A bite of Chicago’s 16th annual restaurant week


Alexa Banuelos

A serving of chicken giardiniera paired with roasted potatoes at Franco’s Ristorante.

Chicago is a city full of flavor. From tamales that can be bought from a food truck near your local public park, to Michelin Star restaurants in the bustling West Loop there is bound to be a cuisine for everyone. Running from Jan. 20 through Feb. 20, Chicago will host its 16th annual restaurant week with 335 restaurants and 34 neighborhoods set to participate. 

Throughout the celebration, each restaurant participating has curated lunch and dinner menus specific to the event at a fixed price. As a result, culinary establishments attain exposure while affording residents and tourists diversify their gastronomic dining experiences at more accessible price ranges. 

“During restaurant week, restaurants provide an approachable dining experience that allows the guest to see what the restaurant is all about,” said Joel Reynolds, School of Hospitality Leadership undergraduate program director. This is also beneficial for the restaurant as it allows guests that may be curious of the cuisine to come and experience, thus generating the potential for new guests to become regular customers.” 

ChooseChicago  is showcasing all the participating restaurants and their menus online. After looking through the wide selection, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity of the more accessible cultural dining and inquire whether the multi-course meals were worthwhile.

For my first dining experience, I visited the family-owned business Franco’s Ristorante in Bridgeport for dinner. After three successful Italian restaurants, founder Frank Ruffalo Sr. decided to open Franco’s Ristorante in 1989. Passed down from Frank Sr. to Frank Jr., the restaurant has been feeding the Bridgeport neighborhood authentic Italian food for over 30 years.

With low lighting and romantic music, the ambiance really set the tone for the entire experience. I was greeted by the server Monica and seated at the bar beside other guests. On that Monday afternoon, the crowd consisted mainly of neighborhood regulars socializing, eager to get a drink and some food after a long day at work.

For the price of $42, I was provided with a specially curated tasting menu consisting of a three-course meal. For the first course, I ordered the warm and hearty minestrone soup. The appetizer was preceded by the second course of the chicken giardiniera, a juicy breaded chicken cutlet served with the house-made giardiniera and a side of crispy golden potatoes. I ended the night with a serving of their seasonal gelato.

A serving of chicken giardiniera paired with roasted potatoes.

For my second menu tasting, I went to Café Ba-Ba-Reeba, Chicago’s first tapas restaurant. The Spanish Tapas bar was established in 1985 in Lincoln Park. It has been providing authentic Spanish gastronomy for 38 years now. With the lively music and authentic food, the experience was a cultural immersion.

The $42 menu tasting featured a three-course meal with a complimentary glass of wine. For my first course, I ordered the spicy potatoes covered in sun-dried tomato aioli. The potatoes nicely complimented the second course of seared Atlantic salmon. I topped it all off with the third course of sweet and creamy Colombian natilla flan.

The spicy potatoes served with aioli at the bar.

“I really like the food here and I love that the restaurant makes a tasting menu at a reasonable price for the week,” Café Ba-Ba-Reeba regular Azusena Chavez said. 

My waitress provided great service, timely food and some insight into how Chicago Restaurant Week has boosted business. 

“I think people like to take it as an opportunity to try things out because the menu is not as intimidating since it’s so big,” Café Ba-Ba Reeba waitress Annie Lee said.

Apart from the exposure the participating restaurants cultivate, the event has been proven to be beneficial for the city of Chicago. Considering that it has been held for 16 years now, it allows Chicago to set up several facets of revenue.

“The city of Chicago benefits from restaurant week through the revenue that is generated in the restaurants, but more importantly the city benefits from all of the ‘extra’ or peripheral events that take place during restaurant week,” Reynolds said. “Think of all the transportation that occurs, from commuter trains, to the CTA lines, buses and ridesharing.”

I found the event to be worthwhile considering that it provided people with exposure to affordable fine dining options while expanding Chicago restaurants and Chicago’s revenue.