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Feb 28, 2010 09:43 AM

Going to Chicago, what are my cheap eats

So my roommate and I just made a drunken impetuous decision to head to Chicago for the week. No plans, no place to stay, and worst, no must-eat at restaurants.

Chicagans, help a brother out (and please list actual restaurants, not "Hey, you should try our ethnic places" because I'll be all like "Cool, I will. But which establishment should I attend. Because I might attend a terrible place and then hate you all for an inability to actually recommend a good restaurant). Also, I'm an LA transplant living in Ann Arbor, I will kill someone to have good Mexican/Latin/South American food. Please tell me this exists (even better if said restaurant has taco tuesdays)

Also, the cheaper the better. I am gonna see if I can get a table at Alinea on such short notice because I'm not satisfied with my credit card company only calling 10 times a day, but other than that we are two poor college kids, we ain't eating lunches that cost $20 a person.

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  1. Where are you staying? Will you have a car? How far do you wanna travel? If you won't have a car, how far will you walk outside of public transportation routes?

    1. I'm also from L.A and in my opinion it is hard to come by good mexican food, others will argue. I'd say Xoco is worth a try though, lunch will be probably be $11-15. There's a lot of good cheap eats but the popular places have ridiculous waits. If you don't mind waiting I'd recommend Hot Dougs and Kumas for sure.Oh yeah Irazu Costa Rican is a good cheap eat as well. Check out for some other cheap eats with zero lines.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Ducksta

        Dang it, I had a whole post and lost it....let's see if I can remember.

        First, go to Walgreen's or CVS and buy a 7-day CTA pass, it's about $23 and covers unlimited bus and train rides. Don't take a taxi, it'll kill your budget.

        Take the red line up to Argyle in Uptown, an enclave of Vietnamese restaurants. Ba Le for the best bahn mi sandwiches in town for less than $4. Tank Noodle across the street is perfect for a steamy bowl of pho on a cold day, a bargin at $6-8 and BYOB. Sun Wah is close by too for Chinese BBQ, cheap and BYOB and very tasty. You can get a HUGE roasted duck dinner that will feed 4 (or two college guys) for about $32 and its' BYOB, too.

        If you like Middle Eastern, hop on the Brown Line to Kedzie. Salam and Semiramis are right next door to the train and both are great. Salam is more of a lunch place, a huge lunch special for $6.95 with shwarma, kebabs, kefta, rice, hummus, baba, etc. Semiramis is great for dinner and BYOB. Their special chix schwarma sandwich is so good at $7. Their mixed grill and veggie plate is also really good. Dinner for two for under $30.

        If you're in "mood" for a great burger, don't miss Moody's Pub up in Edgewater . Take the red line to Thorndale and walk west to B'way.

        Visit Chinatown for Chinese food (duh!). My fave is Lao Sze Chuan has amazing hot pot. I think it's $16 for the all you can eat and it's an extra $2 on the weekends, so visit during the week.

        If you're up for it, get to Hot Doug's for fabulous, fancy hot dogs. It's not a fancy place, but you can get a dog with foie gras for about $8. Personally, I love the regular Chicago Dog and the Kiera Knightly -- a "hot" (spicy) dog, both under $3, I think. It might be a little bit of a trek, but so worth it. Expect a line, so don't go on a weekend, although they do have duck fat fries on Friday and Saturday. Get there early (like 10:30) or late (after 2) and the line will be better. They close at 4.

        I lived in Phoenix for 11 years, so I miss great Mexican food, too. I like Los Nopales in Lincoln Square though (not to be confused with Lincoln Park). It's cheap and BYOB, the fish tacos are good, get the three taco app plate for about $7. Take the Brown line to Western. I've not explored the neighborhood called Pilsen, but supposedly some of the best Mexican food in town and cheap.

        Oh, and don't forget Korean food. San Soo Gab San is great and open until 5 a.m.! Again, the brown line to Western and walk about 6 blocks north on Western. Not BYOB.

        Not as pricey as Alinea, but worth the splurge and BYOB is BonSoiree.

        Enjoy your stay, you can eat a load for cheap here, you just have to venture out of the main tourist areas! I spent all football season in AA for games and had a great time and some good eats, too.

        1. re: Ducksta

          Ducksta - how long have you been here?
          I realize that everyone has their own opinion, and I respect that, but I hear so many conflicting views about "good mexican food" involving la vs chicago. I have a few friends who live in the LA area, and when they come into town, they bee line it for Mexican food.
          And here's another question (tongue in cheek) why are the lines 10 deep at each window at Tito's Tacos? That was the worst food I've had in years, and everyone there was telling me how good it was. What's up with that?

          1. re: Ducksta

            Xoco, Hot Dougs or Kuma's Corner "inexpensive" food, as asked about at the start of this discussion? Hardly. There are many good, inexpensive places featured in prior discussions where one doesn't have to suffer "ridiculous waits." Such remarks strike me as coming from someone who hasn't yet visited Chicago - or the types of establishments being asked about. ;-)

            1. re: gomexico

              I'm going to stand behind Hot Doug's as a cheap option for lunch. The Chicago Dog is 1.75 and the Keira Knightley is 2.50, there are easily 6-7 options under $4.. If that's not cheap, I don't know what is and it's a fun experience. A friend and I were there two weeks ago for $18 with three dogs, one large order of fries and 2 drinks. And, we walked in and right up to the counter, the key is to go during off times.

              As for Xoco, that doesn't fall into "cheap" lunch for me, but it is delicious! I was there last and it was $50 for lunch for three. You certainly could do $10 for lunch for one, but I'm guessing that the OP is a college guy and probably wouldn't be full on just that.

              Kuma's is iffy because I want beer with my burger. You can get your burger for $10-12, but by the time you have a couple of beers, tax and tip, you're easily at $30 each.

          2. Of the scores of inexpensive restaurants already discussed, recommended on this forum in prior discussions - which have interested you?

            1. Arguably the best restaurant bargain in Chicago is the "Polish smorgasbord", a vast all-you-can-eat array of homecooked-style Polish food running to many meats with potatoes, dumplings, pierogies, sauerkraut, vegetables, substantial salad bar, desserts etc. Try this: The Red Apple, 3121 N Milwaukee. Eat until you pass out for about $10. Driving: there is a free parking lot behind the restaurant. Not driving : take the 56 Milwaukee bus from State & Madison and ask the driver to call Hamlin; you'll be right in front of The Red Apple. See their website.

              Another option: all-you-can-eat Persian lunch buffet at Reza's, $10, River North or Andersonville. One more: Oasis Cafe, located in a jewelry mall in the Loop on Wabash behind Macy's, has excellent bargain-priced Middle Eastern lunch---go to" Chicago restaurant menus" and write name of restaurant in search box to see menus, addresses, hours etc.

              1. I can't believe that anyone has trouble finding good Mexican food in Chicago. Whether you enjoy mid-priced creative provincial Mexican food at places like Frontera Grill, Mixteco Grill, and Mundial Cocina Mestiza, or the dirt cheap conventional Mexican food at places like Nuevo Leon or the numerous taquerias around town, Chicago's Mexican food offerings are comparable to L.A.'s and superior to any other city this side of the border. You can find more suggestions at which has website links and transit directions for most such places.

                We also have some excellent Latin fusion places (Carnivale, Nacional 27, Cuatro) and South American (Tango Sur, Brazzaz) but you seem to be looking for cheap places and these are all more mid-priced.

                If you're looking for bargains, check out the listings on Metromix. Go to their restaurant page at On the right side of the page, they show a calendar. Click on each date and you'll see a whole lot of great deals that restaurants are running. Some of them are listed under "deals" and others under "events".