You know what would be great? Knowing which Michelin-starred Chicago restaurants you could go to without having to sell your collection of unused Fitbits. You know what would be even better? Finding that out without having to use math and stuff. Like, say, using the story below:
We took the average price of an entrée on each one-star restaurant’s a la carte dinner menu, assuming that it 1) had an a la carte option, and 2) had entrée-sized portions (unlike, say, some tapas/sushi restaurants). There are 19 single-star spots in the Windy City (17 if you consider the fact that both Senza and Takashi have closed). In ascending order, according to average price, here’s a look at the eight spots with the best value:
With nearly half the entrée section of the menu clocking in at under $20 a pop, this self-proclaimed farm-to-table concept is a no-brainer for Michelin-rated dining on the (comparatively) cheap.
Average entrée: $23
Helmed by chef/proprietor Ryan McCaskey, this chic resto offers a la carte eats that are simultaneously whimsical and accessible, such as the Wagyu beef tri-tip ($36) with vegetable ash, baby leek, garlic, celery root gratin, Tokyo turnips, and oxtail prune consommé, or the Tasmanian ocean trout ($32) served with “ramen tagliatelle.”
Average entrée: $31
Occupying a nineteenth-century printer shop and adorned with sleek chandeliers and trimmings, elegant Sepia looks and feels the part of a high-end restaurant, but a meal out won’t WMD your wallet as much as you’d think. The priciest thing on the menu is a strip steak with beef shank pave, sunchoke, cheddar, coffee, and burnt cinnamon jus, which will run you a not-so-shocking $38.
Average entrée: $32
Chef/partner Lee Wolen’s penchant for playing with complementary textures and flavors gets showcased at this sexy date night spot on Halsted. Starters like heirloom carrots with pistachio, amaranth, and smoked goat cheese ($12) and grilled Spanish octopus ($17) are perennial favorites, while Colorado lamb loin plated with yogurt, pistachio, rhubarb, and lettuce ($38) shines on the current list of seasonal entrees.
Average entrée: $33
Enjoy approachable, contemporary American fare like pan-roasted skate wing ($31) and a killer burger ($22!!!!!!!!!!!) smothered with smoked mozzarella, applewood smoked bacon, and a special sauce paired with thick-cut fries and garlic aioli.
Average entrée: $33
When it comes to romantic restaurants, few things top North Pond, which is literally set pond-side in the heart of Lincoln Park. The menu highlights locally sourced ingredients and changes based on what’s in season and readily available. Recent standouts include marinated lamb leg ($39) with snap peas and grilled Atlantic striper ($36) with candied blood orange.
Average entrée: $38
Long before Randolph St was known as “Restaurant Row,” Paul Kahan and the team behind One Off Hospitality opened West Loop fine dining pioneer Blackbird. Entrees range from vegetarian-friendly confit king trumpet mushroom with sweet potato tortellini ($30), to roasted and braised venison ($44).
Average entrée: $38
Enjoy American-meets-Mediterranean cuisine at this upscale concept from cousins Carrie and Michael Nahabedian. For a memorable plate (and flavor explosion in your face), try the lacquered, aged Moulard duck breast ($45) with foie gras, wheat berries, blood oranges, cipollini onions, and “Thumbelina” carrots.
Average entrée: $44
For double-starred Chicago restaurants, a la carte options go bye-bye, so we’re looking at how much a multi-course meal costs. When the most recent round of Michelin stars were granted, there were three two-star recipients. Now, however, LEYE fine-dining spot L2O is closed, leaving just two such honored restaurants. Meaning your best value option is kind of not the best value.
Every season, the creative minds behind Sixteen completely reinvent the menu (and the conceptual theme around which each menu is crafted) and, despite such frequent change, manage to pull off two-star worthy eats and service time and again. The new spring 2015 menu, entitled “Food in Progress: Assessing an American Food Revolution,” includes dishes like Loup de Mer and dry-aged beef ribeye, as well as a bunch of “gift courses” such as potato soufflé with sturgeon and caviar and smoked squab.
Multi-course tasting menu: $190
There are currently two three-star Michelin rated restaurants in Chicago, and one of them is cheaper than the other. And that restaurant is...
At $22 a course for a nine-course meal of this caliber, the price you’ll pay to dine at Grace honestly just might be worth it. And thanks to two separate menus (one called “Flora” and the other “Fauna”), even vegetarians can enjoy the experience without the need for requesting substitutions.
Multi-course tasting menu: $205
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Kailley Lindman is a contributing writer for Thrillist Chicago, as well as a food blogger, bacon enthusiast, and devout user of the Oxford comma. Follow her at @KailleysKitchen.
1. Longman & Eagle2657 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago
2. Acadia1639 S Wabash, Chicago
3. Sepia123 N Jefferson St, Chicago
4. Boka1729 N Halsted St, Chicago
5. The Lobby108 E Superior St, Chicago
6. North Pond2610 N Cannon Dr, Chicago
7. Blackbird619 W Randolph St, Chicago
8. NAHA500 N Clark St, Chicago
9. Grace652 W Randolph St, Chicago
10. Sixteen401 N Wabash Ave Fl 16, Chicago
Longman & Eagle, the Michelin-starred gastropub in Logan Square, has an exclusive whiskey selection (clocking in at over 400 labels), a craft cocktail menu, and an extensive beer list all fit for the most pretentious of drinkers, in the least pretentious of atmospheres. Longman takes a flavor-forward, honest approach to eating and drinking, and because it doesn’t accept reservations, there is always a wait for brunch, happy hour, and dinner alike. (And it is always worth it.) While whiskey may be king, the regional American fare has just as much to offer, hence the Michelin star. The menu changes often, but expect anything from beef tallow beignets and veal brains to wild boar sloppy joes, chicken and waffles, and a burger that, if you know what's good for you, you will order.
Tucked away in a nondescript South Loop building, this Michelin-starred restaurant showcases chef Ryan McCaskey's contemporary take on classic American fare. Inspired by Maine, Acadia is unique for pulling off a sophisticated multi-course tasting menu (available in five or ten courses) and an à la carte bar menu that sports an aggressively indulgent burger. Whether you're there for the complete prix-fixe experience or for a cocktail and oysters at the bar, Acadia is definitely a special occasion spot.
Occupying a 19th-century print shop and adorned with sleek chandeliers and trimmings, Sepia looks the part of a high-end restaurant, but a meal here won’t wreck your wallet as much as its ambience might suggest. There are upscale dishes on the menu to match the swanky setting, including a strip steak with escarole, fennel, red onion marmalade, and celery root pavé. You'll want to pair your plate with a creative cocktail, such as the Cruise Control, made with jasmine green tea-infused vodka, cream of coconut, and basil.
Romantic enough for a date night and inventive enough to surprise even the most jaded of palates, this time-tested and Michelin-starred favorite in Lincoln Park promises good food in a good atmosphere. Crafted by visionary Lee Wolen, Boka serves a contemporary menu (heirloom carrots with pistachio crumbles, bulgur, and smoked goat cheese, for example) available à la carte or as a seven-course tasting. Make sure to order cocktails and dessert -- both are downright indulgent.
Enjoy approachable, contemporary American fare like pan-roasted skate wing and a killer burger smothered with smoked mozzarella, applewood smoked bacon, and a special sauce paired with thick-cut fries and garlic aioli.
When it comes to romantic restaurants in Chicago, few top North Pond, a waterfront hideaway within Lincoln Park. Chef Bruce Sherman sources seasonal ingredients from local markets and farmers to craft his menu, which is split between a tasting dinner with optional wine pairings and à la carte items. The Arts and Crafts-style building, originally built in 1912 for ice skaters, is as picturesque as the park surroundings.
Blackbird is the foundation upon which James Beard Award-winning Chef Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality Group was built. The West Loop fine dining staple boasts elevated and creative Midwestern cuisine through dishes crafted using simplistic techniques and carrying complex flavor. The space itself mimics the menu with a minimalist approach to design and stark whites to boost its already vibrant energy. The cocktail and wine lists are well-rounded, thoughtful, and complementary to the menu. Blackbird is open -- and bustling -- for lunch Monday through Friday, and reserves its focus for the highly sought-after reservations on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Acclaimed Chef Carrie Nahabedian marries Mediterranean and New American flavors in her menu at River North’s NAHA. It’s a contemporary space with synonymously contemporary menus, lunch and dinner alike. The wine list is predominantly old world, the beer list predominantly local, and the cocktails predominantly classic with offerings like Negronis, Corpse Revivers, and Old Fashioneds. The lunch menu offers a “Business Lunch” option, a three-course tasting menu with nine customizable dishes to choose from. If you’re looking for a quick stop, NAHA’s lounge offers mezze, snacks, and drinks.
With three well-deserved Michelin stars, Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser’s Grace is a destination for the highest end fine-dining in the West Loop. An evening at Grace is an experience in culinary performance: the white tablecloth-dressed tables are angled towards the glass-enclosed kitchen, encouraging guests to watch tweezer-wielding hands compose dishes with whimsy and precision. At Grace, elegance is defined by exemplary service, refined New American menus, and the wondrous presentation of Duffy’s dishes. The two multi-course tasting menus are called Flora and Fauna (you can guess the highlight of each), and Muser’s wine pairings are highly, highly recommended. (His cellar is impassioned and versatile in origin and price, if the pairings don’t strike your fancy). The menus present dishes wherein complex technique and molecular gastronomy are downplayed -- but still very much in place -- to make the ingredient the star of the plate. And just an aside, at some point during your multiple hour meal, you’ll find that the bathrooms are themed to the seasons. Big spenders, this one’s for you.
Named for the floor on which it sits in a River North skyrise hotel, Sixteen is a two Michelin-starred fine-dining destination for French-inspired cuisine. Chef Thomas Lents masters the art of presentation in his intricate, progressive dishes that are almost too beautiful to eat. A smoked oyster topped with horseradish rests over a layer of potato gel in its shell, which is stacked atop a tangled seaweed salad; a thin slice of carrot is folded softly over a cylinder of king crab, dotted with sea buckthorn, and finished with dill. Even the tableside bread service is like a work of art. A meal at Sixteen is a luxurious, flavor-forward experience, and not for those short on change.