$25-and-under date ideas

By Nicole Schnitzler

Some occasions call for throwing budget to the wind, with vintage Champagne, reservations months in the making, and nine-course prix fixe menus. But more often than not, a great date night means quality time together over eats and drinks that are just as quality—and a check that you won’t be paying off on installments. Whether it’s BYO-accompanied noodles or tiki-inspired tipples, these seven spots are proof that finding romance and reality under the same roof is possible—if you plan accordingly.

It’s all about the pies and aperitivos at Pizzeria Via Stato
If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to mainstay Osteria Via Stato, head next door to its sister restaurant, a pizza joint that specializes in pies (averaging $14) and Italian small plates—think Caprese salad and veal meatballs. And if you’re not in the mood for wine, the cocktail list offers a complete selection of Italian variations on the classics.

It’s a first-class ticket to rum-loving paradise at Lost Lake
Take a break from Chicago’s blustery winter at this tiki venture from bartender Paul McGee, the same spirits savant behind Three Dots and a Dash and The Whistler. In between sips of rum, rhum agricole blanc, and Batavia arrack, ready your chopsticks for shrimp chips and eggrolls from Thank You (pictured), the bar’s neighboring fast-casual concept where nothing on the menu is over $10.

Mexican takes a modern turn at Antique Taco
You’re going to want to keep Instagram at the ready at this Wicker Park hangout, where husband-and-wife team Rick and Ashley Ortiz serve gussied up tacos in retro-Western environs. But it’s not all about looks—they pride themselves on using the freshest ingredients for their two-to-an-order tacos, which range from Slagel Farm cumin lamb with peppercorn yogurt ($9), to garlic shrimp with cauliflower elote ($8). That seasonality extends to their drinks, too, like with February’s orange clove margarita.

Wasabi—six packs and noodles never looked better
Noodles are the way to go at this Logan Square izakaya-meets-ramen shop. It makes sense; at Wasabi, they spend more than 45 hours on their tonkotsu broth, which makes its way into four different ramen offerings, all priced at $14 or under—and all BYO-ready.

Red meat and red wine run the show at Tango Sur
It may be loud, the space may be small, and the portion sizes border on colossal, but there’s still something undeniably romantic about this Argentine steakhouse—be it the chandeliers, candle-cast tables, or overflowing malbec. The low tabs, made possible in part by a BYO structure and cuts averaging $20, don’t hurt, either.

Settle into a sushi haven at Coast
This Bucktown staple caters to couples on the nightly with two spacious rooms of candlelit tables and two-top banquettes. Their BYO policy pacifies any steep table waits, and they’ll even bring you glasses to get started. Don’t miss the white dragon roll, complete with shrimp tempura, wasabi tobiko, cream cheese, scallion spicy sauce, and eel ($13).

Local love dominates at Honey Butter Fried Chicken
This Avondale restaurant excels at its namesake, thanks to its dedication to using sustainably raised chicken that comes direct from Indiana. You can sample it in a slew of ways here, from the $10 honey butter fried chicken nachos with pimento cheese, lime crema, corn pico de gallo, and candied jalapeños to the $8 OG fried chicken sandwich, a house favorite with candied jalapeño mayo, crunchy slaw, and fried chicken strips. Pair it up with their February cocktail, a blood orange old fashioned with Koval rye and house-cured cherries.

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