Creative, Inexpensive Valentine's Day Dining Ideas

Two-person eating adventures for V-Day and beyond

Rather go for pierogi than a prix fixe? Prefer dim sum to a degustation? Then consider these creative (and relatively cheap) date ideas–our fix for the humdrum V-Day routine:

Get Buzzed Start with La Farine pastries and MadCap coffee (from Grand Rapids, MI) at the new Wicker Park java spot Buzz: Killer Espresso, where baristas are trained in latte art. On Feb. 14, lattes will be embellished with steamed-milk hearts and sold at two-for-one prices ($3.25 for two). 1644 N. Damen Ave.; 773-366-8377

Shake Date Go to Edzo's for lunch, a new Evanston burger joint with an old soul: freshly ground beef, griddled patties, hand-cut fries and a vintage milkshake machine. Split a Nutella shake ($4), and ask owner Eddie Lakin to serve it in the old-fashioned tin mixing cup, with two straws. 1571 Sherman Ave., Evanston; 847-864-3396

Dragons, Not Hearts Watch the Chinese Lunar New Year parade, then head to Lao Sze Chuan for empress crab with fresh chile: a whole crab bathed in a riotous sauce of ginger, scallions and ground pork (market price). Also made for sharing: the hot pots at Mandarin Kitchen, which bubble away on tables covered with fresh, dunk-ready materials. Request both broths–one with aromatic spices, the other dark red with chile ($16 per person, plus add-ins). Lao Sze Chuan, 2172 S. Archer Ave., 312-326-5040; Mandarin Kitchen, 2143 S. Archer Ave., 312-328-0228

Hit the Bar Split a dozen oysters ($25) and an overflowing New England-style lobster roll ($19) at the bustling, retro Oyster Bar at Shaw's. End with key lime or raspberry pie, or a sundae: scoops of peppermint ice cream, slick with hot fudge sauce–and two spoons. 21 E. Hubbard St.; 312-527-2722