The tradition of Restaurant Week began in New York in 1992 to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. People soon realized that discounting food was a great way to encourage new visitors, so this magical event quickly grew into a national phenomenon. Today, Restaurant Week is enjoyed in cities across the country, including Dallas, New Orleans, and Boston. Lucky for me, this year, Chicago's famed Restaurant Week happened to fall on my (also very special) birthday weekend. 

Naturally, I called in reinforcements. With my foodie mom by my side, I felt prepared to take on all that Chicago's Restaurant Week had to offer. But let me tell you, nothing could have prepared me for this.

First Stop: Hub51

Mia Hirsch

Admittedly, I'm not a native Chicagoan, so to find this gem I consulted my fellow Spoonies. Hub51 was one place that stood out to me, and it was conveniently located pretty close to my hotel. I deemed this place as the perfect place to start my day. And, let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

Okay, I'll admit it. This was the one restaurant we visited that didn't feature a set Restaurant Week tasting menu, but that just meant we were free to chew through Hub51's full selection. Obviously, we started with the famous breakfast nachos. Topped with scrambled eggs, heaps of guac, salsa and cheddar cheese, this dish is the perfect hangover cure.

Speaking of morning-after cures, Hub51 has you covered with a set of creative cocktails. The Bloody Mary is a tried-and-true classic, but Hub's Cereal Milk gin-based drink topped with cocoa puffs and almond milk is showstopper. 

For my main course, I went modest with the Brussels Sprout Salad with shrimp. The blanched Brussel sprouts in this dish paired nicely with the crunch of almonds and the sweetness of dates. However, the real star of the table was my friend's Avocado Toast (pictured above), topped with poached eggs and radishes.

Onto the Next: Pierrot Gourmet

After braving the elements walking up Michigan Avenue, my mom and I found ourselves at a French-inspired coffee shop nestled beside the Peninsula Hotel. Pierrot Gourmet offered a warm, calming atmosphere to take a break, and I thoroughly enjoyed my almond milk latte.

If we hadn't been mentally preparing for our food-filled night ahead, we surely would have taken part in Pierrot's own Restaurant Week tasting menu, offering classics like French Onion Soup and treating guests to any dessert in their extensive display case. To those massive macaroons: I will come back for you.

The Finale: Sepia

The grand finale of my birthday celebration was dinner at the aptly-named restaurant Sepia, located inside a nineteenth century print shop in the West Loop. Dim lighting cast shadows across exposed brick walls, which makes visitors feel as though they just walked into a sepia-filtered photograph. With a Michelin Star and Michelle Obama's approval, I had high hopes going into this magical dinner.

Mia Hirsch

My mom and I resolved to try everything on the menu, and for $44 each, this was a major bargain. Satisfied with our first course dishes, but not yet impressed, we moved on to the "Extra Course". For the "Extra Course," we chose to substitute one of the pasta dishes with the entrée falafel dish. The ricotta cavatelli was my favorite, with crispy venison ragu and perfectly-cooked spiraled pasta. Even the savory cornmeal-encrusted trout and mouth-watering beer braised beef shoulder couldn't compete with that ricotta cavatelli. 

Afterwards, my mom and I were both so glad that we chose to participate in the tasting menu for Restaurant Week, because we probably wouldn't have ordered the pasta under normal circumstances. Tasting menus are an awesome way to try dishes that you might not normally consider, and they are miraculously discounted during Restaurant Week. #Score.

Wait, I'm Not Done Yet.

Mia Hirsch

Oh, you thought it was over? No birthday weekend is complete without a final brunch, the most important meal of the day. Where better to close out the festivities than at Chicago's most Instagrammable spot: The Hampton Social. This nautical space is accented by the famous neon pink "Rosé All Day" sign, hanging above diners as a constant reminder of its motto. 

Mia Hirsch

Though we didn't partake in a glass of bubbly, we did get to experience THS's bomb Restaurant Week tasting menu. Yet another unexpected surprise of the weekend: Zucchini Chips and Tzatziki. The crunch of the breading mixed with the sour tzatziki sauce and zucchini was a match made in brunch heaven. An added bonus? THS hosts live acoustic performances daily.

Overall, Chicago Restaurant Week was a whirlwind experience with loads of great food. It was the perfect way for a foodie like me to celebrate my birthday on a budget. Turns out you don't need the 'rents to come in to pay for a nice meal outside your dining hall (but it's pretty nice when they do).