I bought one of the Kiwi knives in my local Chinatown (yes, it is awesome. Yes, it was cheap. Epic win) - saw a steel for $8.
I don't own any expensive knives (nor do i plan to in the next few years) and I'll be heading back to the same shop to pick up a cleaver they had. Is the steel worth getting? How do I know what the quality is like?
Kiwi knife is probably the best cheap knife I have encountered. It is cheap, ugly, but it can take on a good edge:
I assume you mean a Chinese Chef's knife, and not a meat cleaver when you said you want to pick up a cleaver, right? Or do you want a real meat cleaver? I don't know your Chinatown, but there are some good value Chinese Chef's knives and some bad ones. If you want a medium blade Chinese Chef's knife, then Dexter Russell produces a very good respected Chinese Chef's knife:
S5198 is its most popular Chinese Chef's knife according to a Dexter-Russell person I talked to, and I have that one.
If you like the thin blade Chinese Chef's knife, then CCK (Chan Chi Kee) makes some real nice carbon steel thin blade knives and it even has a store in Ontario, Canada.
Here is one of the many past post on CCK knives;
I don't think you will know the quality of a knife unless they let you sharpen the knife and use it, which never happens. You just have to go buy reputation and brand.