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Looking for dives..

My boyfriend and I are going to visit Chicago in May and I am in charge of the food part of the trip because im the foodie. We really like small local places that most people tend to stay away from haha. Im also looking for dive bars if anyone can help me out there too. We are putting most of our money into the trip so Im looking for places more on the cheap side. Any help would be great thanks!

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  1. Are you looking for places that are actually crummy/decrepit, or just inexpensive? Because I can think of a lot of inexpensive places to eat, including many storefront neighborhood restaurants offering various ethnic cuisines, but I would not refer to most of them as "dives".

    Also, in what part of the area (city neighborhood or suburban town) will you be spending time and staying? Chicago is a huge city, with the metro area extending 100 miles from end to end; even the area generally called "downtown" is too large to be easily walkable from one end to the other.

    And are you willing to travel to different neighborhoods around the city? If so, will it be by car, or by public transit?

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      We are staying by the airport I am pretty sure. One thing that he would want is a really good chili dog, we have gone to many places and none are good enough. As far as the dive part we are more "dive bar" people. We don't go to clubs. Neighborhood place bars/places to eat is a better way to say it I guess. Cheaper is better, but if its worth it we don't mind spending. No chains. Best Pizza would be good to know too.

      1. re: DottieRose

        Which airport? We have two, O'Hare and Midway.

        Will you have a car? (That affects whether or not to recommend places that aren't convenient to public transportation, and whether to provide directions by car or by transit.)

        Here's a discussion about hot dogs:

        Asking about the best pizza in Chicago is guaranteed to generate disagreement. Here are a couple of discussions where you can find many opinions on that subject:

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I will but we want to park it and used transit. My boyfriend likes sweeter sauce on pizza.

        2. re: DottieRose


          I think you'll be wasting precious time looking for a great chili dog around here. That's not our style (it's hard enough just to find good chili in Chicago.) This is our style:


          Plenty of recs on a nearby thread on "3 great dogs."

          By the way, do you want a dive bar with great blues, as well as decent-enough cajun-style food? Try here:


      2. If you come into town--like actual downtown Chicago--a GREAT! dive is the (original?) Billy Goat under (yep, under) Michigan Avenue. You can get a fine chee' burger but no Coke. Trust me, it's worth the trip.

        I'm scouting out CTA friendly chili dawgs for ya this week...

        1 Reply
        1. I'm assuming your staying by O'Hare because I don't think there is a multidude of hotels by Midway.

          You'll be close to the BLUE line then. Check out the Wicker Park area and the Bucktown area for some cool little bars and restuarants. Do a search on here for more info.

          6 Replies
          1. re: lbs

            There are actually quite a few nice hotels near Midway Airport, including a Marriott, a Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, etc. They are all located along what is called the "Midway Hotel Center", the stretch of Cicero Avenue south of 63rd Street, the southern boundary of the airport. Many local Chicagoans are not aware of their existence because anyone approaching the airport by car or cab from the Stevenson Expressway gets to the airport first and doesn't drive that far south on Cicero Avenue.

            We still don't know whether the OP is staying near O'Hare or near Midway.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Hi there - sorry to revive an old post - but I'm heading to Chicago for business in a couple weeks and I'm staying in this Midway Hotel Center. Are there any good restaurants around this area - I will likely have a car but won't have time to travel more than just around that area......

              Thanks!!! (I know - I'm missing all the downtown places - but OTOH, my wife would kill me if I went to those places without her.....)

              1. re: techmasterten

                >> Midway Hotel Center. Are there any good restaurants around this area

                You might want to take a look at these topics:

                Sunday Lunch Near Midway - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/671203
                Interesting places near Midway Airport? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/502503
                Help near Midway - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/344026
                Recs needed for MDW Area - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/381975
                Good Eats Near Midway? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/365105

                >> I will likely have a car but won't have time to travel more than just around that area......

                FWIW, by car, if it's not prime commuting time, you can get downtown in under 20 minutes.

                1. re: techmasterten

                  Zaragoza Restaurant
                  4852 S. Pulaski Rd. (1 block N. of Archer Ave.)
                  (773) 523-3700

                  A unique, one-of-a-kind Mexican restaurant serving a style of birria ... roasted goat served with made-in-front-of-you corn tortillas and a helping of TLC from the Zaragoza family. BYOB. Call ahead to confirm the hours on the day you might visit. Probably a 10-minute drive from your hotel.

                  1. re: techmasterten

                    6314 S. Cicero (at 63rd Street)
                    (773) 585-6100

                    Two blocks north of your hotel on Cicero, just a short walk away. Chicago's best-known purveyor of double-crust "stuffed pizza", one of two main types of our delicious deep-dish pizza.

                    And, if you'd like to try the other type...

                    Lou Malnati's
                    3859 West Ogden Avenue (near Cermak/22nd and Pulaski)
                    Chicago, IL 60623

                    About 10-12 minutes drive from your hotel. Chicago's best-known purveyor of single-crust "pizza in the pan".

                    Wherever you go, phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      This is a little late, but I certainly hope no one took you up on the Ogden Ave Malnati's. It's Lou Malnati in name only. When we were there a couple of years ago, it was basically a neighborhood place that served soulfood and tolerated as best as can the occasional pizza order. Service was very kindly, but food execution was execrable. In response to a request for a cheese pizza w/ anchovies, we got a cheese & sausage pizza (obviously long-frozen) w/ hideously dessicated anchovy bits on top. It was by miles the worst pizza experience I've ever had, and the apologetic way in which it was served led me to believe there was no possibility of sending this puppy back to the kitchen. I've no idea why the Malnati chain continues to lend its name to this place.

              2. For chili dogs you need to go to Detroit. But for good cheap food you are heading to a wonderful city. Let us know exactly where you are staying and the places you plan to visit so we can better help you out.

                4 Replies
                  1. re: DottieRose

                    There are several steakhouses in the O'Hare area, but they are not dives. OTOH you can get some good $9 burgers there. I'm referring primarily to Gibson's; other steakhouses in the area include Morton's, Capital Grille, Wildfire, and Rosebud.

                    Flamingo's Seafood has spectacular regional Mexican cuisine, emphasizing seafood dishes. This is NOT your conventional Mexican restaurant; check out the menu on their website. Great food and the decor in this converted former gyros restaurant is eclectic, some might think it divey. www.flamingosseafood.com

                    Giordano's, at River Road and Higgins, has delicious double-crust "stuffed" deep-dish pizza. Phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake. www.giordanos.com

                    For Thai food near O'Hare, lots of folks recommend Elephant Thai, at 5348 W Devon Ave. www.elephantthaicuisine.com

                    For Italian beef sandwiches, Al's #1 Italian Beef has a location at Cumberland and Higgins. www.alsbeef.com

                    Depending on where you are staying, you are probably near one of the stops on the CTA Blue Line (that's our elevated subway). From there, you can easily get to some of our better food places. (For transit info, see www.transitchicago.com ). If you enjoy barbecue, and particularly if you enjoy dry-rub barbecue with a strong smoky flavor, you'll like Smoque; take the Blue Line to the Irving Park stop and walk two blocks. www.smoquebbq.com Honey 1 barbecue has a higher "dive quotient" than Smoque, although it's not quite as close to the el; it's about half a mile north of the Western stop. www.honey1bbq.com Or, you can take the Blue Line to the Logan Square stop, where you'll find Lula offering local/seasonal foods ( www.lulacafe.com ) and, a few blocks down Milwaukee Avenue, Real Tenochtitlan ( www.realtenochtitlan.com ), another option for creative provincial Mexican food. Of course, there are many, many places in downtown Chicago, too many to list.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      I would urge everyone to avoid the Al's on Higgins west of Cumberland. It is nothing like the original Al's, and in fact offers a pretty mediocre (at best) beef sandwich.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        I picked my DH from the airport last night and had always wanted to try Flamingo's - we were not disapppointed!

                        They serve blue corn chips with a tomatillo salsa and another dish with ceviche.

                        We started off with a app - baked goat cheese in a chorizo/ chipotle sauce. This was to die for - SPICY but GOOD!

                        I had the Filete de Dorado con costra de cangrejo which is
                        Pan fried Hawaiian Mahimahi with crab meat crust and chipotle lobster sauce.

                        Again, very good. Simple, fish cooked perfectly. The only complaint (and it is minor) that I would make is that I did not care for the rice. It was very brothy and was pretty overpowering.

                        DH had the Filete de Matarraya en poblano chile salsa - Pan fried Skatewin fillet in poblano strips, served in a cream sauce. It was also served with saffron rice - his rice was MUCH better than mine.

                        I also had the 20 oz margarita. Darn thing was a MONSTER.

                        They also put on a tasting menu for $38. That will be next time...

                        Also, if you are using a GPS, please be aware that it comes up as Marisqueria Flamingo's.

                        The menu online is also out of date as there are new dishes and some are no longer offered or are out of season.

                  2. Not dives, but I think I'm on track for what your talkin about - Check out Feed at Chicago and California, Taqueria Traspasa at Ashland and Chicago

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Btbam420

                      Siam Noodle at Leland and Broadway (just South of Leland) has great cheap thai food and is a byob. They were featured on check please (a local show about local restaurants). It is sooooo good! If you like Ethiopian, Ras Dashen (Broadway and Ardmore, just north of Hollywood) is fantastic. It's definitely affordable (neither place at all is a dive, but definitely not going to empty your wallet) and delicious. You can get meat combo dishes and vegetarian platters, lots of choices! If I think of any other ideas I'll post them!

                    2. Are you interested in honky tonk-ish dives? There's an old school favorite in Uptown called Carol's Pub (http://www.centerstagechicago.com/mus...) that should suffice for the divey sceney. While you're in Uptown (which I think of as one of the great diverse neighborhoods of Chicago), you can also check out the Green Mill, which is one of the oldest bars in the city (its known for its reasonable priced drinks and jazz).

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Eaterlover

                        >>check out the Green Mill, which is one of the oldest bars in the city (its known for its reasonable priced drinks and jazz<<

                        ...as well as being one of Al Capone's hangouts...
                        (& a great place to visit!)

                        1. re: beanbreath

                          Have you seen the new Broadway street building kitty corner to the Green Mill? (http://www.uptownupdate.com/2008/04/u...) It is an insanely gorgeous building and ALSO rumored to be a Capone hangout. I guess that dude got around.

                      2. Chicago has a lot of neighborhood bars. Not all are "dives." Check out the Charleston in Bucktown at 2076 N. Hoyne (cash only). If you like sushi, there's a great place within walking distance that's BYOB called Coast. Makes for a nice, inexpensive evening. And the Charleston often has great jazz or blues. Another local dinner option is Cafe Laguardia (Cuban).

                        1. Dottie, I am the burgermaven from Chicago. Near the airport is Paradise Pup. I sent Guy 'Guido' Fieri there for Diners Drive ins. Problem is that its only open Monday thru Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm. long wait but worth it. Best diner burger in USA. Char Cheddar medium rare. french fries and real malts. The italian beef is superb. Hot dogs are good but burgers are #1. On desplaines river road north of Touhy and south of Oakton. 10 minutes from Ohare.
                          The Assembly: in Hoffman Estates. Eat at the bar. great burgers on char grill.
                          Kuma's Corner. Belmont and just off the Kennedy. 20 minutes from Ohare. Heavy Metal bar and great - best burgers.
                          Ricobene's: breaded Italian Steak...there is one downtown. only kind in USA
                          Big Al's Italian Beef. look for locations.
                          The above are all cheap but great food quality and quantity.
                          Northbrook: DiPescara for good food: seafood, burgers, etc.
                          Pizza: you should try Gino's; Lou Malnati's; Due's; for deep dish Chicago pizza.
                          Look for coupons on restaurant.com big discount.
                          For a splurge Morton's has some specials: go between 4 and 6 pm Monday thru Friday and in the bar they have $10 items for $2 and $3. burgers, steak sandwiches, crab cakes. some great deals. One near airport.

                          5 Replies
                            1. re: DottieRose

                              Let me give you a few good suggestions, after having lived in Streeterville, Lincoln Park, Ravenswood, Rogers Park and the North Shore over the years.

                              If you're staying near O'Hare, I hate to inform you that you're going to have to drive a little to get to the really interesting places, but if you can do that (maybe 20 minutes or so), you've got a lot of neat options.

                              Ribs - Gale Street Inn (10-15 minutes straight down the Kennedy, depending on Kennedy traffic). Best in town. Great atmosphere, but the place fills up fast. If you go, go early (6:30 or so). Ribs are about $22 and they come with a sides and stuff, so that's about all you'll drop,except for drinks.

                              Atmosphere - Gulliver's on Touhy near Sacramento (20 minutes or so). Broad menu, but trust me when I tell you, you won't believe the interior of this place and you'll remember it forever. They've got more faux-antique stuff literally everywhere in that place than anywhere I've ever been in my life. And the food it all good, from pizza to steak to fajitas to whatever. But you don't go there for the food, per se. You go there because it's the most stuff nailed to a wall that you've ever seen and it's worth the optical experience to eat their better-than-average but by no means exceptional food. And the price is right. It'd be pretty hard for 4 adults to drop $80 in there (excluding drinks). In fact, I don't know if it's possible.

                              Noon-O-Kabob on Kedzie near Lawrence (20 minutes or so). Persian food and it's fabulous (my wife's Persian). Great stuff. Get the Soltani, and sprinkle it with the purple stuff on the table in a pepper-flake shaker and enjoy. I've never dragged anybody there who didn't love it, and I drag a lot of non-Persians there - and have for the 20 years I've been married since I first tried Persian food. You will NOT need appetizers, because the portions are HUGE. It'll cost you $18 a head tops, plus drinks, and you'll love it.

                              As far as dive bars go, I'm too old (40+) to give you any suggestions that are worthwhile. But each of these joints are within easy screaming distance of real neighborhood bars, which I define as bars where the bartenders actually know what a short glass is and have them for you if you ask for one...

                              1. re: shivas

                                >> Gulliver's on Touhy near Sacramento (20 minutes or so).

                                It's not far from there, but if you're looking for Gulliver's, you'll have better luck if you look on Howard just east of California/Dodge. :)

                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  Thanks, I thought it had moved when I wasn't paying attention.

                            2. re: burgermaven

                              Paradise Pup is very good for burgers and teriyaki chicken sandwiches. The beef? It's decent, but there's much better. In my opinion, a better option for beef in the area is Bob-O's, on Irving Park just east of Cumberland.

                            3. There is a bar called High Dive that serves really great food! I highly recommend their ahi tuna club or their burgers! They are reasonably priced and have a great beer selection as well.

                              The bar is located in Wicker Park at the intersection of Damen and Chicago.

                              Hope this helps!

                              1. portillos definitely is not a dive. however it serves an excellent chili dog with or without cheese and raw onions. there are a few locations not far from o'hare.

                                1. You might be interested in Hala Kahiki, a tiki bar, on River Road

                                  1. Given where you are staying, the easiest places for you to reach in the city will be those off the Blue Line. Some ideas here include almost any place in the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods, including Piece Brewery and Pizzeria which offers New Haven-style pizza and house made beers (and good ones too). http://www.piecechicago.com/flash/ind... A great spot for beer in the area is the Map Room. http://www.maproom.com/

                                    If you wanted more upscale food (but still an extremely casual atmosphere), I'd highly recommend Lula Cafe in Logan Square. http://www.lulacafe.com/ The food here is every bit as good as far more expensive places, and I love the laid back vibe.

                                    There are other places that are more easily accessed by the Brown or Red Line trains (Blue Line runs from O'Hare), but if you intend to switch lines and explore more of the city you might want to consider Hop Leaf in Andersonville (Belgian pub with great food), Laschet's Inn and Resi's Bierstube in the North Center neighborhood (both German; Laschet's has much better food but Resi's has a great beer garden).

                                    For hot dogs (but no chili dogs) in the O'Hare area, head to Paradise Pup if you want it grilled or Gene & Jude's if you want it steamed. And if you head into the city, go to Hot Doug's for hot dogs, duck fat fries and more exotic sausages (game, etc.


                                    You can also head to the Loop and try deep dish pizza at Pizano's, or switch to the Red Line trains and head to Chinatown for Szechuan (Lao Sze Chuan), Cantonese (Three Happiness - the dive on the south side of Cermak, not the behemoth on the north side of the street), or Phoenix or Shui Wah for dim sum.

                                    Chicago also offers outstanding Thai and Mexican restaurants where you can eat pretty inexpensive but great meals (search Spoon Thai, TAC Quick, La Pasadita, Mixteco Grill, Los Nopales, Sol de Mexico, Maxwell Street Market, just to give you some ideas). Almost all of these are byo and located very close to liquor stores for wine or beer.

                                    Also check out this list which is generally filled with the types of places it sounds like you are looking for: http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: BRB

                                      Do you know if Laschet's pan fry their schnitzel? I looked at an online menu for Resi's, and they only show pork schnitzel, although my recollection is that their schnitzel is pan-fried. Generally I think any pan-fried schnitzel will beat any deep fried schnitzel.

                                      1. re: abhalsey

                                        I would be shocked if Laschet's deep fries the schnitzel. I've had Resi's schnitzel and I wasn't as big a fan, but mostly because I did not think the meat was as good quality.

                                        1. re: BRB

                                          Resi's looks/tastes to have fallen on hard times ... poor upkeep, not very tasty / good food, etc. and I haven't liked my several meals there. Laschet's is off my list of places to go or recommend ... as well. ;-(

                                    2. Halfshell -- linc park ---awesum seafood
                                      Matisse---linc park ---great appetizers and entrees and if u like baked brie-wow.

                                      Sidestreet Saloon-linc park great pizza and fried cheese curds
                                      Roadhouse 66 -lakeview great food and atmosphere

                                      McDunna's --Irish Food, awesum fireplace and never crowded