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Looking for good cheap eats in chicago

Visiting Chicago with a friend and we're looking for some good local places on a budget. Looking for something in the 10-15 person range. Not looking for anything fancy. Just good food that is not a franchise. Something unique to Chicago is a bonus.

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  1. You probably wanna start looking into:
    Italian beef sandwiches

    Stuffed, deep dish AND Chicago style cracker thin crust pizza

    Taquerias, and some of the hidden Mexican gems

    Polish Buffets

    And depending on where you are from, the different ethnic options, like Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, middle eastern, to name a few. Besides the price range you've mentioned, and the "not fancy" description,what else are you looking for?

    2 Replies
    1. re: gordeaux

      well, we are both foodies who are just looking for great food on a budget. We are young backpackers (hence the budget) who met in the philippines. I'm American and my friend has come from London to have an American thanksgiving with me. On our visit to Chicago we are just having trouble finding great local options. We are used to eating delicious street food in Thailand, India etc. I'm trying to find things for her that are distinctly American. We have had a couple different baked pizzas and I think today we will try Heaven on Seven for some southern food.

      1. re: jkramb

        For specific to Chicago:
        Ask around wherever you are for the best Italian Beef sandwich in the neighborhood. If you go, get a beef or a combo (beef with italian sausage) with hot giardiniera, and a hot dog with everything.

        Aquarium Smoker Bar B Q,
        Again, not sure where you are at, but Chicago has it's own style of BBQ. I'd suggest Honey 1 bbq for a tip-link combo with sauce on the side.

        For real distinctly American (Texas-y) BBQ, I'd suggest trying Smoque, or Barn & Co.

        For just great in general, but not American, don't overlook the Mexican gems here, if that interests you.

    2. hi, since you did not get many answers i will try to give you som ideas.. but you are not giving much info as far as location/means of transportation.

      i love holy frijoles on touhy avenue (close to rogers park near the mall, so you will need a car and it is probably not worth the drive if you are staying downtown.

      You can always try the obvious deep dish pizza lou malnati's, that is unique to Chicago ;)

      Try research the best hot dog places in chi town.

      We used to like XOCO but i heard it is not as good as it used to be.

      Revolution Brewery has awesome food, burgers, mussels, beer etc..

      While you are it, maybe give a try to a liquid diet (aka beer) at Goose Island, well established in chicago (though I am sure there any many many more options for beer). I don't really like their food so much.

      Did you check the check please website from the local tv station? They often reviewed local independant restaurants..

      Fyi, as an expat (but now officially american too), for me the food I miss the most when i am not in Chicago is not "distinctively american".
      Thai, japanese, mexican etc.. I kind of feel that what makes the food culture in Chicago and most of the Us is also the diversity and mix. Of course, coming from London i can understand it would not be that exciting especially with your budget :)

      i guess you always have burgers/meat/etc..

      1. Can you tell us where you are staying and his far you are willing to travel? Generally speaking, there are fewer cheap options downtown. The further from the downtown area you go, the higher the likelihood that you will find something. As this is wintertime, there aren't as many food trucks out vs say the summertime.

        5 Replies
        1. re: sunbrace

          Out at midway airport but we have been in the loop during the day trying to find food. We stumbled across the scout which is a pub with some tasty food. Today we thought we would try yolk

          1. re: jkramb

            Yolk's okay but Bongo Room is a step above. They have excellent specialty pancakes. Not far from Scout. In that general area you're also near Cafecito which is a Cuban-style coffee and sandwich shop. Great pressed sandwiches at a great price.

            1. re: jkramb

              Downtown: you can try the French Market. They have several stalls where you can pick the type of food you would like to try.
              Lincoln Park: Frank n Dawgs for hotdogs, The Peasantry for "street food", Aloha Eats for Hawaiian
              Lakeview: 5411 Empanadas for Argentinian empanadas(this used to be a food truck but they were successful enough to have their own restaurant) and Kumas Too for burgers
              Old Town: Big & Little's for American food
              Logan Square: Jam for brunch. Even though this is a brunch place, I personally preferred their lunch options. Although you may be sick and tired of pizza, Reno offers sandwiches during the day, and on Tuesdays, 20 dollars for 2 pizzas. This is a cash only place.
              While not necessarily a lunch or dinner spot, you can also try Weber's Bakery. It's close to Midway. Their pastries are addictive. Thankfully, I live far far away from them.

              1. re: sunbrace

                Forgot to add La Tacorea in Lincoln Park. It's a Korean Mexican fusion restaurant. The prices I think are mostly in the sub 10 dollar range

              2. re: jkramb

                Down by Midway:
                Mexican roasted goat - I'd go in a heartbeat if I were you:
                Birreria Zaragoza. They might even have a Groupon for you.
                You gotta be a meat eater tho. That place is something special.

                You also have Chuck's Southern Comfort. He's got some real bbq on his menu.

            2. To jkramb: Get out of town. Downtown, that is. You can eat like a king for $10 but first you'll have to get out to the neighborhoods. (CTA goes everywhere). Polish Buffet: All you can eat for around $10-12 depending on hour and day. Try Red Apple, 3121 Milwaukee. I don't think it's as good as it used to be but it's OK and a lot of food for the $.
              Thai and Vietnamese: Take the Red Line to Argyle and walk along Argyle then south on Broadway. You will see many possibilities. I like Thai Pastry, 4925 Broadway.
              Persian: Reza's, 5255 N Clark, has gotten pricier if you order from the menu but they have an ad-lib lunch buffet for around $10.
              Mexican: take the 60 bus from the shelter alongside Sears on the northwest corner of State & Madison to Little Village and eat at El Milagro, 3050 W 26th. El Milagro is a small but very active and successful tortilla factory that runs a little. restaurant adjacent. You can feast for $10 and the food is wonderful. They also have a branch in Pilsen.
              Indian: Devon Avenue, no contest. Take Red Line to Loyola then do ten minutes on Devon 155 bus. Get off at Western and you will be in Mumbai or Lahore. Dozens of places offer ad lib buffet lunch for under $10.

              If you are stuck downtown and it's a weekday at lunchtime, one option is the cafeteria at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (one block east of Michigan and right behind the Apple store, it takes up entire block defined by St Clair, Fairbanks, Huron, & Erie). Go to 2nd floor and walk past various commercial eating places.All the way at the end is the main cafeteria, Cafe' 251, a giant food court with chef stations.Not the bargain it once was but still 'way cheaper than restaurants in this Magnificent Mile neighborhood.

              In expensive Gold Coast try Original Pancake House, 22 E Bellevue, where skillets, omelets etc run < $10. Lunch only.
              In Loop, lunch only, Oasis Cafe, 21 N Wabash at rear of jewelry mall. Very good Middle Eastern with daily specials $7.49.

              1. While the restaurant is not in the "cheap eats" category, Yusho offers a $20 prix-fixe deal on Sundays that includes a choice of noodles, dessert and adult beverage.

                1. Not only the polish buffets (around $10 for several courses), but the czech restaurants as well.

                  1. If you're a fan of street food, in my mind there are three main attractions to check out in Chicago, which happen to be conveniently close to each other.

                    Al's Italian Beef on Taylor serves a tender, spicy rendition of this Chicago sandwich dripping with gravy, and fresh-cut double-fried fries. Al's has been around forever and (some say) is the original inventor of the Italian Beef sandwich. It's not my favorite beef in the city but it has a solid spot in my top five.

                    A short ways east of Al's, right off the expressway, is what I fondly think of as the greasiest restaurant on the planet: Jim's Original Polish sausage stand. You can smell it before you see it, and when you do see it the first thing that you'll noticed is the onion pile. This is the Mount Vesuvius of shredded onions, the massive pile sputtering and steaming all day on the greasy griddle before an overflowing portion gets slopped onto your sandwich with spicy deli mustard. There's no more satisfying food for the price, and it's a great skyline view to boot. Make sure you go late at night while drunk, or extremely early in the morning while hungover, for the full Jim's experience.

                    Make sure you stay in Chicago over a Sunday morning to experience Maxwell Street Market, which is just across the expressway from Jim's at Roosevelt and Des Plaines. Maxwell Street is basically a football field-length Mexican garage sale with all kinds of merchandise, but the main attraction is the food. Make note of the taco stands which have hand-made tortillas from scratch, then choose the one with the longest line. Order whatever filling you like and you won't be disappointed.