The Best Chicago Restaurants For An Affordable Date
Where to take a date for an affordable meal.
You don’t always want to spend a lot of money on a date. If it’s early on, you don’t always know how it's going to go. After all, you could wind up having wildly different opinions on the Supreme Court or the best Ninja Turtle, so probably don’t take them to Oriole. And if you’re saving up for a couple’s vacation to Maui, you’re probably not trying to spend a ton of money on a 40-course omakase.
But just because you don’t feel like dropping half of your paycheck on a meal doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat together. Here are the best date spots where you can get dinner for two for under $50.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
5 Rabanitos is a casual Mexican restaurant in Pilsen with a long menu full of great food. And it’s so affordable that you won’t have to choose between the pibil tacos ($3.75), tinga huarache ($10.50), and the ahogada torta ($12.75). That goes for the desserts too. So if you and your date are going back and forth between the equally excellent tres leches cake and cinnamon bread pudding, you can go wild and get both for $14.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Wazwan is a casual BYOB spot in Wicker Park serving delicious South and Southeast Asian street food. And while the dark, narrow space loaded with barstools feels more like it should be hosting ‘80s trivia nights, the only alcohol here will be what you brought in your purse. Order delicate Nihari momos that are beautifully wrapped packages of beefy love, rich and savory mushroom korma, and a chettinad masala that has the perfect amount of heat and unbelievably tender pieces of chicken. Then hang out to finish that six-pack.
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photo credit: Christina Slaton
Spacca Napoli is a casual Neapolitan pizzeria in Ravenswood where you can split one of the best pizzas in the city for around $16. It’s also a neighborhood hangout for families, which makes it a good choice for a low-pressure, early-in-the-game date. And it offers value in more than one way—can you put a price on the joy of watching someone discover their new favorite pizza? We don’t think so.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Not only does this New Orleans-inspired spot have the best po’boys we’ve encountered in Chicago, but it’s also a blast. The spacious counter-service restaurant has a full bar, live music, and makes boozy hurricanes that aren’t too sweet. Along with the aforementioned po’boys (like fried shrimp, fried green tomato, and a peacemaker–fried oyster and roast beef) the menu has other classics. Like boudin balls and a rich seafood gumbo that had a great amount of heat. The space is large and busy, so don't come here planning on having a quiet, intimate date night. But you can count on it being fun, delicious, and affordable.
Tango Sur in Lakeview isn’t just one of the best steakhouses in Chicago, it’s the only one where you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Most steaks here are under $30, plus it’s BYOB. And Bodega Sur (their sister restaurant right next door) has a wine shop. That way you can impress your date with your knowledge of Argentine malbecs. But first, you should probably Google Argentine malbecs.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
This casual sit-down spot stands out not just because Khmai is one of only two Cambodian restaurants in the city (Hermosa being the other), but because the fantastic food is also affordable. Almost everything on the menu is under $20, and from starters like lemongrass beef skewers to entrees like somlar machu kreoung, every dish is packed with exciting flavors. It's all delicious, and when combined with their friendly staff and relaxing atmosphere, Khmai is perfect for a low-key date.
Middle Brow Bungalow
Middle Brow Bungalow in Logan Square is a brew pub where you can split an excellent pizza for under $20. Plus you’re in a bright space filled with tastefully refurbished furniture, instead of a huge building surrounded by vats of beer and the smell of spent grain. In other words, it’s more romantic than going to Revolution for a brewery tour.
Most of the Asian-inspired dishes at Mott St. in Wicker Park are meant to be shared, like the fire chicken with rice cakes ($24) and the everything wings ($18). And you should definitely order the burger if you can snag a seat at the bar—which is the only place you can get it after 7pm. But on second thought, you probably won’t want to share it, no matter how much you like your date.
photo credit: Jack Li
Jibek Jolu is one of the only Kyrgyz restaurants in the city, and this cute Lincoln Square spot with a small yurt-like interior has great Central Asian food. Every dumpling on the menu is delicious, and lentrees like like chewy lagman noodles have large portions, and are all around $20. Plus, it's BYOB.
Affordability is our 16th favorite thing about Bayan Ko, a small Filipino-Cuban restaurant in Ravenswood. There’s also the friendly laid-back staff, great food (like croqueta tots or oxtail kare kare), and the BYOB policy. Plus not being pricey means that we could take five different dates here a week if we weren’t afraid of the sitcom hijinks that would happen if we mixed up the nights.
Superkhana is a good place if you and your date are feeling stressed out about money. It’s an Indian-inspired restaurant in Logan Square with fun small plates (like mushroom masala fry and chopped cheese bao) and an oddly relaxing bathroom that plays “Waterfalls” by TLC on repeat. Plus, all of the best food here is between $10-$20. That means you can order more dhokla and not argue about whether buying that $2800 exercise bike was bad idea.
Sure, it would be impressive (and a little creepy) to pull out plane tickets to Paris for a third date, but either way, you can only afford a flight to Green Bay. Go to Le Bouchon in Bucktown instead. It’s a charming French restaurant where dinner for two (with oysters, a Lyonnaise salad, and an excellent roast chicken) can easily be under $50. Plus on Mondays, wine bottles are half-off. After a couple of bottles of Chardonnay, you can ask them about their company’s vacation policy.
Etta is a restaurant in Wicker Park from the same people behind Maple & Ash, but instead of $120 filets and $180 seafood towers, you can get an excellent cacio e pepe for $20 and a sausage-giardiniera pizza for $23. If it ever gets serious, then you can go to their sister restaurant and spend $220 on caviar.
If the date is less a romantic evening, and more of an escape pod from your shared life of bills and random errands, try The Delta in Wicker Park. It’s a laid-back restaurant that serves Southern food like hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, and tamales, and most things are less than $15. Plus there’s a quiet, secluded back patio to help you forget that tomorrow you need to buy stamps.
90 Miles Cuban Cafe
There’s a lot to like about 90 Miles in Logan Square, including a large covered patio that makes it feel like summer even in the middle of February. The Cuban food (like lechón and ropa vieja) is very affordable, plus it’s BYOB and they have excellent sangria mixes. So if you bring a bottle of wine they can turn it into a pitcher of cocktails.
There are no bocce courts, second-floor balconies, or rooftop views at Garifuna Flava, a casual restaurant in Marquette Park. But it does have some really good, extremely affordable Belizean food—like a half jerk chicken with fried plantains for around $16. Plus, their tropical cocktails are strong enough to make even a boring date interesting.
Italian restaurants generally make for good date nights (just ask Lady and the Tramp, or Garfield and Arlene), which is why you should go to La Scarola in West Town. It’s an old-school, white-tablecloth Italian spot where entrees like chicken Vesuvio or risotto primavera are around $20, and large enough to feed two people. Hopefully your meal goes the way of Lady and the Tramp, but make room for leftovers in your fridge just in case.
You could probably spend a lot of money at Irazu in Bucktown, but it would take some effort. It’s BYOB, and full of Costa Rican dishes like pepito sandwiches ($9-$12) and empanadas (3 for $12), with the most expensive entree on the menu being a $22 surf and turf. But before you decide to buy a round of oatmeal shakes for everyone in the restaurant, you should know that it’s cash only.
Green Street Smoked Meats
Instead of taking your date somewhere expensive in the West Loop where you can show off your credit card limit, go to Green Street Smoked Meats—where you can impress them with how many pounds of brisket you can eat instead. It’s a first-come-first-served BBQ spot in a warehouse-like space if the warehouse were manufacturing twinkle lights and bathtubs filled with beer cans. If your date suggests splitting a Frito pie, you’ve probably found the one.