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Best Restaurants in Chicago: 30 under $30

We found a whole slew of great ways to eat well for less—trusty BYOs, prix fixe stunners, and places that don’t seem to realize how good they are

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Assorted sushi from Coast Sushi Bar

 

KARMA
Crowne Plaza Chicago North Shore,
510 East Route 83, Mundelein; 847-970-6900

PAN-ASIAN
3 courses for $20
VEGETARIAN

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This stunning space, an imaginative take on a Vietnamese rice paddy and waterfall, is the last place you’d expect to cut deals on dinner, especially on weekends. But Friday through Sunday, contemplate the serenity and savor the best miso soup you’ve had in ages, brimming with fresh shiitakes and roasted nori. After that, you’ll snap to attention for Thai-spiced stir-fried hunks of beef tenderloin with Chinese noodles and baby bok choy in mirin-miso beef broth or yellow mango-coconut vegetable curry, plus oodles of vegetables and kimchi. Then mellow out with blood orange and pomelo sorbets. The three-course spread is 20 bucks; the tranquillity is free. –D. R. W.

 

KINZIE CHOPHOUSE
400 North Wells Street; 312-822-0191
AMERICAN, STEAKS
3 courses for $20

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Sometimes a steak house is just too much. Too much food, too much money. The folks at Kinzie Chophouse have a nifty solution: Any day for $20 you can get a savory eight-ounce flatiron steak—half the usual size—topped with herbed butter and accompanied by irresistible thin fries sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary. Or you can go low-cal with seared jumbo shrimp around sautéed broccoli and mushrooms. Either comes as part of a three-course meal that begins with a simple salad or—better—bruschetta piled high with chopped tomatoes, garlic, and basil cured in aged balsamic vinegar. Finish with warm chocolate cake or hot-buttered-rum cheesecake—both will cancel out the calories you saved on the shrimp and vegetables. True, $25 buys you a 16-ounce cut, but then everything else will be à la carte. Trust us. This is a steal. –D. R. W.

 

LA TACHE
1475 West Balmoral Avenue; 773-334-7168
FRENCH AMERICAN BISTRO
3 courses for $20

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“Damn, it’s closed on Monday. . .”  Ah, the traditional lament of the diner looking for a restaurant open at the beginning of the week. Andersonville’s reliable bistro feels your pain and prescribes a different mix-and-match three-course prix fixe menu every Monday night. Ours included standouts such as a chunky corn chowder with lemon crème fraîche and chorizo oil, a juicy breast and leg of roasted chicken in verjus sauce with wild mushrooms, and silky chocolate pot de crème with a dab of crème Chantilly. Our weekly search is over. We’re going to La Tache. –J. R.

 

LULA CAFE
2537 North Kedzie Boulevard; 773-489-9554
AMERICAN CONTEMPORARY
3 courses for $28
NO RESERVATIONS

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On Monday nights Lula Cafe puts out a farm dinner for frugal foodies on the prowl. It’s a set three-course meal—no choices—featuring the chef Jason Hammel’s penchant for the local and the seasonal. House-made, too. A recent meal began with pistachio-dotted mortadella with pickled vegetables and a baguette topped by wonderful house-churned butter. Pan-roasted Lake Superior whitefish was a triumph on its cushion of shredded braised pork with luscious leek-apple mustard. The sophisticated Chambord and milk chocolate mousse torte, despite the blackberry buttermilk sherbet sidekick, isn’t exactly farm cooking—not that we’re complaining. –D. R. W.

 

LE BOUCHON
1958 North Damen Avenue; 773-862-6600
FRENCH
3 courses for $25

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There’s something magical about Tuesdays at Le Bouchon, when the entire menu turns into a $25 three-course fête. That means you can revel in the authenticity of salade Lyonnaise or house-made country pork pâté among the classic starters. And, remarkable for a prix fixe entrée, the bouillabaisse is a fine saffron broth brimming with cherrystone clams, mussels, shrimp, and chunks of fish, complete with toast slathered in creamy rouille. Maybe you should order dessert first, such as exemplary profiteroles dripping with fine chocolate sauce— before your neighbor at the long banquette snags the last one. –D. R. W.

 

312 CHICAGO
Hotel Allegro Chicago,
136 North LaSalle Street; 312-696-2420

ITALIAN
3 courses for $30

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Any night—not just when you’re clutching tickets for one of the five nearby theatres—is the right time to dip into the multiple choices on 312’s $30 prix fixe menu. Grilled calamari and shrimp hanging out with red potatoes, string beans, and aged balsamic vinegar treats you right, and so does veal carpaccio under tuna caper aïoli. Take comfort in butternut squash/amaretto cookie tortelloni in sagey brown butter sauce, or catch the fine roasted tilapia with oyster mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and lemon oil brightened by mellow asparagus purée. Dark chocolate flourless cake avoids cliché with the drama of hazelnut cream and bitter orange sauce. –D. R. W.

 

MARCHÉ
833 West Randolph Street; 312-226-8399
FRENCH
3 courses for $29

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Now a grand-père in the Market District, Marché still knows how to turn on the charm. Anything on the menu is up for grabs on Mondays and Wednesdays for $29 for three courses. Excellent steak tartare or vol-au-vent des champignons—puff pastry filled with forest mushrooms in garlic shallot cream with port wine reduction—sets the pace. You can’t go wrong with traditional coq au vin or pan-seared barramundi with citrus beurre blanc on braised fennel with sunchokes and melted leeks. Marché’s food has never been as wild as its décor: Raspberry and apple cobbler on cinnamon strudel with tarragon ice cream is as offbeat as the menu gets. –D. R. W.

 

Photograph by Anna Knott; photo assistant: Nicole Stege

 

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