Chicago Restaurant Week is back, but because of the pandemic the promotion — which draws customers to dining rooms during the normally slow wintry months — has a few new tweaks. The event runs from March 19 through April 4.
As the city restricts indoor dining at a maximum 50 percent capacity or a 50-person limit per room, with masks and social distancing required, regulars will notice changes. The number of participating restaurants has shrunk from more than 430 venues in 2020 to about 250. There’s also a slight price hike from last year, with $25 brunches and lunches and $39 or $55 dinners. Restaurant Week was a device to increase on-premise customers, but for 2021 it’s been expanded to delivery and takeout.
Many repeat spots have also culled menu offerings, cutting out drinks, bread service, and even entire courses. Even on Reddit, where passionate deal hounds gather annually to pick apart the menus, commenters say they understand why menus and deals are scaled back, given the crushing year restaurants have endured.
Sifting through the more than 250 participating restaurants is a tricky endeavor, and distinguishing great deals from the crowd takes time, so here are some of the best Restaurant Week options. They’re evaluated based on value overall and how deals measure up when compared to regular menus and one another. Diversity of cuisine, offerings for vegetarians, and takeout and delivery options are also taken into consideration.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact, Eater Chicago has altered the 2021 guide to highlight good deals. Still, frugal diners should keep an eye out for traps: Last year, Dick’s Last Resort — the gleefully crude chain inside Marina City Towers — managed to offer a $36 Restaurant Week dinner that wound up being more expensive than an identical meal off the regular menu.
Restaurants are ordered alphabetically.
As of March 2, Chicago restaurants are permitted to serve customers indoors with a 50 percent maximum capacity per room, or 50 people — whichever is fewer. At the same time, despite winter weather, a number of Chicago restaurants continue to offer outdoor seating. Regardless, the state requires reservations for indoor and outdoor dining. The level of service offered is indicated on each map point. However, this should not be taken as an endorsement for dining in, as there are still safety concerns. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Studies indicate that there is a lower exposure risk when outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on restaurants following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines.
GOOD DEAL: Aba
Lettuce Entertain You’s West Loop restaurant led by chef C.J. Jacobson has attracted large crowds with its comprehensive menu of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes and stylish rooftop patio. Unlike other spots that have slimmed menus from years past, Aba doesn’t skimp on brunch ($25, two courses plus a cocktail, wine, or beer) or dinner ($55, two courses plus dessert and a cocktail, wine, or beer). Diners can expect a smattering of vegetarian spreads and mezze alongside options like short rib shakshuka (eggs, harissa, graviera) at brunch and slow-braised leg of lamb wrapped in eggplant (tomatoes, graviera, dates, cinnamon) at dinner. The menu will be offered for both indoor and outdoor dining, as well as takeout and delivery. Aba uses AirPHX cold plasma air filtration to sanitize the dining room.
GOOD DEAL: Galit
Restaurant Week is an excellent time for diners to explore this Middle Eastern blockbuster of a neighborhood spot from James Beard Award-winning chef Zach Engel in Lincoln Park. The dinner menu ($55 for four courses plus dessert) is a treasure trove of hits like falafel (mango, labneh, Persian pickled turnips) and crispy chicken thighs (shiitakes, pine nuts, Bulgarian feta), along with Engel’s pristine pita that comes out of a wood-fired oven. The menu will be available for takeout and delivery.
GOOD DEAL: Girl & the Goat
One of Chicago’s best-known restaurants thanks to the high profile of its chef, Top Chef champion Stephanie Izard, Girl & the Goat this year is participating in Restaurant Week for the very first time. The dinner menu ($55 for six courses plus dessert) is a whale of a deal, with options including Izard’s popular wood oven shrimp and Gotham Greens salad, crispy beef short ribs (avocado, ruby red grapefruit chermoula), and wood oven-roasted pig face. Though menu items are plucked directly from the restaurant’s regular offerings, Restaurant Week presents an excellent opportunity for fans and newcomers to check out the mega-hit on Randolph Restaurant Row. The menu is exclusively available to indoor diners.
GOOD DEAL: Table, Donkey and Stick
This Alpine-inspired destination has show itself to be a reliable spot for Restaurant Week diners over the years, and 2021 is no different: its dinner menu ($39 for three courses) offers plenty of interest and value for those who know how to order. Omnivores would be wise to choose the house charcuterie plate, usually priced at $20, for the first course. There’s also a creative entree for vegetarians with the confit radish tagliatelle (pickled pearl onion, fermented fennel, local honey). The menu is available for outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery.
GOOD DEAL: ROOH
San Francisco import Rooh has helped to usher in a new era of modern Indian fine dining in Chicago, and its Restaurant Week dinner ($55 for three courses plus dessert) gives customers plenty of reasons to get excited. Vegetarians will find a lot to choose from, including Cauliflower 65 (curd-rice mousse, chili peanut chutney) and a paneer “pinwheel” (lababdar gravy, butter powder); omnivores can try seabass polichattu (malabar curry) and tandoor-smoked pork belly (ginger and mango barbecue, pickled radish). If diners are waiting for a sign they should give Rooh a try, this is it.