The Michelin Guide is well known as a foodie bible of sorts, and every restaurateur dreams of being awarded a legendary Michelin star. Since Chicago is only the third U.S. city to receive its own guide, Windy City restaurants awarded with even one star receive a large amount of media buzz. If you have any gourmand tendencies, those buzz-worthy restaurants can seem infinitely more alluring than the typical Friday night dining hall pizza — until you realize that crazy delicious-sounding prix fixe has a crazy $98 price tag to match. Too often, college students just give up on downtown dining because they assume they can’t afford it. Enter the Michelin Bib Gourmand list.
Defined by Michelin as “Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value,” these restaurants offer a Michelin-quality meal (two courses and a glass of wine or dessert) for $40 or less. That price still might seem a little steep, but considering these restaurants provide creative, delectable, skillfully presented dishes that rival some of their starred counterparts, they’re definitely worth it.
Many of the restaurants on the list, like the critically acclaimed establishment Avec, often have a younger, more relaxed environment that’s perfect for college students who want an excellent dining experience without the stuffiness.
At Avec, a young, hip-looking crowd dines at five communal tables, while energetic waiters in soccer polo shirts squeeze through the narrow area between the sleek, stainless-steel bar and the modern oak seating. Owned and operated by the same team behind its Michelin-starred next-door neighbor Blackbird, the restaurant has all the sophistication of fine dining, along with an air of upbeat spontaneity that permeates both its environment and its food. Avec’s small plates push the envelope with bold, creative flavors: try the rich chorizo-stuffed dates, which combine the luscious sweetness of medjool dates with the smoky spiciness of chorizo to dazzling effect.
Another great small plates restaurant option is The Purple Pig, located on the Magnificent Mile. It makes for a fantastic break after a long day downtown when another meal from the closest tourist trap just won’t cut it.
Dedicated to providing the best of “cheese, wine, and swine,” the restaurant offers a more adventurous alternative to bar food. Pork is featured prominently on the menu, in the form of creative Mediterranean-inspired dishes like pig’s ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers and fried egg, and an incredibly decadent pork liver plate that tastes similar to a mild foie gras.
Although small plate-focused restaurants dominate the Bib Gourmand list, a variety of different dining options make appearances, from Neapolitan pizza at Spacca Napoli to Japanese noodles at The Slurping Turtle.
If you wake up on Saturday morning and find that cereal just won’t do, the Bib Gourmand list has you covered with trendy breakfast options like Jam in Logan Square. This chic restaurant takes the well-worn concept of brunch and brings a gourmet, almost experimental spin on it with exciting dishes like malted custard French toast with macerated cherries, lime leaf cream and pink peppercorns.
Ultimately, the Bib Gourmand list can eliminate hours of poring through Urbanspoon and Yelp for those elusive five-star-but-two-dollar-sign finds. It’s an essential guide for college students who want to truly experience the dynamic, diverse dining options Chicago has to offer without breaking the bank. So next Friday night, don’t settle for the dining hall. Browse the list on Michelin’s website, pick a restaurant that sounds intriguing and head downtown for a high-class culinary adventure on a college student budget.