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Nov 10, 2009 11:02 AM

Last time in Chicago we ate at Tru, but this time must watch our budget

We are serious foodies making a go of it in North Carolina and will visit our favorite city next weekend. We are looking for a great night out that won't break the bank, as we recently went from two incomes to one and have kids in college. Looking for that wonderful dining experience that we can only have in Chicago. In the past we've dined at Charlie Trotters and Spiaggia, but appreciate something truly great that's more under the radar, perhaps. Anywhere in the city is fine. Recommendations?

Charlie Trotter's
816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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  1. I would advise you to go ethnic and have adventures. Some of the most delicious food in Chicago is to be found in small ethnic restaurants that are a great bargain.---and they're seldom downtown (rents are too high). These places won't remind you of dinner at Tru but you can have some fun with this. The first two ethnicities that come to mind are Thai and Polish. Thai Spoon gets rave reviews, PS Bangkok has a huge Thai Sunday brunch, and The Red Apple will give you a vast ad lib buffet of home-cooked Polish food. Then there's Indian/Pakistani: for that you go to Devon Avenue & Western, park the car, and stroll westward on Devon (dozens of restaurants---I like Viceroy of India but Tiffin and Indian Garden are also popular). We also shine in Mexican, ranging from homey places in Pilsen to Frontera Grill where Rick Bayless wins prizes. And our Middle Eastern is super (try Reza's). At any of these the check for two will run $40 or less. For a bit more, consider Fogo de Chao (see website) for a Brazilian all-the-meat-you-can-eat, and the bargain part is that lunch costs 50% of dinner (about $30 instead of $60)---BTW Fogo is my visiting kids' regular choice. One more, Tango Sur is reasonable and has gargantuan portions of Argentine beef.

    You might like to google "chicago restaurant menus" where >3000 restaurant menus are sorted by neighborhood and ethnicity; you can eyeball offerings and prices.

    Red Apple Buffet
    6474 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60631

    Thai Spoon
    601 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

    1 Reply
    1. re: Querencia

      Please do not confuse Thai Spoon, apparently mediocre at best, with Spoon Thai, one of the best Thai restaurants in the city.

      Spoon Thai
      4608 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

    2. If you're trying to get a fine dining experience without breaking the bank, there are ways to do that. We have lots of "casual fine dining" restaurants that don't cost nearly as much as the top tables, and some of them have specials that make them particularly appealing. IMHO the very best such restaurant in the city is Cafe des Architectes ( ), in the Sofitel off Michigan Avenue. Of particular note is their "Neighborhood Friends" dinner, offered on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, 3 courses for $29. Another such place with bargain prices is Sweets and Savories ( ), in Lincoln Park. Many other restaurants have weekday and/or early bird specials; check their websites for details. Our French bistros (e.g. La Sardine, Brasserie Jo) are another way to get fine dining at budget prices; for a comprehensive list with links, see

      1 Reply
      1. re: nsxtasy

        The fact that Sweets and Savories is BYO and fine dining in a casual atmosphere would seal the deal for me. I think it's the perfect recommendation.

      2. I'd recommend Han 202. Five courses, $20, Asian fusion. Everything is delightful, the service is great, and it's BYO. A way to get a superior meal for very cheap. I recommend two dishes; the apple/beef/lemongrass salad and the duck entree. But everything is good.

        I'd also go with Spoon Thai on Western (take the Brown Line, it lets you off just up the street from the restaurant). I'd also recommend the Beijing Duck at Sun Wah Bar-B-Q (Red Line to Argyle, turn right from the station, first restaurant you pass). $30 for a huge meal. First, they slice the crispy duck breast to make small sandwiches with. They take the carcass away and come back with duck soup and duck fried rice. And it includes a light dessert. If there's just two of you, you're going to have a lot of leftovers.

        Spoon Thai
        4608 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

        1. If you're looking for high quality modern american and lower prices than the restaurants you mentioned then Blackbird or Sepia would both be good options.

          1. My choice would be Boka on Halstad. The food is superb new American and the service is top notch. I took my wife there for our anniversary and they came through and then some!