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. These will range from casual cafes for breakfast to suit jacket fine dining. 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

photo: ann sather

photo: ann sather

ann sather cafe

Casual, colorful BYOB mainstay for hearty Swedish-American meals & housemade cinnamon buns.

3415 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657


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


Firecakes Donuts

A roster of artisanal donuts & coffee drinks is available at this quaint, counter-serve spot.

68 W Hubbard 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