Chicago Restaurant Week, which ran this year from Jan. 19 - Feb. 4, 2024 and featured over 400 restaurants, is an annual 17-day extravaganza celebrating the amazing and award-winning culinary scene of Chicago. With prix-fixe menus from $25-$59, this event is any college student’s dream, the food obsessed ones, at least! Join me in my recap of some of the award-winning and up-and-coming restaurants Chicagoland has to offer.

Geja’s Cafe

340 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

Annie Fingersh

The Lincoln Park classic, Geja’s Cafe, is bathed in a warm orange glow and features the melody of flamenco guitar which permeates the quiet and cozy space. The perfect spot for a date night or special occasion, the romantic atmosphere is made even more intimate by the interactive aspect of the dining experience. The food at Geja’s is nothing revolutionary, but the experience is definitely worth the admittedly hefty cost. Most diners choose the Premier Fondue Dinners, typically priced from $49-$84 but discounted during Restaurant Week to $42 or $59, which include three courses of fondue with various accouterments.

The first course was a gruyere and white wine fondue served with chunks of bread and vegetables. This fondue was quite wine-y but had a lovely smooth texture and when paired with the provided grapes was quite delicious. For the second course, you select a combination of proteins and veggies which you then cook in hot oil and dip in homemade sauces. Some of my favorite combinations were the beef tenderloin paired with a horseradish sauce and the chicken breast with spicy giardiniera aioli. The last course was a milk and dark chocolate fondue which provided the best bite of the meal. The fondue was set aflame to roast marshmallows, which you then dip in the warm chocolate, resulting in an explosion of gooey marshmallow and rich, smooth chocolate. Despite the steep price, the generous portions and fun atmosphere, as well as the Restaurant Week discount, made Geja’s a worthwhile stop for a unique and exciting dinner.

avec River North 

141 W Erie St, Chicago, IL 60654

Annie Fingersh

The hip and airy yet cozy space of avec River North perfectly sets the tone for the innovative and fun dishes they serve. For their $59 Restaurant Week prix fixe menu, you definitely got your money’s worth with a delectable four-course meal!

The first course was a deliciously crusty hunk of homemade ciabatta bread served with a selection of rosemary marinated olives. The bread was warm and soft on the inside, and the olives were perfectly salty and infused with tons of flavor. For our second course, my dining partner and I decided to order something additional off the ala carte menu, not included in the prix fixe: their famed bacon-wrapped, chorizo stuffed dates. The chorizo provided the perfect kick of spice to the luxuriously sweet dates and crispy bacon, making for a great little bite. For the next course we were back to the prix fixe with, hands-down, the best salad I have ever had and the best bite of the meal. This salad hit all the tasting notes, and more, with its beautiful mixture of radicchio, clementines, olives, almonds, chili-crisp labneh, and a sour cherry vinaigrette. The composition of this salad was genius and I literally licked the plate clean. Next, we had a rigatoni pasta with eggplant conserva and goat cheese. The pasta quality was good, but otherwise, I was underwhelmed by this dish. The main dish was roasted chicken thighs with black beans and mint yogurt. Aside from the overwhelmingly salty skin, the chicken was tender and the yogurt added a nice hint of creaminess and a slight spiciness. The dessert course was a citrus semolina cake, which had a delightful crunchiness from the semolina flour, and was, in total, pretty tasty. Overall, the value and quality of this meal was impressive, and the radicchio salad will frequent my daydreams for the foreseeable future.

Big Jones 

5347 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

Annie Fingersh

As one of Andersonville’s famed restaurants, I was not overwhelmingly impressed by Big Jones. The biggest disappointment of this meal came early on; their online Restaurant Week menu touted a bayou omelet with crawfish, andouille sausage, and bernaise sauce, that was tragically not on the menu anymore. For $25, this three-course brunch menu had good value, but was overall underwhelming. We started off with cornbread muffins served with pimento cheese, sorghum butter and an assortment of pickles. The warm muffins paired with the sweet, nutty butter and a piece of pickled okra was definitely one of the best bites of the meal. For the second course, I chose the gumbo fat fried chicken with red beans and rice. The skin and crust of the chicken was deliciously infused with the flavors of gumbo, being slightly spicy and incredibly rich, but the chicken was a little dry which was pretty disappointing. However, the beans had a nice smokiness and pepperiness which I appreciated. For the dessert course, I chose the beignets, a classic southern dessert of fried dough, which were served with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce on top. I wish they had been straight out of the fryer like the ones typically found in New Orleans, and I was a little puzzled by the untraditional chocolate sauce on top. If you’re in the neighborhood looking for a southern restaurant, I’d recommend Big Jones, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here. If their Bayou omelet is on the Restaurant Week menu in years to come, though, I will definitely go back to try it.

Visiting these amazingly different but fun, creative and delicious restaurants during Restaurant Week was such a blast, and I had so much fun diving into the culinary scene of Chicagoland a little deeper. In the end, these meals will long be remembered, and I can’t wait to do it again next year!