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Foodie on a Budget Visiting from Toronto

hi all,

I'm visiting Chicago labour day weekend and looking for some good places to eat. Just graduated from college this summer so still living on a pretty tight student budget (don't want to spend more than $20 for dinner / $15 for lunch tip and tax included).

In terms of food, I love trying new creations and don't have an aversion to any particular foods.

Thanks a bunch in advance! :)

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  1. First, where in Chicago are you going to be staying because despite everything being pretty close, you can spend a ton of money on cabs, etc...so you will want to stay in your general vacinity

    1. First, you can get a week pass on the CTA for $20. Unlimited. You will spend a lot more on individual fares in three or four days, probably.

      Some places on the bargain end that I recommend are:

      Spoon Thai (take Brown Line to Western, right down the street to your left). Ask for the translated Thai menu (thanks to a member here, Erik) and order whatever looks interesting. You will get things you have never tasted before. About $6 per dish, and it will take two or so to fill up.

      Cafe Iberico. At Chicago Ave. and LaSalle. Cheap tapas and sangria. Go with the specials menu, which is a bit more expensive but generally worth it. Tapas plates are between $4 and $8, usually. Two will fill you up, along with the pretty good fresh bread and Spanish olive oil. My advice: skip the fish, but the other seafood is usually very good.

      Hopleaf in Andersonville (north Clark, take the Red Line or Clark bus (22) to Foster). Nothing more than $14 and delicious. Their mussels with frites are famous here. The place is based on Belgian beers. You can get an order of mussels and a good beer for about $16, so that should get you under your limit.

      Matsuya. Clark St. near Wrigley Field. Clark St. bus will drop you off or you can take the red line to either Belmont or Addison and walk a few blocks. Pretty good Japanese, with combo deals (soup, appetizer, rice, combo platter, dessert) for about $12. I'm not nuts about their sushi, but everything else is pretty good. The green tea and coffee ice cream are really good.

      Heaven on 7. They have three locations. The shrimp or oyster poboy (with a bowl of gumbo) is about $12.

      Hope that helps.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Pete Oldtown

        "Heaven on 7. They have three locations. The shrimp or oyster poboy (with a bowl of gumbo) is about $12"

        . . . but stick to the one in the Garland Building (111 N. Wabash)--a world of difference in consistency of food and ambience (usually open only for breakfast and lunch). Down the street you'll find in the Jewelers Mall, the Oasis Cafe (17 S. Wabash), a good spot for an inexpensive Middle Eastern lunch. And, if you're looking for burgers, ribs (the retro 50s Chicago kind), and even steaks at a relatively reasonable price, you'll find them across the street (134 S. Wabash) at Miller's Pub.

        1. re: jbw

          And, Garland Building Heaven on Seven

          Cash Only

          So, be aware

      2. Hello Impoverished Student: My best downtown budget recommendation is Big Bowl (Ohio just west of Rush---on Michigan Avenue turn west at the Eddie Bauer store, go one short block, cross street, walk past motorcycle store). This is a cheery place with a variety of delicious stir-fries, curries etc (menu is Pan-Asian) for around $10-$12. See their website. Another possibility is Elephant & Castle for English pub food like a steak pie made with Guinness---Huron and St Clair, one block east of Michigan. Google "chicago menus" to see menus of these two and about a thousand more restaurants---mostly they show the prices too so you can see what you're getting into. Another---walk north on Michigan to Bellevue, turn left, go one long block to Original Pancake House where everything imaginable for breakfast is served until 3 PM. Also, several Indian restaurants have an all-you-can-eat buffet at lunchtime---search Indian restaurants on the chicago menus website---a central one is Indian Garden on Grand. In Gold Coast neighborhood, Blue Agave (Maple & Rush) is a bargain for Mexican food (get there by strolling north on Rush). Failing all else, the cafeteria at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (2nd floor) is open to the public and costs about 1/3 of any other food in its neighborhood (one block east of Michigan in block defined by St Clair, Huron, Erie, and Fairbanks). Biggest variety is weekdays for lunch. Can get a complete meal for around $5. Be sure you get to the actual cafeteria and not Au Bon Pain, a rip-off sandwich joint right next to it. Oh yes, one more: Reza's on W Ontario has a lunch buffet for around $10 that you can fill up on.

        1. I can't believe no one has mentioned this so far - the greatest thing you will discover about Chicago is that we have BYOB restaurants! This cuts down on your spending dramatically.

          Take a walk around Wrigley Field and then head up Sheffield for great BYOB pizza place called Pizza Rustica (delicious thin crust pizza, liquor store across the street under the red line Sheridan el stop). I've heard Mado on Milwaukee in Bucktown (all entrees under $20) is also good. There a LOTS of Asian eateries that do the BYOB thing - my favorite is Sticky Rice on Western and its cheap, cheap, cheap, but may be too far out depending on where you are staying.

          I would recommend visiting Metromix.com and searching the BYOB listings for others. Good luck!

          1 Reply
          1. re: LaurenSpiceStack

            Ha - I'm so sheltered (never lived outside Chicago and don't travel much) that I just assumed BYOB was not an unusual thing.

            Good eye!

          2. Oh yeah - how could I forget my favorite - Lula Cafe. It's not BYOB, but it IS totally affordable and yummy organic food in a cool neighborhood (take the blue line out to Logan Square, the restaurant is opposite the circle when you emerge. PBR bottles were $1.75 last time I checked.

            5 Replies
            1. re: LaurenSpiceStack

              BYOB is a relatively new concept in Toronto, but not unusual - we've probably got the idea from our neighbours to the south!

              Looks like most things are transit accessible, which is fantastic.

              Also, is street meat popular? I hear that Chicago hot dogs are leaps and bound better than the NYC ones.

              1. re: ndawg

                Very little street vending in Chicago--what exists is mostly elotes, paletas, and other Mexican goodies. Our hot dog stands are permanent storefronts.

                1. re: ndawg

                  ...although it would be really funny if you went around asking for "street meat." I think you'd get something you weren't expecting.

                  1. re: ndawg

                    ...although it would be really funny if you went around asking for "street meat." I think you'd get something you weren't expecting.

                    1. re: ndawg

                      ...although it would be really funny if you went around asking for "street meat." I think you'd get something you weren't expecting.

                  2. There's a 3 and 5 day pass (cheaper than $20) and will fit your schedule better.

                    I think you want to go to Chinatown and wander -- Little 3 Happiness generally gets fab reviews -- but soak up atmosphere;

                    also check out Pilsen/Little Village, again wander around soak up the atmosphere

                    3rd -- do a devonathon and again check out the 'hood and the restaurants -- Indian mostly, the Cuban grocery/resto La Unica is light on the wallet & has memorable flan, take lots of pictures --

                    I haven't done the middleeastern Kedzie crawl -- but that too should be inexpensive and very rewarding


                    4 Replies
                    1. re: SGFoxe

                      Great recs for cheap eats, Sonja!

                      In Pilsen, there's Mundial, 1640 W. 18th Street (byob).

                      On Kedzie, Semiramis (lebonese), 4639 No. Kedzie (byob).

                      As far as "Devonathon," I've heard good things about Bhabi's Kitchen, 6352 W. Oakley for the service, food, and esp. the naan. (byob)

                      And I don't think there are many places to go wrong in Chinatown, and Three Happiness is as good a place as any.

                      1. re: sis2catbat

                        Just got back form Chicago, and had to opportunity to try:
                        - Iberico: which is awesome! Went with 6 people and ordered tonnes. My favourite dish was the lamb chops, one of the best lamb chops I've ever had. Also liked the mushrooms and the seafood paella. I found the garlic shrimp not garlicy enough, but nevertheless still good.

                        - Three Happiness, I didn't enjoy very much. The dim sum dishes were decent. I found it rather skimpy that they filled their Har Gow with half mock crab meat and half shrimp - the first time I've seen it like that. On the whole, the dim sum wasn't on the same level as what can be found in Toronto - we're spoiled in that regard.

                        - Heaven on Seven: another fantastic place (thanks for the recommendation!). Had the crab cakes, and probably the meatiest and biggest ones I've ever had. The gumbo was thick and fabulous. My friend ordered one of their omelets which wasn't particularly distinguished until I tasted it with the potatoes that came with it. And, I've never seen so much hot sauce before.

                        1. re: ndawg

                          I'm glad you enjoyed Chicago -- there's a difference between LITTLE 3 Happiness and 3 Happiness restos -- Little 3H gets the raves -- 3 H mediocre -- little 3h is a hole in the wall on the south side of cermak; 3H a larger affair on the north side

                          1. re: SGFoxe

                            oh darn! Thanks for clarifying - I'll remember that for next time.