Married dates are different - you’re no longer nervous about finding the perfect outfit to wear, or afraid of where things are going (unless you count being scared of stopping at that always-crowded supermarket on the way home). Your dinner companion can even tell you there’s something in your teeth without initiating a days-long text thread with your friends. In other words, going out to dinner with your spouse is pretty great.
But even if you already have a routine of favorite neighborhood restaurants and takeout options, you should still make the effort to try some new date-night spots. After all, you have nothing to lose. Unless they’re still mad at you for spoiling season three of The Wire. Which they should have seen by now anyway.
Galit in Lincoln Park has you covered no matter what kind of date night you’re having. The bright, airy space is nice enough for a special occasion (like a promotion, or if it’s the start of summer and one of you finally shaved). And if you ran out of things to say to each other three years ago, you can sit at the chef’s counter and watch the food get made instead of talking. Everything here is excellent, from the creamy hummuses to the light and crispy falafel to the spicy shakshuka. In fact, a meal here will probably give you something to talk about for at least a few weeks.
Both sets of in-laws visited on back-to-back weekends, your dog bit the neighbor, and your 23andMe results arrived in the mail today. In other words, it’s been a stressful week. The two of you need to spend some time in a nice, soothing atmosphere where you can eat delicious food with great service. Both can happen at Jeong, a Korean restaurant in West Town that’s perfect for a quiet and relaxing date night. You can do a seven-course tasting menu for $87, or go a la carte with options like tteokbokki with a quail egg and kalbi with confit turnips. But the food on the tasting menu is better, and besides, tandem tasting menus are way less awkward than a couple’s massage.
Date night used to mean getting dressed up and going somewhere fun and new. Now it’s getting a bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s and buying up their entire stock of Jingle Jangle before going home to watch Love It or List It. Both evenings are perfect in their own way, but if you want to recapture the former, head to Cabra. It’s a crowded Peruvian-inspired restaurant on the roof of The Hoxton hotel, from the same chef as Girl & the Goat. The menu is mainly small plates, and the best things here are the ceviches and chicharron del puerco, a delicious fried pork shank that only two people comfortable going home to a pair of stretchy pants should share.
You want to go somewhere that’s still fun and new, but more low-key than Cabra. Superkhana International in Logan Square is a good middle ground. It also has an upbeat atmosphere, but isn’t filled with people going out in the West Loop. This place does great fusion-y takes on Indian food, so you’ll find dishes like a butter-chicken-filled calzone, french fry Manchurian, and a naan pizza made with mozzarella, spinach, and garam masala. Plus, there’s a cute courtyard that’s ideal for date night outside.
You know spending time together is important, but just because you’re married doesn’t mean you have to participate in archaic social constructs like “date night” where you go out “together” and both order food from the “same restaurant.” Your souls are joined spiritually, but your heart wants pasta and your partner longs for an arepa. Let your eyes wander at Fulton Galley, a food hall in the West Loop with five food stalls and a full bar. Order what you please - Italianette for cacio e pepe and Fairview for rotisserie - and get a glass of wine.
This upscale cocktail bar in the West Loop is from the owners of Oriole, and it’s a great alternative when you want the same kind of fancy experience as Oriole but your extra cash is going toward your kid’s dance lessons. This place has great cocktails and food, including the can’t-miss gyudon and the pork belly steam buns, and most of the bites are around $10. As soon as your kid becomes a successful backup dancer for Taylor Swift, go to Kikko, the $130 tasting menu spot downstairs.
Remember when you two would ride to the farmer’s market on a tandem bicycle, pick out whatever looked good, head home, open a bottle of wine, and make dinner together? Wait, that might have been a Nancy Meyers movie, not your marriage. But in case that sounds appealing, have dinner at Lost Larson in Andersonville. It’s a cute bakery by day and a restaurant by night, with a menu focused on seasonal ingredients that will make you feel like you’re eating your way through a friend’s garden. As a bonus, you can enjoy dinner in a space that’s small but still manages to be charming, i.e., not your cluttered apartment that’s decorated with all the mail you refuse to open.
Bayan Ko is a fantastic SCRPRTCUWAFF (Super Cute, Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends) in Ravenswood. But this relaxed BYOB Filipino and Cuban spot is also ideal for catching up with a partner you’ve only had time to say “hi” and “bye” to in the hallway all week. Bring a bottle of wine and share the croqueta tots, oxtail kare kare, and ropa vieja. By the time you leave you’ll remember why this person is your best friend.
Your marriage will inevitably encounter a period of time when one of you (perhaps after the holiday season or an alarming doctor’s appointment) cuts meat, dairy, or gluten out of your life - maybe even all three. And your vows said “for better or for worse,” so you need to know about Althea. It’s an upscale vegan spot on the seventh floor of Saks Fifth Avenue with creative and delicious food, like kung pao cauliflower and “cacio e pepe” made with kelp noodles and cashew cheese sauce. As long as you don’t sit in the front of the restaurant, you’ll have a great view of Michigan Avenue instead of a rack of pullovers. Although you could always use this dinner as an excuse to shop with that 15% off coupon in your email.
It’s no longer necessary to impress your spouse by spending a lot of money. In fact, you’re more likely to score points going somewhere affordable so you can finally buy that fancy-ass sideboard from West Elm. The Momo World, a counter-service restaurant in University Village, can make your furniture dreams possible. The focus here is on momos (Nepali dumplings), but everything else is delicious too, and mostly under $10. Plus, unless you’re a 17th-century royal couple with separate living quarters, you won’t have to argue about who gets to take home the leftovers.
You have exactly two and a half hours before you need to relieve the babysitter. Go to Coda Di Volpe in Lakeview - not only is the Italian food very good, but this spot is in a family-friendly neighborhood where everyone will understand why you’re constantly looking at your phone and inhaling pizza like you have a curfew. You can sit at a table in the dining room, or just hang out at the bar for drinks and one of their excellent Neapolitan pies.
Now you have the freedom to go to Bavette’s and do it right - by going heavy on the appetizers (like the steak tartare and shrimp de jonghe) and getting a non-steak entree, like the prime rib sandwich. The atmosphere here is plenty fancy, with low light and big, comfy booths, so you truly don’t need that $68 filet anyway. Doing Bavette’s this way is more interesting, just as delicious, and way less expensive.
Parachute is a neighborhood spot serving always-excellent Korean/American food. It’s great for a weeknight dinner that’s a step above casual, but it also works well for a weekend date. Get a full order of the Baked Potato Bing Bread with some extra sour cream butter - because by now you know that marriage is less about trying to share everything, and more about admitting you want your own damn butter.
This cool Pilsen spot is a good place to go and pretend you met at a college party, instead of hunting Pikachus during your (brief) Pokemon Go phase. It’s hard to definitively classify the food, which is inspired by lots of different traditions (with a lot of Asian elements in particular), but everything is really good. You can expect things like cornbread madeleines, foie gras bibimbap, and fried chicken with a fermented hot sauce. Plus, there might be a Pikachu there. Only one way to find out.
Skip the crowded West Loop spots on Randolph and Fulton and hit up this wine bar instead. It’s on a side street in the basement of a building, and it’s rarely crowded. Even when it is, it still feels low-key - full of the type of people who’d rather hang out in a chill wine bar than deal with the Restaurant Row busy-ness. In addition to an extensive wine and cocktail menu, they have a great charcuterie and cheese selection, as well as dishes like duck breast and lamb meatballs.
Since Marisol is located in the MCA, you can combine a trip here with a trip to the museum. But if one of you no longer needs to pretend to like modern art now that you’re stuck together forever, it’s perfectly understandable to come here only for the fantastic food. The nicely composed dishes - like the sunflower hummus or the poached shrimp - are pretty enough to basically count as art anyway.
You know what place would be great for a married date? Au Cheval - except for the fact that two people who are really good at arguing with each other shouldn’t wait three hours to eat. The risk of hanger is too great. Go to the Loyalist instead. Not only do they have an amazing burger (made with ground beef and bacon), but they also accept reservations. Plus, it’s a bar in the basement of fine-dining restaurant Smyth, which gives it the same kind of private atmosphere as Au Cheval.
You spend many hours per week talking incessantly about the mundane details of daily life. So take a break from discussing your car insurance like those deranged couples you see in commercials, and go to Mi Tocaya, where the friendly service, lively environment, and great Mexican food make it easy to forget about all that stuff. Try to come during the summer when the patio is open, and stay out there with margaritas for as long as possible until you have to go back to your real lives.
Just because you’ve been together for a while doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate a casual, romantic night. This is where Piccolo Sogno comes in. Their back patio is full of trees and twinkly lights, and the noise level is quiet enough that it feels intimate - but not so quiet that you can hear the couple next to you arguing over which wine to get. Get at least one pasta (like the pappardelle) and one of the seafood entrees, plus a bottle of wine (which you won’t argue over because yours is a love that’s good and true).
After a mutually agreed upon movie in Logan Square (anything with Chris Hemsworth and a spaceship is a good bet), go across the street to Owen & Engine. It’s a British-style gastropub that serves one of our favorite burgers in the city, along with pasties and very good fish and chips. It’s the perfect spot to discuss whether or not the film you just watched was worth spending $40.