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One Week in Chicago: Low and Mid priced Recs

I'm going to Chicago next week, staying a few blocks from the intersection of State and Wacker. There is a red line station a block from our hotel. I'm traveling with a group, so often we'll have 6-10 people eating, though sitting together is not a must by any means. We do not have a car.
Our hotel serves breakfast, so we're looking for lunch and dinner spots. Our food budget for lunch is about $10/person and dinners about $15-$20/person.
We are open to all types of food.

Thanks for your suggestions.

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  1. Eat a lot of pizza! :) Chicago's famous deep-dish pizza is inexpensive and delicious. There are two main varieties. Single-crust "pizza in the pan" is served at the original Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due just a few blocks north of there. Double-crust "stuffed" pizza is at Bacino's, right at State and Wacker. Call ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

    You can get good burgers at Boston Blackie's on Grand.

    Share a cab (or walk, on a nice day) for the mile or so ride to Greek Town. For recommendations, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/119233

    Catch the CTA Red Line south to Cermak/Chinatown, where you'll find lots of Chinese places. My favorites are Double Li and Lao Sze Chuan.

    Take the CTA Red Line north to Sheridan. TAC Quick is right at that el stop, for Thai food.

    Take the CTA Red Line north to Argyle. There are many Vietnamese restaurants along Argyle; Tank Noodle is perhaps the most well-known.

    If you can stretch your budget just a bit beyond those figures, then you can consider places like Frontera Grill for Mexican, and Brasserie Jo or La Sardine for French bistro food, etc.

    1. Portillos is another idea for lunch. Decent Italian beef or "combo" (Italian beef with Italian sausage) -- a Chicago specialty, Chicago-style hot dogs, plus burgers and salads.

      100 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60654

      1. For that matter, you are actually staying very close to ALL the el lines (Clark and Lake is a major switchpoint for all the lines except for red which is only a block away).

        With that in mind, your options open up. You might try good and inexpensive Mexican food in the Pilsen neighborhood or in Little Village, for example.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rubinow

          Actually, State and Lake, a block south of State and Wacker where you are staying, is closer, and it's also a major transfer point for all the el lines except for blue but including the Red Line, see recommendations above.

          rubinow's mention of Pilsen is a good one. Nuevo Leon is the best-known cheap Mexican place there and it's right at the 18th Street station on the Pink Line. www.nuevoleonrestaurant.com

          1. re: nsxtasy

            This is a great help. Thanks so much.

        2. Low-Cost Survival in Chicago: First of all, since you mention the Red Line, if you're going to travel much get CTA passes at the Jewel store at State & Ohio rather than pay exorbitant cash fares with no transfers. Second, within your budget you have 1) Big Bowl at Ohio & Rush, excellent Pan Asian food, see website. 2) Interesting hole in the wall with great Middle Eastern food is Oasis Cafe at rear of jewelry mall at 21 N. Wabash (lunch only). 3) Get on the Milwaukee 56 bus (cash fare would be $2.25 each one-way) heading west at State & Madison and ask driver to call Hamlin St. This will put you at the Red Apple all-you-can-eat Polish smorgasbord, eat until you pass out for $10, very good. 4) Consider also the WholeFood organic supermarket on Huron between State & Dearborn as they have a HUGE cafeteria-style eating area with dozens of choices. 5) Walk past India House on Grand between Clark & Dearborn and read the sign in the window to see how much the buffet lunch is---it's probably still around $10 although this place is pricier at night. 6) Panang (Thai) at Chicago & Clark has a good local reputation. 7) If you have a little extra money by the end of the week go to Maggiano's (Grand & Clark) and have the Family Style dinner, about $25 pp for all the food in the world. 8) On the other hand if you run out of money, Northwestern Hospital has a cafeteria on the 2nd floor called Spice of Life, open to public, not bad, cheaper than restaurants---this is in the block defined by Erie, Huron, St Clair, and Fairbanks (one block off Michigan Ave in heart of shopping district, right downtown). Read about any of these places by googling "Yelp Chicago" or "Restaurant menus Chicago". Go to CTA website for pass information. Stop in Water Tower ( east side of N Michigan just north of Chicago Avenue) for free maps and all kinds of tourist brochures. Have fun. Welcome. PS Another thought: if you can get up to Tango Sur, Southport & Grace, you can eat very well within your dinner budget and it's BYOB with no corkage fee so first stop at Trader Joe's, Ontario between Rush & Wabash, and buy a few bottles of their Charles Shaw house brand wine @ $2.99; don't laugh, it's actually good. Make a reservation, though as TS is wildly popular. Do look up the menus for all these places: prices, selections.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Querencia

            "Take the CTA Red Line north to Sheridan. TAC Quick is right at that el stop, for Thai food."

            As per nsxtasy above, here's where you want to go for some of the best authentic Thai in Chicago. Order from the chalkboard if you're looking for the "best of." I've only had fairly indifferent, inconsistent meals at downtown Thai spots such as Penang.

          2. Might be at the high end of the budget, but there are some good specials, as in the thurs. night pizza


            1. some of my favorite cheap eats:
              Greek Islands-greek town. I like everything. very affordable and can accomadate large groups.

              if you like spicy Chinese food and don't have sichuan in your city this is a must: http://www.laoszechuan.com/menu.htm. It is in Chinatown and a bit of a train ride, but worth it is you love the real deal.

              Pizza- I like Lou Malnatti's. I am not a huge deep dish fan, so take that with a grain of salt.

              Italian Beef- Al's, Portillos, or this divey place that rocks -CND Gyros . off red line Grand stop at st. Clair.

              1 Reply
              1. re: lyn

                I'm back from my 5 day trip to Chicago, my first time in your city. I had a great time--loved the city and the people.
                Our group was large--about 30 people--so we were restricted in where we could go. Also, we were often out and about around lunchtime and just chose to get a snack or hotdog versus having a formal lunch.
                I enjoyed every Chicago style hot dog I had but I thought the buns were a letdown everytime. They were all too thick and too spongy/doughy--like wonderbread. We didn't go to any known dog places, so this may have been the problem. I'm looking forward to dressing my L.A. hotdogs to mimic the chicago style.
                I'll mention a few of the highlights. 3 of us were able to sneak off to Frontera Grill for some appetizers one evening. I loved the duck flautas and pork carnitas enchiladas. Everything we tried was great but those were my favourites.
                We went to the Weber Grill one night, mostly because it was around the corner from our hotel. It was packed and my burger and fries/onion rings suffered from being overcooked and sitting around waiting to be delivered. It was still enjoyable though.
                Another night we went to Adobo in Old Town. The tableside guacamole was the highlight. They are getting wonderful avocados right now when it is hit or miss getting a good avocado in Southern California. The rest of the dinner was average. The margarita was very good but very small, only 3 or 4 sips worth.
                My rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe at Vinci was pretty good.
                On our last day, we walked to the Fox and Obel market for brunch in the cafe. I loved the store. I tried the breakfast panini--ham, egg and cheese--, the roast beef and blue brie sandwich with carmelized onions, and the vegetable panini. The breads are great and I loved the roast beef sandwich. The breakfast panini was very enjoyable. I'm not a grilled vegetable sandwich kind of person but I liked the bread and taste in the one bite I had.
                The only deep dish pizza we had was from Bacino's. I thought it was great.

                Thanks for all of your suggestions. I'd like to come back with a smaller envoy and try them all.