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Best value food in chicago

I'm trying to compile of list of the BEST VALUE FOOD in chicago. Good value food can be any kind of food and can fall into any price category so long as we believe we are getting something very good for the amount of money we're spending. Think about it this way: quality (or even quantity) expectations exceeded at the given price.

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  1. At the low-cost end, I think Paradise Pup in Des Plaines delivers an incredible value. Their $3-ish burgers are every bit as good as the $10-$14 burgers at fancy Chicago restaurants. People line up out the door no matter how bad the weather is.

    At the other extreme, Le Francais in Wheeling is a real bragain when it comes to 4-star dining. An appetizer, entree and dessert goes for $61. The entrees are also quite large compared to other similar venues. Three courses leaves me stuffed at Le Francais; but I've still been hunngry after six or even 10 courses elsewhere. Another high-end value is lunch at Topolobampo. Entrees are much less expensive than at dinner and it is much easier to get a reservation for lunch. Entrees are in the mid- to high-teens--not cheap--but given the superb quality of the ingredients (lots of artisinal/organic stuff) it is a good value.

    Back to burgers, the $12 cheeseburger and fries (lunch only) at otherwise-pricey Naha is a great deal. That's only $1 more than what you'd pay for one of their small (but delicious) desserts. Angus beef, high-end cheese choices, Red Hen Bakery bun (I think) and killer fries.

    1. Downtown option:
      Quartino on State and Ontario downtown is the best value italian "small plates." Small plate apps are quite large from $2-$4 and "entres" run between $6-$12. Their wine list is accommodating as well. When the bill comes you'll feel like it can't possibly be right for the amount you ordered. It's a great place where you can order as much as you feel like...go crazy...and not stress about the bill.

      1. I'm a big fan of the Pepper Canister around 500 N. Wells. Its a bar, so it can get smoky and busy on weekends, but they have a very unique selection of very well made bar food, a strong Irish slant as you might imagine, but also great burgers, and some unexpected options like spicy claimari and lemon chicken. Just about everything is $10 or less. Plus, excellent beer on tap and good service.

        I'm not too familiar with them, but I have heard that there are some great cheap Thai places in town, mostly outside of the city center. In fact, other ethnic neighborhoods like Devon St., China Town, or Greek Town might be interesting options. Lots of threads on those.

        1. Big Buns and Pita in Rogers Park serves incredibly tasty Assyrian food in a totally downscale (but very clean) environment. 4 people can get stuffed for $30 with food left over. They have a great Lunch special for $3.99 that includes lentil soup, salad, rice and choice of Shwarima or Chicken or Kefta kebab. Vegetarians should check out the Medames plate for $4.50 (Fava beans, grilled onions and tomatoes with a tahini sauce, including rice and salad). They also make some of the best falafels I have ever had. The most expensive items on the menu are two different Lamb Shank dinners for $9.95 including soup, salad, rice and pickled vegetables. Plus, they usually throw in a free order of hummus. Besides, how can you resist that name? (they deliver too)

          Big Buns and Pita
          6649 N. Clark St.
          Rogers Park
          773-262-2000

          1. The Red Apple (3123 N Milwaukee and 6474 N Milwaukee) offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of homestyle Polish cooking; price depends on weekday, weekend, noon, or night but is never more than $8. Vast variety of freshly cooked food, constantly replaced by nice Polish kitchen ladies. Arguably the best meal value in Chicago.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Querencia

              Red Apple is a poorman's heaven. Roasts and hams. Chicken and fish. And the side dishes are so delicious that I know vegatarians who frequent this wonderful place.

              As my friend said when he first saw the amazing all-you-can-eat buffet, "Uh oh . . . I'm a dead man."

            2. Having recently re-discovered the Oasis Cafe after several years, and having had two meals there in the last two weeks, I'd have to say it's a wonderful bargain. I first had a falafel sandwich - didn't notice the price, but it was a great sandwich - head and shoulders above others I've had. I'm sure it was in the $4 or $5 range. On Monday I had their bisteeya, which they call "pastille." It turned out to be a whole combo plate of Egyptian food: fool madamas, hummous, 2 big falafel, salad, a piece of hot pita, and the bisteeya, which was filled with veggies and chicken, all for under $7. It was all very tatsty - and there was so much of it I made it into two lunches.

              Another favorite bargain is the lunch at Ginza Fish, where you order one from column "A," and one from column "B." Recently I had the grilled mackerel (column "A") and the sashimi salad (column "B"). Simple and delicious, and it cost either $7.95 or $8.95 - can never remember which, but a bargain at either price

              1. thanks for all of your responses, most of these are new to me. i have a few to add as well. there are a couple places in 'vietnam town' on argyle st. (5000 N) between sheridan and broadway (only 2 blocks). I think Pho 777 (S. side) has the best Pho on the strip, but there are several other options all in the same price range - under $6 for a huge bowl of beefy, noodle soup with all kinds of goodies like tripe, tendon, etc. Tank Noodle on the corner has a very long, cheap menu of other vietnamese dishes and is probably the best place to go for a wide sampling. On the North side of the street just W. of Pho 777, there is a chineese BBQ place that is excellent and very cheap (under $6 for BBQ with rice). Finally, Thai Pastry at 4925 N Broadway is arguably some of the best value thai food in the city. In general, this little strip of vietnamtown is my go-to location for good value and though i haven't tried all the restaurant, i've yet to be disappointed.

                1. Bobak's Polish Buffet on South Archer Avenue for $9.95 all you can eat.

                  Pancho Pistolas at 700 W. 31st Street just east of Halsted in the Bridgeport neighborhood for fantastic Mexican Food for very reasonable prices. The Mexican Skirt Steak is excellent.

                  Greek Islands serves amazing Greek eats for reasonable prices.

                  Rodity's on Halsted in Greektown is also very good and dirt cheap. Try their homemade gyros...definitely not low fat but delicious!

                  Muskies on Lincoln Avenue accross from The Elbo Room serve up excellent burgers, dogs, and chicken sandwiches for very reasonable prices.

                  Viceroy for Indian Buffet on Devon Avenue for great food at reasonable prices.

                  El Asadero on Montrose at Lincoln Avenue for the very best steak taco's and burrito's in town. Voted #1 for steak tacos in Chicago magazine about five years ago.

                  The Raw Bar in Wrigleyville for great Persian and Egyptian inspired steak, chicken, and seafood. This place is way underrated.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: amoncada

                    There are a lot of great mexican places around that meet our criteria, one of my favorite northside picks is (i don't know the name)under the el stop at irving park and sheridan. great lengua and al pastor tacos

                    1. re: amoncada

                      amoncada, this is a great list! I'd second all of these suggestions. -- one caveat: The Raw Bar is good, but don't go on a busy weekend night or during a Cubs home game (the place is all noise & elbows).

                    2. any more????

                      1. For inexpensive food, there are SO many choices - just about any ethnic food, and of course Chicago-style pizza (stuffed pizza as well as deep-dish pizza), offer great eating at a low price.

                        For fine dining at a higher but less-than-outrageous price, some nice options exist. Oceanique in Evanston continues to have some of the best seafood (and best desserts!) in the entire Chicago area, and they have a 3-course tasting menu for $39. See http://www.oceanique.com for more information. And Metromix recently had an article about some pretty good "under-the-radar specials", at http://metromix.chicagotribune.com/di...

                        1. Joey's Brickhouse 1258 W Belmont
                          15$ All you can eat and drink Sat. brunch
                          Irresistable and girthy menu with unique presenations and tasty preparations. All you can drink microbrew, creative long-islands, bloody marys, the list goes on.

                          1. Russian Tea Times platters for two could probably feed four, and the food is outstanding.

                            Lunch at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo and Blackbird also offer oustanding values.

                            1. Good point. Lunch is very often an outstanding value at restaurants where dinners are far more expensive.

                              1. Here are my 2 favorites. Great food at great prices!
                                Duke's Drive-In at 88th & Harlem has the best beef sandwiches in the world!
                                For mexican food, you can't beat La Cocula on Torrence Ave in Cal City. I've tried their other location on Cicero near Midway but it's not as good.

                                1. The Sun Wah Bar-B-Que at 1100(?) W. Argyle is el cheapo's paradise. They have for less than $5/pp an amazing meat(duck, chicken, pork) over rice bowl that could feed 2 people easily. You have to walk through the butcher shop to get into the restaurant, but it's very clean and pleasant inside.

                                  Standees at 1133 W. Granville is an amazing diner. It's open 24 hours and the food is outstanding and you'll think you're in the 1960s.

                                  Also check out El Burrito Mexicano right off the Addison Red stop. Everything they make is amazing and three of us ate like kings for $12, including drinks. If you haven't tried Horchata (rice water) yet, you're missing out.

                                  1. Message to visitors reading this thread: by now it should be obvious that, for eating bargains, you MUST get out of downtown. Rents are just too high there for the bargain places to survive. Don't hesitate to use our public transportation---a convenient place to pick up a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) pass (another bargain) is the Jewel supermarket at State & Ohio. Online, go to "CTA" for full details and to "RTA Trip Planner" (the R means "regional" and includes suburban lines) for specific directions on how to get where you want to go. I feel sad when I see visitors limiting themselves to Michigan Avenue because they are missing our exciting ethnic neighborhoods---and a chance to get a full delicious meal for what downtown charges just for the dessert.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Querencia

                                      Here are links to the public transit websites in the Chicago area; all have the "RTA Trip Planner" available, as well as maps, schedules, fare information, etc:

                                      www.transitchicago.com - CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) - subways and buses, primarily within the city of Chicago

                                      www.metrarail.com - Metra - commuter trains between city and suburbs

                                      www.pacebus.com - Pace - suburban buses

                                      www.rtachicago.com - RTA (Regional Transportation Authority) - umbrella organization for all of the above

                                    2. I'm not sure if it's been mentioned here, but I think the tasting menu at Sweets and Savories (7 courses for $60) is an outstanding value. If you go on a Monday, I believe the tasting menu is $50.

                                      Sweets and Savories
                                      1534 W Fullerton Ave
                                      (773) 281-6778

                                      1. Pita Inn is also a great value in quantity and quality for the money (and again, not in the city proper). It has 3 locations, in Skokie, Wheeling and Des Plaines. I always get the Combination Plate at lunch or dinner. It's enough for two people. It usually includes shawerma, beef kabob, kifta kabob, falafel, rice, salad and pita for $7.00.

                                        1. We're huge fans of Pita Inn - it's well worth the effort to get to them.

                                          Also - how about Dave's Italian Kitchen on Chicago avenue in Evanston (http://www.davesik.com)? I attended Northwestern University in the 70's and it appealed to our "poor college students' budgets" - but we still make the trip in when we want their pasta and pizza.

                                          1. Guys, this list is very out of date -- but having said that, I'd look at the reviews given on Check,please! on the WTTW.com website: they're more current. Metromix is okay but not my favorite for local reviews. Also try http://chicago.citysearch.com/ for the restaurant pages and overviews.

                                            And I still like the deli at the Vienna Hot Dog factory at Fullerton and Damen for the best Chicago dog in town, second best being Fluky's on north Western Ave. As for good burgers, nothing beats Top Notch Beefburgers on 95th Street in the Beverly area -- great fries and onion rings, too -- but the best onion rings go with the second best burger at Fox's on 93rd and cicero in Oak Lawn. HUGE freshly made onion rings in a portion big enough for two!

                                            Finally, a hidden gem in the SW suburbs: Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe and BBQ on 95th Street at Central Ave. in Burbank. He smokes the ribs, pork and brisket just right, over wood, and his other Louisiana/southern specialties are just right. Wonderful brunches on weekends, and terrific banana bread pudding Foster style, with glazed baked bananas between the bread/custard, caramel drizzle and vanilla ice cream. Chuck used to work for Rick Bayless at Frontera and Topolobampo but opened his own place at least five years ago, and the locals are glad he did. He'll be expanding to a larger location just a few blocks to the west on 95th in late spring (May? maybe).

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: lindygal

                                              In general, I find the reviews here on Chowhound to be far superior to those on Check Please or Metromix. Not that we all agree on everything, of course, but I think we have a greater variety of perspectives.

                                              As noted above, ethnic eats are often a bargain. Some types (Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Greek) have lengthy Chowhound topics dedicated to them, and others are concentrated in specific areas (Indian/Pakistani on Devon, Vietnamese on Argyle). Other types of cheap eats also have in-depth discussions dedicated to them, including burgers, hot dogs, pizza, barbecue, etc.

                                              As for values in finer dining places, these are popping up all over the place, with the decline in the economy, as nicer restaurants need to provide greater value to survive. These values include special promotions like Restaurant Week ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/585615 ), as well as individual promotions run by specific restaurants. Check the websites of the restaurants you're most interested in for specials, and also to see if they have a mailing list via e-mail. Many restaurants are sending out special deals to those on their mailing list, beyond those made available to the general public. Some of the most common deals are 3-course dinners. Some places have been doing this for quite a while, such as Everest with their pre-theater special ($50) and La Sardine on Tuesdays ($25), while others have just recently begun doing so. You can also find a huge number of restaurant deals listed on Metromix for any day you're interested in. Just go to the Metromix page for restaurants at http://chicago.metromix.com/restaurants On the right side of their web page, you'll see their calendar, which shows "events" and "deals" (although actually both categories include deals). Just click on the date you're interested in, and it will list a few along with a line you can click to view all of that day's restaurant events/deals.