River North dining
Visiting Chicago in a couple of weeks and staying in the RN area. Looking for dinner suggestions for a "middle-aged" couple who are foodies from way back---enjoy just about every cuisine and prefer to keep the tab under $80-100 for 2. Creativity on a menu wins out....not the tried-and-true unless it is superbly prepared. Not looking for the touristy destinations but where locals go back to time and again.
For dinner, Sable and GT Fish & Oyster are both in River North and are two of my favorite restaurants in the entire city. Both are casual, both feature a moderately-priced small plates format from accomplished local chefs (Heather Terhune and Giuseppe Tentori), and both feature craft cocktails from some of the city's best mixologists. The cuisine at Sable is contemporary American, and at GT Fish it emphasizes seafood, as you probably would guess from the name. I recommend making reservations in advance (on Opentable or by phone), as both places are very popular among locals as well as visitors, and often fill up their reservations book.
For lunch on weekdays, go to Naha, also in River North. It's one of the city's best restaurants, with contemporary American cuisine from James Beard Award winning chef-owner Carrie Nahabedian. At dinner it will exceed your price target, but lunch features a three-course prix fixe menu (with multiple selections) for $25. Again, advance reservations are recommended.
For Sunday brunch, grab a cab (or the #151 or #156 CTA bus) and head to North Pond. North Pond also features delicious contemporary American cuisine from a James Beard Award winning chef-owner, Bruce Sherman. It is distinguished by its unique location in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond and the city skyline. When you make your reservation, ask to be seated in the front room with the full-length windows (although the other room with the open kitchen is fun too). Like Naha, it would exceed your budget at dinner, but brunch has a $34 prix fixe menu.
If you don't mind traveling six miles, take the #22 Clark bus to Anteprima for a dinner of some of the best Italian cuisine in the city. Sundays through Thursdays they have a three-course special, almost any three courses (app-entrée-dessert or app-pasta-entrée) for $29, although weekends it's not all that much more expensive either.
If you've never had our local specialty of deep-dish pizza, I would also add deep-dish as a recommendation. Locations in/near River North include the original Pizzeria Uno and Pizzera Due around Ohio and Wabash, Lou Malnati's on Wells and at Rush and State, and Pizano's on State. If eating at Malnati's or Pizano's, you can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your deep-dish to bake.
One last recommendation. Stop by Garrett's Popcorn on the Mag Mile for caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans) or cheese popcorn, or the "Chicago mix" of the two. They also have shops at O'Hare so you can grab some on your way home.
River North (and the adjacent areas of the Magnificent Mile and Streeterville) have the highest density of hotels of anywhere in Chicago. So there are no hidden gems in RN where only locals go, although there are certainly many good restaurants in the area frequented by both locals and visitors. (If you search River North on this Board, for example, you will see that virtually every discussion includes mention of Nsxtasy's 2 recommendations -- I.e., they certainly have been "discovered" by tourists.)
Given your price point and goals, you might also consider Slurping Turtle -- the ramen is delicious although we've been disappointed by the non-sushi starters(have not tried the sushi).
Surprised that the Purple Pig and the Bayless Mexican restaurants haven't been mentioned yet, but do a search for them here on Chowhound and you'll find many ecstatic reviews. But maybe they are considered too 'touristy'?
Maybe lunch at Sixteen (Trump building) too, I think it's in your price range and it has two recent Michelin stars.
No reason to be surprised. Not that those won't work also; in Chicago, there are always many great places to dine, and one can usually name dozens of worthy contenders for any given request. However, some of those others have a few caveats worth mentioning.
The Purple Pig's no-reservations policy and the resulting lengthy waits during the most desirable mealtimes (often 1+ hours at lunchtime, 2+ hours for dinner, especially if you don't want to be seated at one of the communal tables or seating at the bar) make it extremely inconvenient for most folks, especially those on a short visit to Chicago who want to be able to stick to a schedule. The food is excellent, though, and if you can go during off hours when waits are short to none - mid-afternoon or later than 10 pm - it's worth considering.
As for the Bayless restaurants, Topolobampo is excellent, but only lunch will meet the stated price target, not dinner. Frontera Grill is also excellent, and at dinner not quite as expensive as Topolobampo but may still be borderline at meeting that price target. So sure, lunch at Topolobampo and lunch or dinner at Frontera Grill are worth considering too.
I haven't had lunch at Sixteen, only dinner, and am not familiar with its pricing at lunchtime, although I know dinner there runs roughly double the cost of dinner at Naha. I know Naha is great and their $25 prix fixe lunch is a bargain that will meet the stated budget.
So yes, those other choices may work also. Still, the ones I recommended earlier are my personal favorites, for the great combination of food, value, and convenience they offer.
Other things to try in River North (my neighborhood).
Sumi Robata Bar - a "fancy" take from a great chef on an izikaya. Its fun with nice drinks, very tasty food that's a little different than you'd normally have (grilled gizzards and heart here you come). Less "risky" items too.
Farmhouse - everything (most things) sourced within 250 miles. Again really nice bar program and great for sharing.
Sunday night dinner at Balsan (if you're here) is also great.