Whereas retail boasts sales aplenty after the holidays, restaurants typically suffer low attendance – not to mention worn-out staff whose vacation (if such a respite exists) lasts a few short days in January. Restaurant Week, running from Friday, January 22 through Thursday, February 4, aims to ameliorate a typically quiet two weeks with prix-fixe feasts across all Chicago neighborhoods. River North lays claim to the most participants at 82 with the Loop and Gold Coast close behind at 36 and 28, but Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park/Bucktown, a few suburbs and of course, the West Loop, feature some of the best these areas have to offer.
Participating restaurants range from hotel bars to classic steakhouses, esteemed Japanese to new Mexican; each offers three-course menus – $22 for lunch and $33 for dinner (options differ based on the establishment) – featuring popular dishes or, in some cases, offerings unique to the promotion. The best bargains are usually found where check averages reach upwards of $50 per person before drinks.
Despite the oft-mentioned notion of tourist traps and unseasoned diners, Restaurant Week does offer plenty of gems. The breadth of options and the forgiving price tag – albeit not including alcohol or tip – gives those accustomed to eating out a reason to visit that hot spot, while simultaneously drawing unlikely customers to break out of their safety zone.
Mainstays like Gibson’s, Blackbird, and Sepia work alongside hardly one-year-old stars including The Duck Inn, Intro, Monteverde, and Ixateco Grill. For brand new restaurants, the boost in business can strengthen a solid first year. Chef Jason Paskewitz of Lincoln Park’s The Blanchard (who features one of the week’s special $44 dinner menus) says the dedication to service and hospitality remains the same, regardless of experience. “We don’t take any different approach being our first year than we would were we several years in. [The week] drives traffic; I suppose [in] our first year that’s especially good, but additional business is good whether you are a new restaurant or a veteran.”
Chicago Restaurant Week
January 22 – February 4