Guide to Chicago Restaurant Week

What Olympics? Chicago Restaurant Week is the real winter thrill this season, an overloaded melee of restaurant bargains all over the city and suburbs. Taking place January 24 through February 6, the annual spree offers prix fixe lunch and dinner menus at a slew of esteemed restaurants, allowing customers to get an ample taste of their cuisine at a more accessible price ($22 for lunch, $33 or $44 for dinner). Each menu offers choices for each course. With so many participating restaurants this year, it can be an intimidating sea to navigate, so here's a nifty little breakdown of reputable recommendations:

(Blackbird is one of many reputable Restaurant Week options)

European-inspired Hyde Park Fare

Hyde Park's newest chef-driven staple is A10, a European-inspired restaurant from Matthias Merges (Yusho, Billy Sunday). Anything coming out of a Merges kitchen is bound to be good, and you can't go wrong with any of his Restaurant Week offerings: confit of duck and roasted cauliflower soup, ricotta gnudi, suckling pig porchetta, honey soft-serve, and chocolate doughnuts.

Feminist Love at Ada Street Chicago Restaurant Week Chicago Restaurant Week

Ada Street takes a unique approach to Restaurant Week this year, paying homage to some of the most revered women in the culinary field with a lineup of inspired dinner dishes. Inspired by Nancy Silverton is a dish of bagna cauda with fresh mozzarella, anchovies, garlic, and toasted baguette. April Bloomfield inspires scrumpets with crispy fried lamb shoulder and minted malt vinegar. Moroccan carrot salad with ginger, lime, and cilantro is pure Alice Waters. Julia Child inspires a lush bouillabaisse with mussels, shrimp, cobia, and spicy broth, while Barbara Lynch begets roasted pork loin with carrots, spinach, and twice-baked fingerling potatoes. For dessert, citrus pound cake with mixed citrus, citrus gastrique, cornflake crunch, and whipped vanilla crème fraîche is an homage to Lisa Bonjour.

Glamor at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago Restaurant Week

Roasted carrot salad, green lentil soup, tarte Flambee, beef cheeks, shellfish-heavy hot pots, and mascarpone tortas bring a little glitz and glamor to Restaurant Week via Balsan, the lavish restaurant nestled inside the palatial Waldorf Astoria. Because you deserve a little regality.

Keep it Classic French

One surefire bet is classic French cuisine at Bistro Campagne. The venerable Lincoln Square bistro joins the Restaurant Week fray with time-honored staples such as onion soup, mussels, roast chicken, steak frites, crème brûlée, and pain perdu.

Gourmet Bargain at Blackbird

Year in and year out, Blackbird is one of the best bargains for Restaurant Week. The legendary Restaurant Row pioneer consistently offers a prix fixe lunch menu of progressive American cuisine, and this year is no different. On deck is steak tartare with rye berries, spicy radish, oxalis, and lemon; sweet potato soup with swordfish, caramel, compressed pear, orange, and dill; duck sausage with dried parsley root, Brussels sprouts, buttermilk, and mustard seeds; wood-grilled sturgeon with roasted leeks, fingerling potatoes, osetra caviar, pear, and ham hock jus; maple bread pudding with roasted vanilla ice cream, cranberry compote, and caramelized walnuts; and winter coupe with espresso ice cream, almond crumble, licorice cream, and fudge.

Italian Small Plates Aplenty

Curious to check out Cicchetti? The brand new Italian small plates temple in Streeterville is taking advtange of Restaurant Week with lunch and dinner menus. Lunch begins with pork cracklins before moving on to options such as meatballs in pancetta tomato sauce, bruschette, and white bean soup with speck creme. Entrees include shaved root vegetable salad; melted leek, potato, and fontina frittata; peperonata panino; and braised pork shoulder and provolone panino. Come dinner, the kitchen adds more entrees into the mix, such as gnocchi with braised pork shank, brick chicken, and slow-roasted salmon, plus desserts like "reverse" affogato and ricotta cheesecake.

High-end Vegetarian Fare at Green Zebra

The city's preeminent destination for vegetarian fine dining, Green Zebra dives into Restaurant Week with a dinner menu chock full of chilled somen noodles, acorn squash dumplings, celery root soup, pearled barley risotto, housemade fettuccine, pear-Carbernet sorbet, and dark chocolate mousse.

Henri Offers Masterful French Fare on the Mag Mile

Downtown's most notable fine French restaurant, Henri, offers a magnificent bargain along the Magnificent Mile. At lunch, options include blood orange salad, chestnut gnocchi, duck country terrine, and chocolate mousse verrine, while dinner expounds upon the midday meal with heartier entrees like coq au vin and roasted sea bream. Bring the pomp.

Go Local at Local Root

Get back to Streeterville for one of the loveliest, cutest, and most noble new-ish eateries in town. Local Root is the little locally minded cafe that could, peddling seasonal and locally derived ingredients all year-round, which is impressive for a restaurant of that size. For Restaurant Week, Local Root serves up lunch fare such as beet salad with balsamic-thyme reduction, steak frites with chimichurri, and a golden eggplant tower with goat cheese and spinach. At dinner, options range from truffle mushroom flatbread and organic salmon with cauliflower puree to bread pudding with housemade vanilla custard and Champagne caramel.

Mexican-French Fusion at Mexique

Folks who have spent the past Top Chef season ogling Carlos Gaytan should make a beeline to Mexique to experience his cooking first-hand. At dinner, this means ceviche; chile relleno studded with ratatouille, asadero cheese, and spaghetti squash; dorado sarandeado with garlicky guajillo rub, Jerusalem artichoke puree, and spinach; pork belly with spicy sweet potato puree, mole, and pickled Brussels sprouts; apple tart with cajeta and vanilla bean ice cream; and coconut-mango mousse with raspberry gelee, passion fruit coulis, and roasted coconut.

Latin With an Organic Tilt

Organically minded cuisine with a Latin accent is at the forefront of Nana, a Bridgeport haven for brunch, lunch, and dinner. For Restaurant Week, the family-run operation churns out homey items such as avocado fries, ground beef-stuffed empanadas, cauliflower salad, baked chilaquiles, grilled shrimp and fried oyster po' boys, chocolate sformato, pistachio-rum cake, and more.

Uber Local Cuisine at Nightwood

Restaurant Week is the perfect excuse to head down to Pilsen and overdose on Nightwood. The restaurant does local, seasonal cuisine like no one else in town, with an adroit sense for the contemporary and invigorating. Think beet salad with anchovies, butter-roasted pears with foie gras, oyster chowder with n'duja, ravioli bolognese, spit-roasted pork loin, and chocolate cremeaux with caramel corn and salty peanuts.

- Matt Kirouac