted Tuna, Vegetable Bucatini, Miso-Glazed Salmon or Pan-Roasted Organic Chicken for an entrée — Filet Mignon or the Lure Sushi Combo is available for a $12 upcharge. That same yummy chocolate cake or Carrot Cake are your dessert options.
638 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Mercat a la Planxa, located in the Loop’s Blackstone Hotel, is a primo spot for authentic Spanish tapas and more. Their offerings are a little different in that it’s a set menu. The $25 CRW Brunch, offered Saturday and Sunday only, starts with Bacon-Wrapped Dates in Romesco Sauce, followed by the Mercat Marinated Chicken Thigh with Piquillo Aioli and French Fries. The $59 three-course dinner begins with Steamed Mussels with White Wine Butter Sauce and Chorizo, followed by Whitefish a la Planxa with Olive Escabeche and Artichokes. Finish with Red Wine-Poached Pear with Ricotta Ice Cream.
1020 W Madison St., Chicago
This James Beard Award-winning West Loop restaurant is always a tough reservation, but if your timing is flexible, you just may score a seat. Chef Sara Grueneberg’s $59 four-course family-style dinner includes choice of stuzzi, marinated olives, ‘Nduja Arancini, or Sunchoke and Artichoke Crostinos with homemade ricotta and truffle; primi, Oma’s Green Mountain Salad, Roasted Mushroom and Beet Salad, or Lillian’s Stuffed Cabbage with porcini Bolognese and crispy polenta; and secondi, Gnocchetti with Pesto, Creste di Gallo, or Chicken Parm. The dolci, or dessert, course features your choice of house-made ice cream or sorbet with chocolate-dipped coconut forgotten cookies. Grab a copy of Chef Sarah’s new cookbook, Listen to Your Vegetables, while you’re there!
Park Hyatt, 800 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
The view is still spectacular, but after last year’s extensive reno, the dining room itself is sleek and inviting. And they are all in for CRW, offering $25 lunch, $25 weekend brunch and $59 dinner menus. Lunch is a choice of Blue Crab Artichoke Fritter or Duck Prosciutto Flatbread to start, followed by Amish Chicken with Hasselback Potatoes or Grilled Garlic Sausage Sandwich, then a Thai Tea Cremeaux-Filled Choux Pastry. Dinner starts with Crispy Maitake Mushrooms or Frisée Salad with Poached Duck Egg, followed by Roast Duck, Wagyu NY Strip or a Vegan Sweet Potato Stew with chickpeas, sweet peppers, wild mushrooms and quinoa. End your meal with either the Calamansi Tart or the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake.
736 W. Randolph St., Chicago
The four-course $59 dinner offered at this inventive Indian restaurant in the West Loop begins with Cheese Kulcha for the table, and then offers five different choices for your second course: Sabudana Cutlet, Avocado Bhel, Kerala Fried Chicken, Tandoor-Smoked Pork Belly, or Grilled Prawn. Your main dish is a choice of Bagara Baingan (baby eggplant), Butter Chicken, Tandoori Cauliflower, Paneer Pasanda or Scottish Salmon Meen Pulusu — all served with rice or garlic naan. Dessert is either Saffron Cheesecake, Molten Chocolate Cake with Jaggery Ice Cream, or Mango Sorbet. Many vegetarian and vegan options here, too.
110 W. Illinois St., Chicago
This River North stalwart is known for their sushi, but their repertoire encompasses far more, with Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian influences abounding. That is reflected in their $59 three-course dinner, which must be ordered by the entire table. Choose between the Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Minced Shrimp and Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette or the Oxtail Pot Stickers with White Wasabi Cream to start, then on to the sushi course with a choice of Yellowtail Jalapeño Sushi or Sweet Potato Poke Maki. Entrée choices are Vegan Chop Chae, Chicken Inasal, or Hainanese Salmon. Dessert is on your own, and I’d recommend the Sunda Sundae, their take on the Filpino dessert Halo Halo and a riot of flavors and textures, with shaved ice, ube ice cream, pandan coconut gel, flan, lychee and red mung bean.
1300 Patriot Blvd., Glenview
Another reason to head to the suburbs: free parking. It abounds at Wildfire in Glenview — with more locations in Chicago, Lincolnshire, Oakbrook and Schaumburg. They’re offering both the $25 lunch and the $59 dinner. Lunch starts with either a Caesar or Field Greens Salad, followed by your choice of Grilled Chicken Club, Prime Angus Cheeseburger, Mediterranean Salmon Sandwich, Lemon-Pepper Chicken Breast or Mushroom-Crusted Fancy Pork Chop, and all come with a side dish. Flourless Chocolate Cake is the sweet ending. For dinner, the same salad offerings or a cup of Shrimp and Crab Bisque to start, followed by either Beer-Braised Short Ribs, Fresh Fish of the Day, Parmesan-Crusted NY Strip, Filet Mignon or Prime Rib, each with a side dish of choice. Dessert is either Door County Cherry, Key Lime or Seasonal Pie.
3335 N. Halsted St., Chicago
Seasonally inspired cuisine is the name of the game at this six-time Michelin Bib Gourmand winner in Boystown. Get yourself one of those comfy booths! There are tons of choices on their three-course, $59 dinner menu. Start with Curried Pumpkin Soup, Brassica Caesar Salad, Smoke Beet Tartare or Duck Liver Toast, followed by either Farro Verde Risotto, Skate Wing à la Muenière, Slagel Farms Chicken Breast with Pomme Purée, Mushroom and Onion Flatbread or Raddiatore al Formaggio — essentially, Italian Mac & Cheese with Bacon and Ham. Dessert is either the Wood’s Sundae, Mille Feuille or Chou à la Crème with Passion Fruit Curd.
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Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.