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Mar 11, 2013 07:04 AM

Good inexpensive dinner for 1 in northwest part of Loop

Hi, I am visiting (first time) on business by myself for two days and looking for good places to eat dinner near La Quinta at 1 S Franklin St. This is close to the Washington/Wells subway stop.

I am open to any type of food, my biggest constraint is that I want the total bill to be less than $20 (for me alone) -- under $15 would be ideal but perhaps not realistic. I'll just be drinking water or soda so that will keep the cost down a bit.

I would prefer to walk but will consider the subway. I would prefer not to venture out too far a distance due to time constraints but I don't mind walking 15 or even 20 minutes. Thanks!

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  1. $20, including tax/tip??? That's quite a low price target for dinner, but you can meet it for lunch. See for lunch suggestions.

    For dinner, $20 for a total bill permits fast food, such as the freshly-made sandwiches at Pret a Manger (Adams and Franklin), or deep-dish pizza (Pizano's on Madison has "pan pizza" style, Giordano's on Jackson for "stuffed pizza"). IMHO your best bet would be to walk 5-10 minutes to the French Market, which has stalls from some of our best purveyors of prepared foods; it's open till 7:30 weekdays, 5:30 Saturdays, closed Sundays (although I'd avoid going there right before closing, when places are packing up for the night). In the French Market, you can get some great sandwiches at Pastoral (also cheeses) and Fumare, barbecue at Lillie's Q, banh mi at Saigon Sisters, etc. Check out the description of the vendors on their website at (Also the directions there, as the French Market is not easy to find; it's in the north concourse inside the commuter train station.) Like the fast food places, the French Market will stretch your budget because you won't be paying 18-20 percent tips to waitstaff. As one more option, many of the steakhouses offer $10-14 burgers on their bar menu; the regular dinner menu at Petterino's, which is a 5-10 minute walk, includes burgers/sandwiches for $14-16 and entree salads for $15-19.

    My favorite restaurant downtown for bargain-priced creative cuisine is Sable (a 15-20 minute walk), but even there you're probably going to spend at least $25 in food for a decent dinner, and tax/tip brings the total over $30, sorry. You'll spend at least that much at other small plates type places downtown, like Quartino and Purple Pig.

    Taking the el will add $5 round trip to the cost, but it will get you to areas that have inexpensive food. Consider Chinatown (the Cermak/Chinatown stop on the Red Line), the Vietnamese restaurants on Argyle (at that stop on the Red Line), or the Indian restaurants on Devon (the Red Line to Loyola, then transfer to the southbound #155 bus - make sure you pay with a fare card so you only pay $.25 for the transfer, you get charged with two separate fares if you pay cash).

    Wherever you go, I recommend checking out their website menus in advance, most of which show prices on them. Even our inexpensive and ethnic restaurants may strain your stated budget.

    1. Unfortunately, most of the Loop restaurants that remain open for dinner are higher-end. There are a couple of decent Thai places close to your hotel: Siam Rice and Ruby of Siam. Otherwise, walk a mile west on Randolph to our hottest restaurant area and try Au Cheval, Jaipur, Little Goat, etc.

      1. You may be able to hit your price point in Greektown as well, if you order judiciously. See, for example, the menu here for Greek Islands,, one of the more popular restaurants in Greektown. Greektown is essentially due west of your hotel by about 8 blocks (and somewhat south, depending upon which restaurant you go to), so it's within walking distance.

        In figuring your total cost, bear in mind that the sales tax in Chicago is among the highest in the country, at 10%.

        4 Replies
        1. re: masha

          >> In figuring your total cost, bear in mind that the sales tax in Chicago is among the highest in the country, at 10%.

          That's not going to be a major factor; compared with a city with say 8% tax which is pretty common, that's a difference of only 40 cents on a $20 dinner.

          The bigger factor is the 18-20 percent tip at a sit-down restaurant, which you can avoid entirely if you go to serve-yourself places like the French Market.

          1. re: masha

            Looking at his posting history, I think KeithW is from the DC area and the DC restaurant tax is 10%.

            So it's roughly comparable to Chicago's 10.5% rate (and it's 9.5% if not affected by the extra 1% MPEA tax, right?).

            1. re: kathryn

              >> (and it's 9.5% if not affected by the extra 1% MPEA tax, right?).

              That's correct. The overall sales tax rate in the city of Chicago for general merchandise decreased from 9.5% to 9.25% this past January 1, due to a reduction in the Cook County portion of the tax. In addition to this, there is a 0.25% city sales tax on all restaurants, and the 1% Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority tax on downtown restaurants only. So the total tax on restaurants is 10.5% on restaurants in downtown Chicago, 9.5% on restaurants elsewhere in the city.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Isn't this where you send them to an Italian Beef stand? Plenty of good ones in the north loop, it screams Chicago, and meets the budget with ease. Plenty to choose from, but board members here should be able to steer you to the best ones near your coordinates.

          2. Thank you everyone for your helpful replies. I'll consider stretching up to $25 or so, but I appreciate the lower cost suggestions. I wasn't thinking about tip when I said $20, so I should amend that to $20 plus tip. I am from the DC area but I actually don't know the tax rate.

            Db Cooper's suggestion of an "Italian Beef stand" sounds interesting if anyone has a specific location -- or I will search on my own.

            8 Replies
            1. re: KeithW

              There's an Al's beef at 28 E. Jackson, about a half mile southeast of you, and a Portillo's at 100 W. Ontario, about a mile north of you.

              1. re: camusman

                You'll be about six blocks walk (a half mile) from two closer locations of Al's Beef: one to the east at 28 E Jackson Blvd, and one to the west at 601 W Adams St (just past Union Station).

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  It's also a bit of hike (about a mile) but Mr. Beef on Orleans is my personal favorite. It's a little further, but I prefer it to Al's slightly because the meat isn't chopped into bits the way Al's does. Either is one of the better sandwiches you are ever going to have.

                  I didn't mean to say the other suggestions weren't good, but if you want an affordable meal that represents one of Chicago's signature food items, Italian Beef or a Deep Dish pie is probably the way to go with your tight budget.

                  1. re: Db Cooper

                    I do like Mr. Beef, but do note that they close at 5 p.m. OP was asking about dinner.

                    1. re: camusman

                      Good point ... I forgot they closed earlier than the others. Thanks for the follow up

                      1. re: Db Cooper

                        Closing times:

                        Al's Beef 601 W. Adams: 8 pm Mo-Fr, 6 pm Sa-Su
                        Al's Beef 28 E. Jackson: 9 pm Mo-Fr, 7 pm Sa, 6 pm Su
                        Al's Beef 169 W. Ontario: 12 mid Mo-Th, 3 am Fr-Sa, 9 pm Su
                        Al's Beef 1079 W. Taylor: 11 pm Mo-Th, 12 mid Fr-Sa, closed Su
                        Portillo's 100 W. Ontario: 11 pm Su-Th, 12 mid Fr-Sa
                        Mr. Beef 666 N. Orleans: 5 pm Mo-Fr, 3 pm Sa, closed Su

                        Mr. Beef also opens again late at night on weekends, opening at 10:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays, and closing at 4 am Saturday (late Friday night) and 5 am Sunday (late Saturday night).


                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          You really are a treasure to this board. The city should give you some sort of title like the Official Unofficial Ambassador of all things Chicago restaurants.....

                          Thanks for your help to the OP and I hope you didn't mind my chiming in with this idea. I just remember being on business trips with tight budgets when I was young and thought of Italian Beef. Chicago does do it well.

                          1. re: Db Cooper

                            Thanks for the kind words! The more information, the more ideas, the more contributors, then the more help it gives to those of us who live here as well as those who visit. Italian beef is one of our local specialties, for lunch or for dinner - good idea, thanks for mentioning it!

            2. You all came through for me, thank you!

              Night #1 I went to Al's Beef for my first ever Italian Beef sandwich. It was so soggy that I couldn't eat it as a sandwich, it pretty much fell apart so I used a fork for the beef and broke off pieces of bread. I went through approximately 35 napkins. But it was very tasty. Though at risk of gluttony, I ordered a second one. (I was hungry, OK?) The second sandwich wasn't soggy and I could eat it as a sandwich. Still delicious. Glad I went.

              NOTE: Al's Beef at 28 E Jackson is closed for 18 months for renovations. I learned that the hard way, but on the plus side got to see a lot more of the city by walking around. Huge thank you to this board (nsxtacy special mention) -- because of all the locations and listing I was able to easy find alternatives using my smartphone map and this site.

              Night #2: French Market, so many great looking choices. Tough decision but I went with Klay Oven Kitchen for Indian. Got a special deal because it was late and they didn't have a full serving of Saag Paneer, so I got what they had left of that (a nice portion) plus a full Chicken Tikki Masala. Less than $13 with a soda. The naan was forgetable but everything else was very good and for the price unbeatable.

              Thanks everyone!