Don't want to sacrifice dining out but still want to save a buck or two on the check? Some call it recessionist, we call it practical. Why not check out some of Chicago's best bar food menus? You'll still get to eat out at hot restaurants, but you'll be spending far less while sitting at the bar. How's that for a win-win?
Bin Wine Cafe, 1559 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-486-2233. This perpetually packed Wicker Park hangout offers the Food Bar, where you can watch chefs prepare globally inspired treats such as tempura-fried green beans with citrus aioli and wood-fired black mussels with harissa broth and orzo. Of course, you also get to enjoy Bin's lovingly selected wine list, as well.
Signature Lounge, 875 N. Michigan Ave., 312-787-9596. Got something special to celebrate but a little light on cash? Forgo the dining room and head to the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building where the Signature Lounge resides. You'll get the same awe-inspiring views without the prohibitive costs of the special-occasion Signature Room. The lounge menu features satisfying light bites like baked brie with apricot jam, pork potstickers and chilled seafood, plus sandwiches and desserts.
McCormick & Schmick's, Various locations. Long-renowned for its generous bar food menu, McCormick & Schmick's is a much-loved after-work destination. And for good reason: From 3:30PM until 6:30PM, most items on the happy hour menu are $1.95 (yes, you read that right). Choose from such favorites as a half-pound burger, steamed mussels in white wine and oyster shooters. Even more dishes, like mahi-mahi cakes and blackened fish tacos, are available for $3.95.
Quartino, 626 N. State St., 312-698-5000. Select from this restaurant and wine bar's Salumeria menu, which offers salumi (various meats, such as salami, prosciutto and bresaola, served with candied mustard fruit, giardiniera and sweet-and-sour cucumbers), a wide variety of cheeses (accompanied by grape and fennel salads and apricot-rosemary puree), olives and small dishes (including calamari salad, roasted beets and eggplant salad). Pair your picks with Quartino's carafes of wine, and you just might be there a while.
Pops for Champagne, 601 N. State St., 312-266-7677. Executive chef Andrew Brochu recently introduced Pops' new bubbly-friendly bar snacks menu, which features asparagus tempura with sesame puree, frites with garlic aioli and celery salt, and marinated olives with orange, garlic and chiles.