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 you’re in trouble for erasing the entire contents of the DVR. In which case, you’d really better choose the right place. (We know most of those shows were two years old, but now probably isn’t the time to mention that.)
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.
There’s no longer any pressure to impress each other by spending a lot of money. This gives you 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.
You married your best friend, and you still really like spending time together. So much so, in fact, that you want to keep hanging out after dinner. Go to Dusek’s in Pilsen. You can start your night out with a meal there (order the harissa mussels), then head to the downstairs bar, Punch House, for cocktails. If you didn’t already get something sweet upstairs, Punch House has a small menu available that includes desserts from Dusek’s.
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.
If you haven’t bought tickets for Alinea by the time you read this, it’s probably safe to say that you’re not going for your anniversary this year, either. But that’s OK, because there’s Roister, the more casual spot from the same team. The food here is very, very good, and it’s the kind of place you can go for just a regular date night. Sit at the chef’s counter, share the roasted and fried chicken, and watch them cook over the open hearth. Get the foie gras candy bar for dessert - it might not be an edible balloon like they have at Alinea, but the good news is you won’t need instructions on how to eat it. You bonded enough over putting together that Ikea bookshelf anyway.
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.