To the delight of foodies everywhere, Chicago Restaurant Week will last two weeks this year instead of one. From Friday, January 24, through Thursday, February 6, diners will be able to sample prix fixe menus from more than 250 eateries throughout the city and suburbs. Despite the temptation to spend those two weeks eating 18 dinners a day, we've pared down the list to six standouts. Whether you're looking to try a relatively new arrival to Chicago's culinary scene or indulge yourself at one of the city's iconic establishments, here are our recommendations:
The Intriguing Newcomers
A10 (Hyde Park | 1462 E. 53rd St.)
Opened just this November, the newest venture from Chef Matthias Merges (Yusho, Billy Sunday) has already transformed Hyde Park into a fine-dining destination. The most recent Eater Chicago Heatmap praises the French-Italian-inspired restaurant for bringing "a new level of dining to a hungry South Side academic neighborhood." Seafood and handmade pastas stand out on the menu, which guests peruse in a graceful space designed by Chef Merges’s wife’s architecture firm.
Click here to read our Q&A with Chef Merges.
CH Distillery (Near West Side | 564 W. Randolph St.)
At first, CH Distillery’s concept seemed to generate more buzz than its liquor. Not satisfied with a fully functioning distillery, the owners had thrown in a cocktail and tapas bar—a unique format that’s since spawned other distillery-bar hybrids such as Chicago Distilling Company in Logan Square. Lucky for CH, the food and drink still lives up to the hype five months after its opening. Visitors can quaff crystalline vodka made with Illinois grains, along with housemade gin, whiskey, and rum. The food menu features a Scandinavian- and Russian-influenced selection of small plates. From the Chicago Restaurant Week menu, order the gravlax that earned praise from Time Out Chicago; your meal also includes a pumpkin martini.
Tanta (Near North Side | 118 W. Grand Ave.)
Chef Gastón Acurio is a global ambassador for Peruvian cuisine, having co-founded a grand total of 33 restaurants in 12 countries. At Tanta, he continues to share his passion for South American flavors by using classical French techniques to refine traditional recipes and ingredients. Tanta has come at a good time for Chicago, drawing attention to its thriving, but sometimes underappreciated, Peruvian culinary scene. At Tanta, Chef Jesus Delgado aims to broaden diners' understanding of Peru's culinary potential, a sentiment echoed by the Chicago Tribune: "Tanta, in River North, is easily Chicago's most accomplished Peruvian restaurant, elevating the cuisine […] to the level of fine dining." Expect bright citrus-cured seafood, marinated meats, and vibrant sauces.
The Established Icons
Blackbird (Near West Side | 619 W. Randolph St.)
Ever since opening in 1997, Blackbird's culinary reputation has continued to grow. In addition to earning one Michelin star—for the fourth year in a row—in the 2014 Michelin Guide, Executive Chef Paul Kahan was honored with the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef award. Blackbird’s reputation for excellence in farm-sourced modern cuisine is absolutely worth experiencing firsthand. You can also look forward to pristine plating and exceptional desserts.
NAHA (Near North Side | 500 N. Clark St.)
Cousins Carrie and Michael Nahabedian had two goals when founding NAHA: to honor their family’s Greek and Armenian culinary roots, and to draw inspiration from the Parisian foods that the duo grew to love when traveling abroad. The resulting pan-Mediterranean cuisine is carefully layered and composed, highlighting the vibrant flavors of the produce, meats, and cheeses that NAHA sources directly from local farms. This approach has earned consistent accolades from all over the food world. In addition to receiving one Michelin star four years in a row—including most recently in the 2014 Michelin Guide—NAHA further cemented its reputation by appearing as a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Restaurant award in 2013.
The Signature Room at the 95th (Near North Side | 875 N. Michigan Ave.)
Seriously. Though it might not be a hotbed of culinary experimentation, the eatery at the apex of the John Hancock Center is still worth a visit for the view alone. The dining room’s vistas of the city skyline make it an enchanting backdrop for a sunset dinner, and the homey Restaurant Week menu further sweetens the deal. Expect upscale comfort food such as pumpkin lasagna and lobster bisque.
Photo of Blackbird courtesy of Doug Fogelson; photo of The Signature Room courtesy of The Signature Room.