Chicago's Essential Cheap Eats

Photo : Inside Tailgating

Photo : Inside Tailgating

My favorite thing to do when I travel is find the best cheap eats in any city. I love seeing restaurants pump out high quality food, packed with flavor, in a super casual setting. We are talking pizza, donuts, burgers, tacos, and fried delights. You know, the shit that'll kill ya. Chicago can offer you some of the best in the country. You can obviously find the best deep dish and hot dogs on earth here but The Windy City offers so much more. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but below are some of my all time favorite pics for under $25 in alphabetical order:

Al's Italian Beef - The Italian beef sandwich is famous in Chicago. The sandwiches were invented during the great depression out of necessity. This place is a classic and has been serving the iconic sandwiches since 1938. Today they shave the meat uber thin, pile it with peppers, and dip it in gravy. 

Photo: Al's Beef

Photo: Al's Beef

Ann Sather - This is a Swedish diner with a big menu of comfort food. Its a great place to go for breakfast food that'll put you in a coma. They serve 7 types of eggs benedict. The real star here would be the massive cinnamon rolls drenched in heavenly glaze. 

Photo : Lucky Taste Buds

Photo : Lucky Taste Buds

Antique Taco - I fell in love with this place and keep coming back. They serve tacos in a counter service style. The gourmet tacos are huge and insanely delicious. Try the tempura battered fish or the spicy chicken tacos. They also have a phenomenal list of sides and other dishes like enchiladas and quesadillas. 

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Big & littles - This place doesnt look like much from the outside, but they are making some of the best tacos, sandwiches, and burgers that you can get. Their seafood creations are the star here. Try the fresh ahi tuna tacos or the fried softshell crab po' boy

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Big Star - I fucking love this place. They are owned by Chicago restaurant power house One Off Hospitality. Big Star serves some of the best Mexican street food and margaritas you can find. They have an awesome patio for outdoor seating and a takeout window that soothes all my late night drunk desires.

Photo : Food Spotting

Photo : Food Spotting

BopNGrill - This fast-casual Korean place kills it with their burger creations. Try the kimchi burger (kimchi, fried egg, cheddar, bacon, kimchi mayo, cabbage) or the umami burger (truffled mushroom duxelle, sun-dried tomato confit, togarashi mayo, bacon-smoked gouda). They also have killer kimchi fries & bulgogi eggrolls

Photo : Pintrest

Photo : Pintrest

Bongo Room- This is good old fashioned American comfort food. They have a fantastic brunch with all the classics you love. Check out the breakfast burrito, croissant sandwich and the tomatillo salsa scramble. Go early on the weekend or expect to wait in line at any of their locations. 

Photo : Serious Eats

Photo : Serious Eats

Butcher & The Burger - This place is as American as apple pie. Their burgers are made with freshly ground beef in their own butcher shop and are uber juicy. You can also get turkey, salmon, shrimp, bison, pork, and veggie versions. After that the toppings, cheese, spices, and bun choices are nearly limitless. They keep their prices low but the quality is excellent. The fries are hand cut, as any self respecting french fry should be.

Photo : Strongfigure.com

Photo : Strongfigure.com

Calumet Fisheries- You'll be surprised to learn that this shack on the side of the road is James Beard honored. They smoke all the  fish in their own giant smoker. Offerings include smoked salmon, sable, trout, and white fish. They also have great fried shrimp and oysters. 

Photo : Munchies

Photo : Munchies

Crisp- Ever tried Korean style fried chicken? It might ruin all other versions for you. The chicken is fried twice to ensure maximum crispness. True to its name, Crisp pumps out some of the most crisp and juicy versions of this delight. They also have a menu of other fun Korean dishes such as burritos, veggie bowls, and kimchi. 

Photo : Serious Eats

Photo : Serious Eats

Firecakes Donuts- This tiny space in River North serves small batch artisan donuts from 7:30am until they sell out. The first time I went I might have ordered 8 for myself. Some of the best are butterscotch praline, coconut cream, and the chocolate hazelnut long john. 

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Honey Butter Fried Chicken- This is counter service style, southern fried chicken. It is served with soft whipped honey butter to slather all over the chicken. Their sides are inventive takes on southern classics. They have pimento mac 'n cheese, schmaltz smashed potatoes, and herb ranch pasta salad. 

Photo: Lion & Maven

Photo: Lion & Maven

Lao Sze Chuan - This Szechuan restaurant has been a Chicago favorite since opening in 1998. They make great versions of all the favroite dishes you'd expect. Many of the dishes are insanely spice. Try the dan-dan noodles, and make sure to bring your rolaids 

Photo: Chicago Now

Photo: Chicago Now

Pequods - Chicago is the land of deep dish pizza. Everyone has their favorite ranging from Pequods, to chains like Lou Malnati's and Giordano's. This happens to be my favorite. The caramelized crust is the best here, and it doesn't hurt that you're basically eating a carb bucket filled with cheese. 

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Piece Pizza - This is a departure from the traditional Chicago deep dish. At Piece you'll find New Haven style, thin crust pizza. The pies are as big as your body. They also have a great beer selection, kareoke, and live music. 

Photo: Thrillist

Photo: Thrillist

Portillo's Hot Dogs- I imagine that this is what childhood in Chicago tastes like. It's an institution in this city like Wrigley. They serve Italian beef, classic hot dogs, burgers, and salads. Not going here in Chicago would be like skipping soft pretzels in NYC. 

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Slurping Turtle - This is a casual Japanese spot in River North is serving comfort food of noodles, sashimi, and other grilled dishes. I am in love with their ramen. Try the spicy  Tan Tan Men Ramen with homemade  noodles, pork meatball, pork chashu, pork miso, bok choy, and bean sprouts. They have a massive list of toppings to customize your ramen bowl. 

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Stan's Donuts - Stan's has been perfecting donuts since 1963. The smell when you walk into the store should be bottled and sold. They serve a unique list of insanely delicious sweets. Check out the peanut butter banana pockets or the lemon pistachio old fashioned. 

Photo : Tasting Table

Photo : Tasting Table

Sultan's Market - This is a Wicker Park favorite, serving Middle Eastern food at dirt cheap prices. You can get all your favorites like hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, as well as chicken and lamb shawarma. 

Photo : Pintrest

Photo : Pintrest

The Wiener Circle - it's not the best food by any stretch of the imagination, but The Wiener Circle is an experience everyone should have in Chicago. While you are ordering a hot dog don't be surprised if the staff literally swears at you and screams obscenities. All part of the experience! 

Photo : Food Network

Photo : Food Network

XOCO - Chef Rick Bayless has a mini Mexican food empire in Chicago. If you aren't in the mood for his full service Frontera Grill or Topolobompo, XOCO is a great option. Torts are the star of the show here. They have tons to choose from and many seasonal specials. Check out the Pepito (braised Creekstone short ribs, caramelized onion, artisan Jack cheese, black beans, pickled jalapeƱos) or the Cochinita Pibil ( wood-roasted Gunthorp suckling pig, achiote, black beans, pickled onion, habanero). The churros shouldn't be missed. 

Photo: Rick Bayless

Photo: Rick Bayless