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Duck confit salad at Abigail’s American Bistro
2030 South Wabash Avenue; 312-842-8856
3 courses for $30, vegetarian $20
BYO ON WEDNESDAYS
At Cuatro, the seviche of hearts of palm, white asparagus, and avocado tastes so good you won’t miss the usual seafood versions. An outsized yuca-meal-crusted trout filled with spicy rock shrimp yields a gold mine of flavor, but you should still be up for warm plantain crêpes around sherried baby bananas in dulce de leche with pistachio praline ice cream. The set menu, available Tuesday through Thursday, includes $5 caipirinhas and half-price wines on Wednesdays—and also on Wednesdays, every diner’s favorite letters: BYO. –D. R. W.
2118 North Damen Avenue; 773-235-6434
3 courses for $25
You won’t see a scandalous Nude Descending a Staircase at this Duchamp, but on Tuesdays you can dine off the regular menu for outrageously few dollars. Prosciutto with caprese and arugula sets you up for a modern French twist on steak and eggs, namely grilled skirt steak with roasted shallot sauce and an unforgettable Parmesan-smoked bacon quiche. A three-dessert palette of chocolate-chip-cookie ice-cream sandwich, chocolate mini cupcake, and lemon tart is a sweet deal—and pure artistry in its own right. –D. R. W.
Crowne Plaza Glen Ellyn-Lombard,
1250 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn; 630-613-1250
3 courses for $20
An artisanal-minded kitchen doesn’t always mean cost be damned. Think about a farmers’ garden salad of shaved winter vegetables tossed with local baby greens in Champagne-cider vinaigrette as a prelude to juicy grilled Duroc pork tenderloin in a sauce of caramelized figs and port with wild rice and baby carrots. Green apple and raspberry sorbets go down easy after the hearty chop. And the three-course prix fixe is so easy on the wallet that, even with a glass of green-farmed wine or a Minnesota Organic Prairie vodka martini, you can stick to the budget. –D. R. W.
605 West 31st Street; 312-949-1314
5 courses for $20
Time was, Bridgeport was a bridge to nowhere for exciting dining. No more. The rock-bottom five-course nightly menu at this modern Pan-Asian storefront attracts crowds of BYOers with spicy king crab miso soup, sliced cold beef with lemongrass, and a luscious Thai fish cake. Wait: There’s more. A rack of petite lamb chops in bonito plum sauce, with pink peppercorns and julienned white asparagus, and a finale flourish of startlingly good mango-tomato sorbet with vanilla ice cream convinced us this improbable location is somewhere special. –D. R. W.
59 West Grand Avenue; 312-645-9500 (plus three suburban locations; see The List)
$40 per couple
When you think about top-notch Indian cuisine, if River North doesn’t exactly leap to mind, think again. India House’s daily Feast for Two at 40 bucks—yes, $40 total—gets it right. Spicy lentil soup readies your taste buds for a smoky and deftly seasoned tandoori oven blowout of rosy-hued chicken on the bone, thick chunks of yogurt-and-spice-marinated chicken breast tikka, lamb boti kebab, mahi-mahi, and plump shrimp. Scoop up the sauce from the creamy chicken tikka masala with tender naan, then soothe your palate with cardamom-scented rice pudding with raisins and almonds. It’s a feast, all right, made all the more decadent by the comfortably upscale setting. –D. R. W.
28 East Center Avenue, Lake Bluff; 847-295-1000
up to $30
“Odd menu,” says one of our foursome. “It doesn’t have normal things that normal people normally eat.” True. Pork shoulder lasagna, veal tongue tacos, and seafood/oyster fritters probably aren’t for everybody, but this contemporary north suburban bistro makes you want to take a chance on, say, chewy-crispy udon noodles in spicy Chinese barbecue sauce ($9). Follow with a feisty meat or seafood dish—New York strip with Civil War grits ($16) or walleyed pike splashed with four sauces ($13)—and you will have just enough room and money for the coffee-pistachio mousse with a strange hitchhiking pile of house-fried bacon bits ($6). Sounds weird, but at Inovasi, a dish like that almost passes for normal. –J. R.
Photograph by Anna Knott; photo assistant: Nicole Stege