There’s no better recommendation than one from a local, this is a guest post from Valentina on the best cheap eats in Chicago.
Eating in Chicago doesn’t have to break the bank! We’ll show you how to experience some of the best flavors of Chicago on a budget. Featuring the top 21 cheap restaurants in Chicago!
Best Cheap Eats in Chicago
Chicago is one of America’s most visited cities. It’s famous for the Sears (now Willis Tower), the Art Institute of Chicago, the John Hancock Building, and much more!
Chicago is a melting pot of immigrants and different cultures from middle eastern to Mexican. This great diversity creates the opportunity for many unique flavors.
We’ll show you where to find some authentic Chicago eats, but also where you can experience authentic global cuisine.
Velvet Taco’s original location is in the heart of Gold Coast, but they’re working to open a new shop in Lincoln Park. It’s a neighborhood favorite for late night bites, but it’s also perfect for a quick lunch. You might have to wait in line for 40 minutes at this place… it’s THAT good!
Velvet Taco prides themselves on serving one-of-a-kind taco creations in a laid-back setting.
They’re proving that tacos don’t have to be Tex-Mex with flavors such as Spicy tikka chicken, Annatto shredded pork and Kobe bacon burger. Velvet Taco also offers a great selection of vegan and vegetarian options. I especially love the Falafel taco.
Also, make sure to check out their WTF (Weekly Taco Feature). Have a piece of their decadent red velvet cake for dessert!
The Bourgeoise Pig
The Bourgeoise Pig cafe is Lincoln Park’s favorite hipster hangout. It’s a top spot for casual brunch, excellent coffee and cozy vibes. It’s one of those hidden gems that only locals know about.
You’ll see DePaul students and busy professionals working away on their laptops. For a more private experience, sneak upstairs. During the summer, grab a sunny outdoor patio table.
The most popular item here is the breakfast burrito. Breakfast is served all day! Choose from a selection of fresh and nutritious salads. I love the Midsummer Night’s Dream Salad. Make sure to ask about their soup of the day. Grab a homemade cookie on your way out.
Crisp is a Korean BBQ joint located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It’s famous for its always-packed communal picnic table. Crisp is a counter serve restaurant focused on fried chicken. Chicago Magazine called it, “the juiciest Korean chicken” in Chicago. They’ve also been featured on Serious Eats, The Stew and Cooking Channel.
Their Crisp BBQ sauce is legendary. Also, their portions are huge! I always order 3 piece wings thinking that it won’t be enough. Somehow, 3 pieces always looks more like 6 pieces of wings! Get a side of Marty’s Magic Mushrooms (no, they’re not really magic).
If you’re looking for more than just chicken, try a Buddha Bowl. These are twists on the traditional Korean Bibimbap.
Dimo’s Pizza is Chicago’s most unconventional pizza place! Their new Wicker Park restaurant is so hipster it’s insane! Complete with trippy art on the wall, a projector screening shows like the Magic Schoolbus and the occasional live music, Dimo’s is a stoner paradise.
Not to mention, they have amazing flavors like Spinach Feta Pesto, Chicken n’ Waffles and S’mores pizza.
Dimo’s mission is to create pizzas that are as “relevant, radical and creative,” as the people who eat it and make it. At Dimo’s you can purchase pizza by the slice or by the pie. I recommend getting multiple different slices to share and sample. The Wicker Park location also features a made-to-order salad bar.
Forastero is another unconventional taco joint! They specialize in Mexican-Korean fusion dishes with favorites such as Korean BBQ Pork tacos and Forastero Tamales.
This is a mom and pop shop is not only one of the best cheap eats in Chicago, but also where you’ll quickly get to know the friendly owners. They take such care in their customers and go out of their way to ensure your comfort.
I’m obsessed with Forastero’s Veggie Bibimbap! It’s become my go-to food. They’re open late on Fridays and Saturdays. So, it’s the perfect place to go after a late night with friends. You can find them in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood
Forastero also has excellent plant-based options like Vegan Kimchi Fries, Flautas, Tacos and Al-Pastor.
New Yorkers might think that they have America’s best bagels… but they’ve probably never heard of CBA. CBA is the Chicago Bagel Authority. They serve mouthwatering steamed bagel sandwiches in seemingly endless varieties. You have over 100 sandwiches to choose from! CBA serves breakfast all day at two popular Chicagoland locations.
Besides serving some of Chicago’s best sandwiches, or “steamwiches,” CBS also delivers unique charm. They pride themselves on their humorous spirit and spunky creativity. While you wait for your steamwhich, take a look around and enjoy the entertaining decor.
Do try the Eggosaurus or the Hangover Helper. I love the Oak Pork BLT which includes chive cream cheese, bacon, smoked cheddar, avocado and garlic mayonnaise. That all fits in between an everything bagel. See for yourself!
Branko’s Sandwhich Shop
Banko’s is a Lincoln Park favorite. Family owned and operated since 1976, this joint serves up traditional American fast food with a little Ukrainian flare. It’s a warm and welcoming place to grab a bite to eat.
Extremely unpretentious, this place has won the hearts of the local community and DePaul students alike. I love their Bacon Grilled Cheese sandwich on a freezing winter day in Chicago. The B.L.T will cure any Sunday hangover. Also, offering Veggie Burgers for the anti-carnivores among us.
Johnny’s Beef and Gyros
Johnny’s Beef and Gyros is located in Lincoln Park. They also have a suburban location in Joliet. They serve Chicago style street food favorites with unique extras.
If you are looking to sample Chicago flavors, I recommend the Maxwell Street Polish. The Gyros sandwich is another popular item made with premium meats and homemade creamy tzatziki on warm pita.
Johnny’s nutella milkshake is the best in Chicago. I also can’t get enough of their Greek fries! Imagine perfectly crispy fries topped with a generous portion of feta cheese and mediterranean herbs. Mmm.
Billy Goat Tavern
The Billy Goat Tavern is one of the most legendary restaurants in Chicago! There are multiple locations all across the city. Billy Goat Tavern can trace it’s history in Chicago back to the 1930s!
The top menu item here is the Cheezborger. It’s made with fresh, never frozen, beef atop a Kaiser bun with Kosher pickles and generous portions of cheese. No lettuce or tomatoes here because the goat ate them all!
Small Cheval has a few famous Chicago locations. It’s a casual joint is one of the best cheap eats in Chicago that serves up the best all-American fast food. They’re especially famous for their cheeseburgers and fries. Although, they also have great drink options. You can choose from soft drinks, beer, cocktails and milkshakes. I love the Mai Tai!
Small Cheval Old Town has outdoor seating on old school picnic tables under romantic string lights. It’s a great place to meet up with all your friends on a warm summer night. Sit outside and enjoy greasy delicious American food. Check out other great date night restaurants in Chicago.
Flaco’s Tacos now has three Chicago locations! You’ll find them in Streeterville, Printer’s Row and Edgewater. I love the outdoor seating at their Streeterville location. It’s the perfect place to go for Happy Hour after shopping at Water Tower Place.
The best part of Flaco’s Tacos is their weekday specials. On (Taco) Tuesdays you can get the special taco for only $1. Margarita Mondays bring $3 frozen margaritas! There’s also $3 Mimosas on Sundays and $4 Sangria on Saturdays. There are just a few of the weekly deals! You must try their Cowboy taco.
Maxwell Street Market
This isn’t a restaurant, but it is one of the best hidden gems in Chicago. This market is held year round on Fridays and Sundays. It’s part flea market and part fresh produce market.
The food vendors here are incredible! They serve, without a doubt, the freshest Mexican food in the city.
We love Manola’s. As you wait in line, watch the family in action. They hand-press tortillas, place them on the griddle, and add fresh roasted meats. I recommend the steak tacos! Nearby, you can always find the Xoco churro food truck. That completes your cheap and fantastic Mexican meal.
Bonchi Pizza comes to Chicago straight from the streets of Rome. They serve artisanal pizzas crafted simply with quality ingredients. Their pizzas change seasonally, so there’s always something new to discover.
Besides pizza, the most exciting menu item is Suppli. Suppli are balls made with rice and pasta that are stuffed with cheeses and meats. It’s exactly as good as it sounds… mMmm.
The Butcher and the Burger
This place is located in Lincoln Park on the glamorous Armitage Avenue. If you haven’t visited here, you should certainly take the time to check it out. The multi-million dollar mansions are breathtaking!
One of the best cheap eats in Chicago, Butcher and the Burger is a classic counter service burger joint. They pride themselves on their old-fashioned charm and rich flavors. They offer up a “make your own” burger experience. Chose your meat, a signature spice blend, a bun and then decide from the many toppings and condiments.
There’s also a great vegetarian option — I love the lentil and brown rice burger. You can have this with a lettuce bun if you’re concerned about the calories.
Portillos is Chicago’s iconic hot dog fast food chain. In fact, they’ve become so popular that they now have locations all across the US. Although their roots are still strongly rooted in the Windy City, they serve up authentic Chicago style flavors.
Most notably, the Italian beef sandwich and the Maxwell Street Polish. Although, Portillos also has everything from salads to pastas, ribs and phenomenal desserts. The ultimate dessert here is the Chocolate Cake Shake!
The Budlong Hot Chicken
Who says you can’t get Nashville Hot chicken in Chicago? Restaurateur Jared Leonard just proved them wrong. The Budlong Hot Chicken Kitchen prides itself on serving always local, anti-biotic and hormone free meat.
Your slice of hot delight is served on top of classic Texas Toast. Personally, I love the chopped salad with chicken tenders! The tenders are crisp to perfection but soft and – well –tender on the inside.
Not too dry like these other places! Also, be sure to try their made-fresh-daily sides… like mac and cheese or fries. Is your mouth watering yet?
Budlong’s is a casual dining place where you order at the counter, but servers bring and clear away your plates. They’ll also bring you fresh ice water. For beverages, you can choose from a great selection of draft beers. Now, that’s more than you get with most cheap eats!
Another Lakeview icon, Maison Marcel is French bakery set in a glamorous bohemian ambiance. They’ve got natural light, exposed brick and plenty of plant life. This is the perfect spot to meet up with girlfriends and have brunch.
The artful design will make you think you’re inside a formal dining venue. You’re not! Maison Marcel is a casual counter serve coffee shop. They specialize in health conscious items, fresh baked goods and bold coffee.
Make sure to order some pastries and bread to take home. Get a latte infused with nutella to sip on with your meal. Finish with a macaroon for dessert.
Cheesies Restaurant and Bar is Chicago’s paradise for all grilled cheese lovers of America. They have conventional and unconventional loaded grilled cheese sandwiches that are guaranteed to please.
You’ve got to try the Mac sandwich. It’s loaded with American cheese, Cheddar cheese AND homemade macaroni and cheese. That’s all on Texas toast. Get a side of tomato soup with your Mac.
If you are a grilled cheese enthusiast, consider partaking in one of the Cheesies challenges. Challenge 1 involves eating an 8″ (4 lbs.) grilled cheese with fries in under 45 minutes. There’s also a mega version of this challenge! Winners get claim to fame as well as a T-shirt, unlimited High Fives, 2 hours of complimentary drinking and they get their picture up on Cheesies wall of fame!
J.P. Graziano Grocery Co.
Another oldie but a goodie, J. P. Graziano’s Grocery store has been serving Chicagoans since 1937! Located in the West Loop neighborhood, it’s my top pick for sandwiches. The Food Network agrees with me. They named this cheap eats in Chicago spot the best deli in Illinois.
While you’re at J.P.’s make sure to stock up on your Italian grocery favorites. You’ll find all kinds of great authentic brands that you can’t get anywhere else.
BomboBar brings you casual dining of the future! As you walk inside, you’ll be greeted by a host, but you’ll order on your own at one of their tablets up front. Your food will be brought to you at whatever table you choose.
BomboBar serves sandwiches, pizza and beer on tap. Although, they’re iconic items are sweets. The signature dessert at BomboBar is the bomboloni – an Italian hole-less doughnut filled with decedent cream. You can choose from salted caramel, Nutella, s’mores… I could go on!
I also love BomboBar’s homemade gelato. The flavors are quite unique. Including Cookie Monster Dough, Charcoal Oreo and Tie Dye Sugar Cookie. Fudgsicle is an excellent vegan option here!
If you can’t choose between a bomboloni and gelato, don’t worry, you don’t have to! Build your own Gelato Sandwich. You’ll get your choice of gelato served with a bomboloni. Now, that’s an instagrammable dessert!
Bombobar is the perfect place to go after a romantic date night in Chicago.
Collectivo is sweeping the Midwest with few Chicagoland and Milwaukee locations. The brand is committed to coffee excellence from bean to brew. They pride themselves on taking part in every step of the coffeemaking process. That’s why their coffees are award winning!
Along those lines, they’ve also committed to the highest standards in baked goods. Collectivo’s bakery items are made daily, from scratch, at a local bakery. So, you’ll know that what’s in your sandwich is nothing but the best.
Speaking of sandwiches, I love the Cauliflower Banh Mi! They also serve burritos, wraps and bowls. The menu focuses on healthy and fresh food with unique flare.
Collectivo’s has a huge and extremely busy outdoor patio. Any bit of sun, and you’ll see all of Lakeview’s residents head here. It’s the perfect place for a bite with colleagues or a first date.
Map: Cheap Eats Chicago
Valentina’s Destinations was born from my obsession with meticulously researching, organizing and planning my travel itineraries. I’m originally from Nis, Serbia. My family moved to the US when I was young, and I’ve been living in Chicago for the last decade. My passion is travelling the world with my boyfriend, Remigijus. When we’re not travelling, I work as a physician assistant in the psychiatry field. The mental health field is as rewarding as travelling can be. Find me on social media: Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
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