good groceries on a student budget
hey, I am moving to Chicago soon and was curious about good places to buy things like quality produce, cheese, meats and breads. I will be living on the east side of the UIC campus. If anyone is familiar with Toronto; then I am wondering if there is some equivalent to--or a group of things when taken together are equivalent to--Kensington Market. I am particularly interested in being able to buy good cheese on the cheap.
Trader Joe's is a worthwhile option. The closest one to where you'll be is Ontario near State (reasonably quick trip on the train). They're part of the Aldi family (ginormous international discount grocers) but cater to a more foodie demographic. Like the parent company (and in the Wal-Mart vein) they lock in prices from vendors in exchange for high-volume purchasing.
There is nothing here that is comparable to Kensington Market. However, there are weekly neighborhood farmer's markets. Maxwell Street Market on Sundays is probably the closest thing to what you want and it's very close to where you will be living. However, I don't think that you will be able to find good cheese, meat or bread there. They DO have fantastic Mexican food and some produce. I guess what I'm saying is that even if Maxwell Street isn't exactly what you're looking for, it will still probably be a lot of fun for you.
Otherwise, I'm afraid you'll have to go to a regular grocery store.
If I were a student these days and buying food for myself, I'd get together with a few friends and invest in a membership to Costco. You need to buy in quantity, but they have excellent quality food at a price you can't match elsewhere. And yes, a pretty good selection of cheese. In fact a very good selection of cheese, but to give you an idea, you need to buy in 1-2 lb hunks. The only Costco in Chicago is several miles north of the UIC campus, so you'd really need a car or access to a car. If you don't have a car, IGO and Zipcar are worth looking into.
If you are looking for more specialty type cheeses, Stanley's near North Avenue has a decent selection in the back that, while not cheap, seems to be about the best prices you'll find. If you dig around you can find some good cheap wines there too. It's primarily an enormous wine store.
Trader Joes is a good option for good inexpensive food (and beer/wine.) There are also a lot of good, cheap Mexican Grocers around. I go to Carnicerias Guanajuato around 1400 N Ashland, but there may some options closer to where you are - probably to the West of UIC.
For produce, Stanleys is a good option. At the corner of Elston and North Avenue. Farther North on Elston is Wine Discount Warehouse where you might find some good deals.
For Fish, Issacson and Stein at Halsted and Fulton has a big selection, although its hours are limited.
The main grocery chains here are Dominick's and Jewel, both terrible. For less expensive and better quality meat and produce we try to go to ethnic groceries, especially Mexican, as much as possible. Near your side of UIC the closest would be La Casa del Pueblo, on Blue Island just south of 18th. I think there is a UIC shuttle bus that runs along 18th that you could take.
On Taylor Street there's a butcher, Nea Agora -- we've only gotten lamb there, I guess, but it's excellent for lamb!
Look for D'Amato's Italian bread in the shops on Taylor. Up in Greektown Artopolis has a lot of breads, most very good.
You might enjoy exploring Randolph Street west of Halsted -- a number of the wholesalers there sell to retail customers as well (produce, Italian, etc).