chicago essential cheap eats

For my city guides, I try to have a mix of everything - new restaurants, iconic venues, and tourist spots worth a visit. As with all guides, it is not exhaustive but hopefully full of wonderful recommendations that will help you make the most of your visit! Here's what I love on the cheap in Chicago:


Al's Italian Beef   

Chicago-based chain known for overstuffed Italian beef sandwiches & hot dogs

234 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60604


Big & littles

Beyond burgers & fried fish, this quick-serve spot does po' boys, tacos & gourmet fries.

860 N Orleans St, Chicago, IL 60610


big star 

Mexican street food, plus margaritas & other drinks fuel a lively scene at this funky hangout.

1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

 photo: pequods

photo: pequods

Pequod's Pizza 

Casual, brick-walled pizza pub where deep-dish pies with caramelized crusts are served until late.

2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614


Antique taco

Seasonal menu of gourmet tacos & Mexican appetizers doled out in a shabby-chic, counter-serve space.

1360 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622




Counter-serve joint for creative burgers with Korean & other global ingredients 

6604 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60626

 photo: groupon

photo: groupon

The Wiener Circle

Famously surly staffers serve char dogs & more at this tiny institution that's open late.

2622 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

 photo: tasting table

photo: tasting table

Stan's Donuts

Stylish spot supplying gourmet donuts

26 E Roosevelt Rd, Chicago, IL 60605

 photo: portillo's 

photo: portillo's 

Portillo's Hot Dogs

Chicago-born chain for hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches & more

100 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60610

 photo:  Lion + Maven

photo: Lion + Maven

Honey Butter Fried Chicken  

Quick-serve outfit furnishes fried poultry, craft beer & cocktails in rustic digs with a patio.

3361 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

 photo: rick bayless

photo: rick bayless


Counter serving chef Rick Bayless's take on Mexican street food, plus tap beers.

449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

 photo: trip advisor 

photo: trip advisor 

Sultan's Market

Cash-only counter-serve Middle Eastern spot with falafel, gyros & more

2057 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647


Furious Spoon  

Japanese ramen soup offered with toppings & sides in a simple wood-lined space with counter seats.

1571 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622


nyc bagel deli

Casual spot for New York-style delicatessen sandwiches & pizzas by the slice or the pie.

515 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60654

 photo:  ChicagoNow

photo: ChicagoNow

Lao Sze Chuan

Chinatown eatery serving Szechuan specialties alongside traditional Chinese dishes.

2172 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616