Some things in life are worth splurging on. Thing like prime beef, old whiskey and rare beer. Others, like cheap tacos, cocktail specials and PBR, are all about the thrill of saving a few bucks. Whether you're looking to drop some serious dough or cut back on your dining budget, here are high- and low-end eating options that will satisfy any financial situation.
High-End: Takito Kitchen has a wide variety of elevated tacos, from crispy fish on a hibiscus tortilla to lamb chorizo with Brunkow cheese, but the latest taco tips the scale at $20. The Wagyu steak taco wraps grilled meat, foie gras, truffled mushrooms, Parmesan, Urban Till arugula and smoked cayenne in a black garlic tortilla.
Low-End: There is no shortage of $2 tacos, from old favorites in Pilsen to the endless vendors at Maxwell Street Market. But for our money, it’s L’Patron. The bright-green Mexican restaurant offers a nice selection, from flavorful al pastor to tender lengua as well as traditional carne asada and poblano rajas.
High-End: Oh yes, we did indeed find a $250 hot dog. Only in Chicago - or, more specifically, only at the Chubby Wieners. "The Capitalist Pig" is a quarter-pound wiener served Chicago-style (that’s with mustard, sweet pickle relish, onion, tomato, a dill pickle spear, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt). It also comes with a side of Johnny Walker Blue.
Low-End: It’s late, we’re hangry (that’s hungry to the point of being angry) and we only have $3 and change in our pocket. The solution is a hot dog from Red Hot Ranch. For $3.18, enjoy a Chicago-style Vienna beef hot dog, covered with a mountain of hand-cut fries.
High-End: There’s a world-renowned butcher by the name of Pat LaFrieda. His prized beef graces menus around New York City and acts as the base of many over-the-top burgers. Here in Chicago, only one burger joint boasts the Rolls-Royce of beef. That’s the Bad Apple, and the best of the best is its 45-day dry-aged prime-rib Wagyu beef with 70 to 30 meat to fat ratio, but it's only served on “Wagyu Wednesdays.” It costs $26 and comes with rotating toppings that highlight the beef’s buttery taste. Think five-year-aged cheddar one week and Danish blue cheese the next.
Low-End: This simple burger at Phil's Last Stand, which specializes in shrimp po’ boys and hot dogs, is one of the finest. The Single Fatso - aka a single char burger with "Fatso sauce," lettuce and tomato - will run you exactly $4.
High-End: Dry-aged beef is a beautiful thing, with rich flavor and unforgettably tender texture with ribbons of fat. If prepared well, with a charred exterior and perfectly rare interior, it can be one of life’s most delicious pleasures. At RPM Italian, the dry-aged porterhouse comes Tuscan-style. The Bistecca Fiorentina is sliced for two to four people for $118. If this is what they can do at their Italian restaurant, then just imagine the prime and pricey cuts of meat that will be served at coming-soon RPM Steak.
Low-End: Sure, you can get a $114 dry-aged, double-cut porterhouse. Or you can get a $22 skirt steak that comes with a side of sautéed onions at Chicago Cut. It’s a noticeably different cut of meat without the rich flavor and texture of the dry-aged cuts. However, if you are just looking for a beef fix, this will do the trick.
High-End: And you thought we were going to say Alinea. This tasting menu blows those gastronomical geniuses out of the water (at least in terms of price and parings). The Ultimate Van Winkle Tasting Menu at The Glunz Tavern features six courses of premium ingredients, from jamón Iberico to heritage rib-eye, with a progression of Pappy Van Winkle pairings for $445.
Low-End: Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. Lula Cafe’s long-running Monday night Farm menu features three courses of fresh fare for $38. The menu changes weekly according to ingredient seasonality.
High-End: Ten courses of rare and expensive beers for $105 is the new “Craft Beer Experience” at iNG. In addition to the selection of exceptional brews, chef Tim Havidic created a menu of beer-centric dishes, including a sour ale foam and cheese with black pepper cracker course, along with crab with coconut and lager, plus a lamb cured in coffee and braised in porter with brown butter. It’s the ultimate meal for any beer lover. In addition to the 10-course tasting, the restaurant also serves a six-course menu for $85 and a three-course for $50 starting March 4.
Low-End: On the opposite side of the spectrum is Chicago’s favorite cheap beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon. Table, Donkey and Stick serves the iconic cans for 50¢ a pop on Mondays.
High-End: Sometimes, really expensive cocktails are served in really unexpected places. Twisted Spoke - that west-side biker bar - serves a $125 Manhattan. It's made with a choice of Jim Beam 18, 20 or 2013 Distillers Masterpiece, maraschino liqueur, St. George Absinthe, housemade aromatic vanilla barrel-aged bitters and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth. The cocktail is neither shaken nor stirred; instead, it is spun in stainless ice for 5 to 10 minutes until it is perfectly chilled and undiluted.
Low-End: Get the same classic cocktail, with much fewer premium ingredients, for $5 at Headquarters. Every Thursday, the arcade bar serves a selection of classics for a five note, including a Manhattan, old fashioned, whiskey sour and Aviation.