Image credit Choose Chicago

Chicago Restaurant Week, the city’s most well-known annual culinary event, returned this year for its 17th year—a great way to kick off 2024. This 17-day food extravaganza took place from January 19 to February 4, emphasizing the city’s diverse culinary landscape. This year, more than 400 restaurants were featured, including some of the most acclaimed in the city – from Michelin-star spots to those with James Beard Award-winning chefs.

This gastronomical tradition traces its roots back to 1992 when businessman Tim Zagat and restaurateur Joe Baum created a “restaurant week” as a kind gesture for the 15,000 reporters making the journey to New York City for the 1992 Democratic Convention. The duo saw this as an opportunity for restaurants to grow their clientele while indulging in the city’s best at a fair price. Chicago took this idea, collaborated with the city’s restaurants and made it into its own. Beginning in 2008 and skyrocketing in popularity since, Chicago Restaurant Week has become a culinary staple nationwide.

Each participating restaurant offers a special tasting menu that changes throughout the day, highlighting the best food their kitchen prepares. Chicagoans get great deals to indulge in the city’s diverse culinary scene, allowing for a multi-course experience at a set price, oftentimes lower than the regular cost: brunch and lunch cost $25, while dinner varies from $42 to $59.

Although the event is behind us now, here are some of my favorite participants. Be sure to put them on your radar for next year’s Restaurant Week!

Image credit Piccolo Sogno

Piccolo Sogno (West Loop, $30 - $40)

I’m a huge fan of Italian food and, let me tell you, executive chef Tony Priolo knows exactly what he’s doing. By using a mix of authentic Italian ingredients as well as local ingredients, Piccolo Sogno creates a unique flavor profile that’s hard to find anywhere else. I would say outdoor seating is preferable since it feels like you’re in Italy and the greenery is beautiful, but bear in mind that the tables are a little close together. My favorite dishes are the Margherita Pizze, the Pappardelle Con Cinghiale and the Caprese.

Image credit Duck Duck Goat

Duck Duck Goat (West Loop, $30 - $50)

If you’re looking for a place that serves delicious Chinese-American food, look no further than Duck Duck Goat. From a wide array of dim sum to delicious noodle dishes and the best fried rice I’ve ever tried, there’s definitely to fulfill the cravings of everyone. Every single dish is a flavor bomb, with a delicious symphony of taste dancing around your mouth that’ll just make you want to eat more and more. I really liked the decor of this restaurant – it felt like you were in an upscale Asian market with its fun decorations as well as its cool and dark ambiance. This is definitely a must if you want to try how Chef Stephanie Izard redefines Asian cuisine by incorporating the flavors and ingredients of her childhood with upscale techniques.  

Image credit José Andrés

Jaleo (Downtown/The Loop, $40 - $60)

Walking into this restaurant feels like you’re in an upscale tapas bar in Spain. Award-winning chef José Andrés creates delicious tastes to bring Spain’s authentic cuisine to the city. Perhaps try some jamón ibérico, a flavorful ham that can be aged up to four years, or a tortilla de patatas clásica, Spain’s classic omelet. This restaurant’s bold color scheme as well as its Spanish guitar background music create the perfect ambiance to enjoy your time here to the fullest. I do have to say, this restaurant is on the pricier side, with a paella for 2-4 people costing $65, but in my opinion, it’s totally worth it since many quality ingredients are imported from Spain.

Image credit TimeOut

Avec (West Loop, $20 - $40)

This Mediterranean-inspired restaurant rightfully earned its Michelin star, making it one of 22 Chicago restaurants with this esteemed rating. I knew I needed to go here after constantly seeing the hype online reviewers gave their bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates, their most known dish. The unique flavor combinations this restaurant produces are delicious. The dates are the perfect balance between sweet and salty, while their “deluxe” focaccia incorporates the most known flavors of this region such as tomatoes and olive oil. The dishes were beautifully plated and decorated, making the dining experience even more enjoyable – you could really see the attention to detail and passion put into every element.

Image credit USA Today

Carnivale (West Loop, $15 - $35)

Coming from a Latin American country myself, I knew that I had to find a place that served authentic food – and Carnivale delivered. Chefs Carlos Garza and Miguel Tenesaca have developed a delicious Latin fusion menu that merges flavors from the cuisine and culture of Mexico, South America, and Central America. The bright pops of color the restaurant is decorated with, alongside its lively music and its accommodating staff, make for a fun and memorable dining experience. Indulge in their beef empanadas to be transported to Argentina or take a trip to Cuba while tasting ropa vieja. This restaurant is very popular so it would be best to have a reservation and not have to wait to be seated, due to the fact it does get pretty busy on nights and weekends.  

Image credit Daisies

Daisies (North Side, $30 - $50)

This restaurant definitely lives up to its Michelin Green Star, which is awarded to restaurants that focus on locally sourced ingredients and sustainable practices. Chef and owner Joe Frillman perfectly pairs fresh ingredients with high-quality culinary expertise, immensely enhancing the flavor profile of many household staples. Their delicious onion dip pairs perfectly with their crispy homemade ruffle chips, transporting you to the memories of watching sports with friends and family. Their chicken caesar wrap is equally tasty, taking that delicious after-school snack and elevating it. Daisies also offers a wide variety of desserts that’ll make you feel like you’re in heaven if you are a sweet tooth like me.

Chicago is a melting pot of flavors and cultures -- these are just some of the restaurants that can attest to that. This is your sign to explore it even further! Trust me, your taste buds will thank you.