Chicago Restaurant Week 2012: A Guide to Some of Chicago's Top Picks.

Chicago Restaurant Week 2012: A Guide to Some of Chicago's Top Picks.
Interior GT Fish & Oysterphoto credit: Jeff Khauck, Anthony Tahlier & Eric Kleinberg.

Ten Days and 256 Restaurants.
Thursday, February 16, 2012. It's crunch time with the highly anticipated fifth annual Chicago Restaurant Week kicking off tomorrow through February 26. A record number of 256 of Chicago's top restaurants will participate in this years' event that features prix fixe menus starting at $22 for lunch and $33/$44 for dinner, excluding beverages, tax, and gratuity.

Among the impressive list of restaurants participating are five spots with prestigious Five-Diamond awards from the AAA for 2012; 22 Michelin award-winning restaurants and 56 Bib Gourmand winners for 2012. Where to go, what to eat, too many choices and not enough time are common concerns--but whatever you do don't wait until next year.

Show Me Chicago has put together a plan to help you navigate the process. Also, the Chicago Restaurant Week website, produced by the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, has an easy to use website. What do you want--Vietnamese, Brazilian, sushi, African, Italian, vegetarian or something else-- just click on your favorite cuisine. Or click on a location from city neighborhoods to the suburbs to see what's available near you. For example, if you click on all cuisines, then Ukrainian Village, Mexique and The Red Canary pop up along with hours, descriptions, chefs, address plus ability to map it.  Or select any restaurant by name.

Still not sure where to go, here are some of SMC's favorites plus some of the restaurants that are new this year. But hurry, as many of these already have limited availability...and remember that if you want to go to a particular spot you may have to be flexible.

Some of the exciting newcomers to Chicago Restaurant Week include the highly touted: Bar Toma, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, NoMI Kitchen, Paris Club, and Table Fifty-Two.  You really can't go wrong with any of these.

Here is where SMC will be eating this week.

1. GT Fish & Oyster.

GT Fish & Oyster which opened in March 2011 has all the right stuff, especially if you are a seafood lover. With oyster in their name you can expect the best oysters available with a rotating mix of East and West Coast varieties. Chicago's hot restaurant duo of Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of BOKA RESTAURANT GROUP along with their award winning Chef Giuseppe Tentori (Michelin starred, and Food and Wines Best New Chef 2008; and CS Magazine’s “Chef of the Year” 2011) are to be congratulated for this top spot which also is a 2012 Michelin Bib Gourmand winner.  In addition to the food, they offer a large selection of original cocktails and on-the- rocks spirits with hand carved "rocks".  Ask about the frozen peaches cocktail and be ready for an unusual story. 531 N Wells St.

2. Frontera Grill.

Rick Bayless, a Chicago treasure, serves up a taste mixed with a passion for Mexican cuisine in his casual Frontera Grill that celebrates its 25th year in Chicago this year-- and is still going strong. Most everything is fresh, original and seasonal.  This Michelin Bib Gourmand winner is a perfect choice for Restaurant Week or anytime.  445 N. Clark St. (312) 661-1434.

3. Joe's Stone Crab.

Expect great food and great atmosphere at this Chicago sibling to Miami's original Joe's Stone Crab.  Top picks include their amazing stone crab claws, along with a large selection of other seafood and prime steaks.  Don't forget to save room their famous key lime pie. 60 E. Grand.

4. Mercadito Chicago.

Mercadito offers an upbeat and original take on Mexican cuisine and modern taquerias under the direction of their award-winning Chef Patricio Sandoval.  108 W Kinzie Street.

5. Keefer's.

While Chicago seemingly has an unlimited number of steakhouses from which to choose, Keefer's does it right. Named "Best of Chicago for Steak" by The Food Network, the space is welcoming with bistro-styled booths and an upscale vibe along with upscale prices--making the discounted restaurant week prices an especially good deal. Not a steak lover--not to worry, Chef John Hogan is famous for his Dover Sole and fish purchased directly from day boat fisherman in Portland Maine including live lobster.  20 W. Kinzie St.  (312) 467-9525.

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