Use that Student Loan “Living Expenses” Money

Bring Wine to HB. Stay for Dinner

What recession? You’re flush with loan money (aka Play Money….aka money that you’ll have to be careful with and keep safe and spend on books).

Or, well, for now, you’re new to town, and can use your green status as an excuse so treat yourself to (just one, you swear) really fantastic meal before the whirlwind starts up. Chicago is up there with New York and San Francisco when it comes to gustatory delights. And if you think it’s a steakhouse-only town, here are some places that will disabuse you of this rumor. These places won’t break the bank wide open (and if you’re interested in Alinea, Charlie Trotter, L2O, or any of the others, you might start trying to get reservations now…).

Rather, these places are more than delicious for the price of entry.

1) HB: Up in Lakeview, chef and owner Joncarl Lochman puts together a menu of wildly different flavors and ingredients that are locally sourced. HB offers a contemporary take on comfort food, and it’s one of two BYO’s on my list. Prices are really, really reasonable for both the portions and the quality of the food. You never feel rushed either–but make a reservation if you can. (Wallet impact with wine: Pricey / Without wine: downright reasonable)

If you’re stumped on wine, hop across the street to The Gourmet Grape and pick up a bottle. Here are some recommendations of some CA wines they have on offer:

  • Merlot: 2005 Duckhorn, Napa (expensive, but really delicious: $57)
  • Zinfandel: 2006 Trentadue, Sonoma (moderate: $17)
  • Sauvignon Blanc: 2007 Trinitas, Napa (moderate $18)

(More guilt-inducing indulgences after the jump…)

(As a tie for first place on my list here, Longman and Eagle. The best time to go (I think) is actually brunch. They serve up the best bloody Marys in town. Period. And their hour-long eggs, crab benedict, duck egg hash, market scramble, and literally EVERYTHING on the menu, are awesome. It’s out in Logan Square, so a bit of a hike [Wallet impact with drinks: collartug / Wallet impact without drinks: pricey)

2) Avec: One of two restaurants that started a movement toward the West Loop (the other, owned by the same people, is Blackbird–next door to Avec). Avec doesn’t take reservations, so get here either really early or later if you’re interested in sitting down right away. If not, grab a cocktail outside and wait for a spot at the restaurant’s boisterous common tables. Chef de Cuisine Koren Grieveson dishes out some of the place’s old standbys (the bacon wrapped dates are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY), as well as rotations of flatbreads, variations of pork shoulder/belly/whatever, and other delights. The place pretty consistently buzzes, so if you’re into a more intimate setting, Avec may not be the best pick. (Wallet impact with drinks: pricey / Wallet impact without drinks: downright reasonable)

3) Caro Mio: One of my new favorites–and definitely some of the best pasta I’ve had in town. Caro Mio is up in the painfully cute neighborhood of Ravenswood. It’s BYO, and there’s no shame in leaving with leftovers. The olive oil is wonderful, as are classics like Pasta(s) Carbonara and alla Arrabiatta. If you’re less into pasta, and more into outdoor patios  the absolutely wonderful Piccolo Sogno is for you. It’s in the West Loop and is a bit pricier. But the deck is among the nicest in the city. (Wallet impact with wine: downright reasonable / wallet impact without wine: no sweat)

4) Bistro Campagne: Down the street from the center of Lincoln Square Bistro Campagne is great for straight-up classic French bistro cuisine. Grab a steak frites or a croque monsieur. Order a Sasarac to start and you might have to be wheeled out. (Wallet impact with drinks: collartug / Wallet impact without drinks: c’est bien)

5) Mana Food Bar: My favorite vegetarian place in town. If you walk out of here eating more than you intended, no one would blame you. Try the veggie sliders and the bi bim bop. It’s Asian-inflected vegetarian small plates of offer–but it’s impossible not to over-order. Good local beers and some weird teas (if you’re into that sort of thing). (Wallet impact with drinks: pricey / wallet impact without drinks: meh, not bad)

6) Nightwood: In the way eastern tip of Pilsen, this place starts you off right with warm biscuits and butter. Try a jalapeno popper before you get into the main courses. The pastas are okay, but if you’re “FOR REAL” then go with the Chicken or the Spit Roasted Indiana Duck. (Wallet impact with drinks: collartug / wallet impact without drinks: still, uh, pretty much a collartug).

(And remember that loans enter repayment six months after graduation.)

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