The best cheap eats in Chicago (2024)

The best cheap eats in Chicago (1)

The best part? Everything on this list rings up for under $15.

Photograph: Courtesy of CR Films

Written by Time Out Chicago editors & Samantha Nelson

Advertising

ThoughChicago has no shortage ofMichelin-starred,fine dining restaurants serving inventive tasting menus, cheap eats are just as important to the fabric of the city’s dining scene. Hot dogs and Italian beef are among the most iconic affordable meals, butthere are plenty ofother options spread across the city’s neighborhoods, from BBQ pork buns in Chinatown to carnitas in Pilsen to biryani on Devon Avenue. Whether you’re looking to sit down for a satisfying meal that won’t break the bank or just grab a bite before heading back to work, these restaurants offer some of the bestcheap eats in Chicago.

With inflation continuing to impact the restaurant industry, some prices may be higher than what we have listed. It’s getting harder to find a good meal for under $10, but we’ve done our best and nothing on this list should cost you more than $15.

RECOMMENDED: Discoverthe best free things to do in Chicago

Been there, done that? Think again, my friend.

By entering your email address you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and consent to receive emails from Time Out about news, events, offers and partner promotions.

🙌
Awesome, you're subscribed!

Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!

Best cheap eats in Chicago

1.Double cheeseburger and fries at Red Hot Ranch
  • Hot dogs
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Hannah Bourne

It's damn near impossible to find an excellent burger and fries for less than $10 in Chicago, but at Red Hot Ranch, it's all in a day's work. The cash-only, late-night hang slings crispy-edged griddle patties that are dressed up with a slice or two of American cheese, LTO and special sauce. It's everything you want on a burger and nothing you don't. The thick-cut fries are nothing to scoff at either—and they make the perfect vehicle for all the drippings from one of Chicago's best burgers.

Price: $7

2.Lengua taco at La Chaparrita
  • Mexican
  • South Lawndale
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Nick Murway

If you've gotten this far without trying lengua, or beef tongue, it's time to change that—stat. Try it at this iconic Little Village corner store that peddles some of the best tacos, huaraches and aguas frescas around. The super tender, remarkably soft meat is a flavor conduit, so keep it simple with a sprinkle of diced raw onions and cilantro, a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of salsa. While you're here, you might as well sample the cabeza (head and cheek), the crispy tripe and the al pastor.

Price:$4

Advertising

3.BBQ pork bun Chiu Quon Bakery
  • Bakeries
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy Jaclyn Rivas / Chiu Quon Bakery

If there's a more heavenly savory pastry in Chicago, we have yet to find it. Lucky for us, the case at Chiu Quon—one of Chinatown's oldest bakeries—is always stocked with the drool-inducing buns. Each golden orb is stuffed with tender, melt-in-your-mouth shredded pork that's been marinated in a special secret sauce. The fluffy, slightly sweet dough that surrounds the savory center tears easily with two hands (or your teeth). Save yourself the heartache and order a few extras for the road.

Price:$1.85

4.Assorted sushi at Lawrence Fish Market
  • Seafood
  • Albany Park
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Jeffy Mai for Time Out

This not-so-hidden gem in Albany Park deals in unimaginably cheap sushi, three words that could be a turnoff but aren't at Lawrence Fish Market. Most of the rolls ring up well under $9, but we love shopping the à la carte section, where you can snag single slices of pristine sashimi and nigiri for as little as a $1.45. Choose from tender tako (octopus), buttery salmon, ruby-red tuna or marinated mackerel. Just don't forget to stop at the ATM before you place your order—Lawrence Fish Market is cash-only.

Price: Starting at $1.45

Advertising

5.Rib tips/link combo at Honey 1 BBQ
  • Barbecue
  • Grand Boulevard
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Nick Murway

Father-son duo Robert Adams Sr. and Jr. moved their Honey 1 BBQ from the Northwest Side to Bronzeville, but they're still churning out delicious house-smoked meats with Arkansas flair (Adams Sr. hails from the Southern state). Particularly drool-inducing: The spot's spicy-hot links and tender rib tips slathered in a sticky barbecue sauce. The meal comes in a variety of sizes, accompanied by fries and bread help soak up excess sauce.

Price: Starting at $12.99

6.Pork carnitas at Carnitas Uruapan
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy of CR Films

The titular meat is served by the taco or pound at Carnitas Uruapan, a popular Pilsen storefront with a second location in Gage Park to satisfy the city's demand. Locals line up early to place their order before the restaurant sells out for the day, which can happen well before closing time. The succulent, slow-roasted pork is accompanied by salsa, handmade tortillas, lime wedges, raw onion and cilantro—everything you need to make some of the tastiest tacos in Chicago.

Price: $3.99 per taco or $7.25 for a half pound

Advertising

7.Steak sandwich at Mr. D's Shish-Kabobs
  • Montclare
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Jeffy Mai for Time Out

Over on the Northwest Side, this mom-and-pop joint has garnered a loyal following over the past several decades for its outstanding sandwiches. Owners Mike and Ann Antonopoulos have been serving the Montclare community affordable bites since the late ‘60s, and while you can’t go wrong with the namesake shish kebab, we lean towards the steak sandwich that stars thinly-sliced, marinated ribeye tucked into a French roll alongside onions and tomatoes. Plus every order comes with fresh cut fries, which are some of the best in the city. The cost has gone up in recent years but rest assured, this satisfying sandwich is worth every penny.

Price:$11.30

Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago

8.Ginger tofu bánh mì at Nhu Lan Bakery
  • Bakeries
  • Lincoln Square
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Zach Long for Time Out

With locations in Uptown and just to the west of Lincoln Square (on Lawrence Avenue), Nhu Lan serves some of the best bánh mì in town. The bakery's signature Vietnamese sandwich is piled with pâté and head cheese, but the vegetarian options at Nhu Lan are just as delicious, filling and affordable. Show up with $11, and you can snag a flaky baguette wrapped around tender pieces of ginger-marinated tofu as well as carrots, daikon, jalapeno and cilantro.

Price: $10.88

Zach Long

Advertising

9.JPG Maxwell Street Polish at Fixin’ Franks inside Home Depot
Photograph: Emma Krupp for Time Out

Fixin’ Franks, the hot dog stand operating inside 17 Home Depot locations across Chicagoland, is a longtime regional treasure—not just because it’s nice to end your home improvement shopping trips with a hot dog in hand, but also because the company sources its meat from the venerable Makowski’s Real Sausage in Bridgeport, which elevates the stand to a genuinely destination-worthy lunch spot. Break the hot dog mold and spring for a Polish sausage topped with mustard, sauteed onions and giardiniera from J.P. Graziano. Pro tip: Be very specific about what you’re ordering and ask for giardiniera on top, because some locations default to excluding the condiment.

Price: Starting at $6

Emma Krupp

10.Italian beef at Al’s #1 Italian Beef
  • Little Italy, UIC
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas for Time Out

Though it was franchised at the turn of the millennium, this location of Al’s is the oldest (having opened in 1962) and the only direct descendant of the original (a stand at Laflin and Harrison). These days, you’ll find Italian beef all over town, but there’s something about eating one at this surviving piece of Little Italy. A five-inch bun piled with tender, thinly sliced beef is only better as a topped with char-grilled sausage, dipped in beef jus and finished with hot giardiniera. Skin-on fries smothered with cheese are required eating for a meal lingering locals would be proud of.

Price: Starting at $11.45

Advertising

11.Cubano sandwich at Cafecito
  • Cuban
  • Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Lines often stretch out the door at lunch time at Cafecito, when Loop workers flock in for a made-to-order sandwich served on pressed crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside bread. There are a long list of options ranging from grilled tilapia to jerk chicken, but the dominant favorite is the Cubano made with mojo-marinated roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. For an extra pick-me-up, add on a shot Cuban espresso sweetened with a bit of sugar for $2.49. Cafecito also has locations in the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park.

Price: $10.49

Samantha Nelson

12.Falafel sandwich at Ragadan
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy of Daniel Sweis

Ragadan owner Danny Sweis fuses the culinary traditions his parents brought with them from Amman, Jordan with the food he grew up eating in Oklahomaat thisUptown falafel shop. Spiced with cumin, coriander and a bit of sumac, his crispy falafel are nested into a pita pocket with sumac caramelized onions or served on a ka’ak sesame loaf with humus, tahini and parsley sauce. Add in a side of green or red chili and you’re still coming in at under $10.

Price: $9

Samantha Nelson

Advertising

13.Chicken biryani at Ghareeb Nawaz
  • Indian
  • West Ridge
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Zach Long for Time Out

This always-bustling Indian restaurant on Devon Avenue boasts an entire menu of dishes that won't break the bank, most of which are served on metal cafeteria trays. If you've never dined at Ghareeb Nawaz before, the chicken biryani (available with bone-in or boneless chicken) is a great place to start. You'll get a heaping serving of basmati rice with chunks of tender chicken that's marinated with spices and yogurt. Add a gigantic piece of tandoori naan to your meal if you like—you'll still come in under budget, because it's only $1.25.

Price: Starting at $8

Zach Long

14.Chicken shawarma sandwich at Sultan’s Market
  • Mediterranean
  • Wicker Park
  • price 1 of 4

Photo: Jason Little

A beacon of cheap eats, Sultan's Market boasts locations in Wicker Park, Lincoln Park and Logan Square—making it easy to get your hands on Middle Eastern fare no matter how much money you have in your wallet. For a few bucks, you can snag a soft, toasty pita that's stuffed to the brim with creamy hummus, roasted chicken, tomatoes, onions and garlic sauce. Opt for the medium spice to kick things up a notch. It's the kind of thing you can scarf down on the go, no seat required.

Price: $8

Advertising

15.Mini plate lunch at Aloha Eats
  • Hawaiian
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy of Aloha Eats

This no frills, counter service joint near Lincoln Park might not deliver much in the way of island vibes, but it does provide the chance to try the Hawaiian street food staple of plate lunch, a relative of the bento box dating back to the late 1800s. Choose from a small portion of chicken or tofu katsu, grilled Spam with brown gravy, fried shrimp or teriyaki-marinated barbecue chicken served with scoops of both white rice and slightly salty mayo-based macaroni salad.

Price: $9.55 to $12.15

Samantha Nelson

16.Empanadas at El Mercado Food Market
  • Latin American
  • Wrigleyville
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Martha Williams for Time Out

This Lakeview market supplies meat to places like Tango Sur and Folklore, and also sells a selection of Argentinian empanadas. These flaky pastries are baked or fried and filled with a variety of fillings that range from corn and eggplant to beef and chicken. Two are enough for most appetites, but we recommend getting a few extra to reheat at home when you're in the mood for a snack.

Price:$2.79 (fried), $3.29 (baked)

Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago

Advertising

17.Tofu bing at Jian
  • Chinese
  • West Loop
Photograph: Emma Krupp for Time Out

The West Loop might be home to some of the city’s best restaurants, but it’s not exactly a hub for bargain dining. Next time you’re in need of an affordable (and delicious) lunch, skip the salad chains and stop by the French Market Chicago under Ogilvie Transportation Center for jianbing from Jian. The popular Chinese street food—which is sometimes likened to a crepe—is stuffed with crunchy sheets of fried dough, soy-marinated tofu, shredded lettuce, egg, green onion and a secret homemade sauce, then sprinkled with a heap of black sesame seeds to complete the glorious medley of textures. Jian recently opened a larger location within Block 37.

Price: $8.75

Emma Krupp

18.Big Dat Donut at Dat Donut
  • Bakeries
  • Chatham
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Martha Williams for Time Out

A South Side institution, Dat Donut specializes in pillowy fried dough that are delightful as they look. You’ll find all types of flavors on display, as well as other sweet treats like cinnamon rolls and apple fritters. Though most items are just a dollar or two, the Big Dat Donut is your best bang for the buck. This behemoth is larger than your head and can be easily shared or split across multiple snacking sessions.

Price: $4.35

Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago

19.Pork chop sandwich at Jim's Original
  • Hot dogs
  • Little Italy, UIC
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas for Time Out

Many people visit iconic Chicago stand Jim’s Original for its Polish sausages, but there’s a co-star that deserves just as much love: The pork chop sandwich. A succulent piece of pork is placed on a bun with yellow mustard, spicy sport peppers and grilled onions that you can smell from down the block. Careful where you bite, though—the chop still carries its bone. A bag of fries also accompanies each order.

Price:$8.30

Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago

20.Hashbrown, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich at Kasama
  • Filipino
  • East Village
  • price 2 of 4

Photograph: Emma Krupp for Time Out

It’s hard to say for sure what exactly makes people line up down the block around brunch time at this Filipino restaurant-bakery. It could be the hefty Filipino breakfast platter, or any number of sweet-and-savory pastries—but we’re partial to the humble breakfast sandwich, which piles hashbrowns, melty American cheese and a silken cube of egg souffle onto a potato roll. For $11, you can also snag the breakfast sandwich topped with crispy-edged longanisa, a Filipino sausage that’s made in-house.

Price: Starting at $9

Emma Krupp

Advertising

21.Tamales at Chilo Y Chela
  • Mexican
  • Humboldt Park
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Nick Murway

The barrel-sized steamer pots behind the counter conceal a treasure trove of tamales stuffed with chicken or pork in red or green sauce—all priced around $2 a pop. Two or three should quell your hunger, but save room for a sweet dessert tamal flavored with fresa (strawberry), pina (pineapple) or elote (sweet corn). A word to the wise: This place closes at 6pm and often sells out, so visit around the lunch hour if you want your pick of the menu.

Price: $2

22.1/4 chicken dinner at Harold’s Chicken
  • Soul and southern American
  • Greater Grand Crossing
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas for Time Out

These days, Chicago is home to a number of fantastic chicken shops, but none is more iconic than Harold's. The franchise has locations all over town (and across state lines), but shops No. 88 in Bronzeville and 36 in Wicker Park are among our favorites. Priced at less than $12 (the price you see may vary, based on location), the filling 1/4 chicken dinner (light or dark meat or a mix of both) comes served atop a white bread with fries and coleslaw on the side. But Harold's tangy, fan-favorite Mild Sauce is what takes this crispy bird to the next level. Go ahead and order extra.

Price:Starting at $9

Advertising

23.Beef jibarito at Cafeteria Yesenia
  • New City
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Did you know that the jibarito was created in Chicago? In our minds, the ingenious Puerto Rican sandwich is as iconic as the Chicago-style hot dog or the Italian beef. You'll find a stellar example of the sandwich at this no-frills restaurant in Back of the Yards, where the beef jibarito is accessorized with melted cheese, tomato, grilled onions and lettuce. But the star of the show is the garlicky plantain “bun,” which is expertly seasoned and fried to crispy-chewy perfection.

Price: $11

24.Chicken tikka wrap at Bombay Eats
  • Indian
  • Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy of Tim McCoy

With locations in the Loop, Streeterville, Lakeview and Naperville, Bombay Eats applies the Chipotle model to Indian street food for quick, customizable meals. While all the rice bowls, salads and sandwich rolls cost $13 or less, the best deals are the wraps. Tandoori-marinated grilled chicken breast is tucked into a flaky paratha and topped with tikka masala sauce, pickled onions and cilantro mint chutney. Vegetarians can opt for a version with cheese paneer and bell peppers for the same cost and the vegan chickpea chana and samosa versions are only $5.99.

Price: $6.49

Samantha Nelson

Advertising

25.Arancini at Sfera Sicilian Street Food
  • Italian
  • Edgewater
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy of Sfera

Owners Steven Jarczyk and Daniela Vitale bring a taste of Sicilian street fare to town at theirtiny Edgewater restaurant. If you can’t take a trip to the Italianisle any time soon, do the next best thing and order Sfera’s crisp arancini—offered withfillings like beef ragu, porcini, ricotta and roasted red peppers. They're served with homemade marinara, which we dare say might be better than your nonna's.

Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago

26.Personal pan pizza at Pequod’s Pizza
  • Pizza
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Martha Williams

The popular deep dish pizzeria is known for its pies sporting caramelized crusts but did you know it offers a killer lunch deal as well? Swing by between 11am-3pm on a weekday to grab a personal seven-inch cheese pizza for only $7.95. The special is not limited to dine-in, either—you can order it for carryout or delivery.

Price:$7.95

Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago

Advertising

27.Half chicken at Chicken Planet
  • Loop

A go-to for Loop workers in search of a quick, affordable lunch, Chicken Planet serves freshly grilled chicken cut into manageable pieces. The best deal is the half-chicken platter, which comes with a piece of pita and a side such as mashed potatoes or corn on the cob. You can get an all white meat version for just $1 more. Coat the meat with spicy salsa or mild barbecue sauce.

Price: $10-$11

Samantha Nelson

  • Puerto Rican
  • Humboldt Park
Photograph: Nick Murway

We know what you're thinking—a double-digit sandwich that maxes out the $10 limit? But the handhelds at this Humboldt Park hideout are easily splittable, or you can wrap up leftovers for another meal later on. Though familiarity will tell you to order the cubano, we're telling you to go with the Knuckle, which finds tender steak, havarti, pickled peppers, onions and Sazón-spiced mayo getting cozy on a hunk of soft and slightly sweet bread. Thanks to a quick ride on the press, this sandwich is served warm, with the melty havarti glueing everything together in tangy, meaty bliss.

Price: $12.75

Advertising

29.Ramen birria at Taco Boom
  • Mexican
  • Lincoln Square
Photograph: Emma Krupp for Time Out

Rich birria consomme serves as the base for this ramen-birria mash-up, which plops mounds of ramen noodles into a bowl full of Taco Boom’s slow-cooked beef birria, onions and cilantro. Punch up the flavor by opting for shredded cheese and extra salsa—we promise that you won’t regret the additional spice.

Price:Starting at $8.40

Emma Krupp

30.Gayle V’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese
  • Sandwich shops
  • Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy of Gayle V's Best Ever Grilled Cheese

Gayle Voss was selling cheese at the Green City Market when she got the idea to team up with other vendors to make grilled cheese sandwiches. The combination of white sourdough bread from Bennison’s Bakery, butter from Wisconsin’s Nordic Creamery and mild buttery cheese from Prairie Pure Cheese formed the basis of her not so humbly named business venture, now located inside Block 37. The menu also features more complex options incorporating meat, eggs and produce from local farms, but the Classic is still the best value.

Price: $8

Samantha Nelson

Advertising

  • Vietnamese
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Zach Long for Time Out

Most people head to this spot on the edge of Uptown and Ravenswood for bánh mì sandwiches and steaming bowls of pho. But CoCo’s wok-fried noodles are just as good as the aforementioned options, mixing thin ramen-like noodles with bean sprouts, onion, carrot, cilantro and your choice of protein. You can get chicken, pork or tofu with your noodles for $11.95—if you want beef or shrimp, it will run you $12.95. There are enough noodles here for one very hungry person or two folks looking for a dish to share.

Price: Starting at $11.95

Zach Long

32.Zhong dumplings at Da Mao Jia
  • Bridgeport
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Like many of the menu items at this Chengdu-homaging restaurant in Bridgeport (with additional locations in Lincoln Park and Uptown), these supple, crescent-shaped pork dumplings arrive swimming in a searing, bright-red oil made from dried chilies and numbing Sichuan peppercorns. They're painfully addictive, and a slow burn will haunt your lips long after the meal ends.

Price: $7.99

Advertising

33.Tacos at Seoul Taco
  • Fusion
  • River North
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Courtesy of Adam Bertels

Seoul Taco offers a delicious marriage of Korean barbecue and Mexican street food in Hyde Park and River North, and the entire menu rings up at $15 or less. Get a trio of the signature tacos filled with bulgogi beef, spicy pork, chicken or tofu wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with green onions, a wedge of lime and sweet and spicy sauce. You can also get your protein layered into a quesadilla with jack and cheddar cheese for the same price.

Price: $10 or $13 for beef

Samantha Nelson

34.Two slices of pizza and a drink at Fat Chris’s Pizza and Such
  • Pizza
  • Andersonville
Photograph: Zach Long for Time Out

This Andersonville pizzeria is best known for its delicious Detroit-style pies, but it also boasts a couple of great lunch deals. You can get two slices of pizza (hand-tossed crust, not Detroit-style) with your choice of up to two toppings plus a can of soda for just $8 bucks. And if you’re trying to eat more greens, you can also snag a slice of pizza, a small salad and a can of soda for $8. The slices are generous and it’s easier than ordering a whole pie for yourself and carrying out the leftovers.

Price:$8

Zach Long

Advertising

35.Hot dog at Portillo’s
  • Hot dogs
  • River North
  • price 1 of 4

Photograph: Nick Murway

The menu at Portillo's is long on expertly prepared fast-food staples, but the exemplary Chicago-style hot dog is an absolute must. Each sausage comes wrapped like precious cargo, but as you peel back the wax paper, you'll catch a glimpse of the bright-green relish, crimson tomatoes and sport peppers. The steamed poppy seed bun holds it all together like a warm hug, but you'll surely wind up with a bit of mustard on your chin. One glance around the room and you'll see that no one notices—they're all entranced with the food in front of them.

Price: $4.29

36.Stuffed special slice at The Art of Pizza
  • Pizza
  • Lake View
  • price 2 of 4

Photograph: Brendan Lekan

Sometimes all you really need is a single slice of deep dish pizza. Art Shabez, the owner of the Art of Pizza, gets it—which is why he sells all of his fan-favorite 'za by the piece and the pie. There's a lot to look at on the menu, but you're here for the stuffed special: an ooey-gooey mess of onions, sausage, mushrooms and green peppers anchored by a firm, buttery crust and covered in bright, oregano-flaked sauce. Heck, you should probably just toss another slice in your order—just in case.

Price: $5.42

Been there, done that? Think again, my friend.

By entering your email address you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and consent to receive emails from Time Out about news, events, offers and partner promotions.

🙌
Awesome, you're subscribed!

Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!

Been there, done that? Think again, my friend.

By entering your email address you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and consent to receive emails from Time Out about news, events, offers and partner promotions.

🙌
Awesome, you're subscribed!

Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!

Recommended

    You may also like

    You may also like

    Advertising

    The best cheap eats in Chicago (2024)
    Top Articles
    Latest Posts
    Article information

    Author: Nathanael Baumbach

    Last Updated:

    Views: 5983

    Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

    Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Nathanael Baumbach

    Birthday: 1998-12-02

    Address: Apt. 829 751 Glover View, West Orlando, IN 22436

    Phone: +901025288581

    Job: Internal IT Coordinator

    Hobby: Gunsmithing, Motor sports, Flying, Skiing, Hooping, Lego building, Ice skating

    Introduction: My name is Nathanael Baumbach, I am a fantastic, nice, victorious, brave, healthy, cute, glorious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.