Cheap eats in Uptown

Uptown is filled with cheap eats, and it's easy to find a great meal for less than $20 a person. Here's where to find deals on Vietnamese, Mexican and other cuisines.
Photograph: Brendan Lekan Pho 777
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Uptown is an ethnic food paradise, with Vietnamese restaurants, Chinese food, tacos and more. Many of the top spots in the neighborhood are serving up hearty portions of cheap eats, whether it's huge bowls of pho, giant plates of shawarma and rice, or chilaquiles that could easily feed two hungry people. Here's where to go when you want a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner for less.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Uptown and Argyle

Shopping, Markets and fairs

Argyle Night Market

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The Argyle Night Market, held Thursday evenings in the summer features farm vendors, plus stalls featuring Argyle Street restaurants. It's an easy way to sample dishes from lots of restaurants for a just a couple bucks.

Restaurants, Vietnamese

Ba Le

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When the French controlled Vietnam, baguettes crossed cultures, and one of the finest results of this is the banh mi sandwich. They’re plentiful in this area, but this bakery creates most of the bread restaurants use, so go try the source, a cute and colorful counter-service spot with stimulation galore. Jump in line for the barbecue pork or the Ba Le special, which piles housemade pâté, headcheese and pork onto a baguette with tangy carrot and daikon slivers, cilantro and jalapeño. Grab a coconut custard (served in an actual coconut!) for an interesting ending.

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Jerusalem Salad at Babylon.
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Restaurants, Mediterranean

Babylon

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Babylon relocated from Bucktown to Uptown in 2014, but the menu offers the same line-up of Middle Eastern standards. There's a fresh cucumber and tomato Jerusalem salad, a hearty bowl of lentil soup and chicken, beef and lamb shawarma, which comes either wrapped up in a pita or on a plate with rice and warm pita. Whatever you order, ask for a side of housemade hot sauce, which adds a little heat and great peppery flavor to each dish.

Al Pastor Tacos at Carmela's Taqueria.
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Restaurants, Mexican

Carmela’s Taquería

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The walls are painted in bright, whimsical colors and dotted with the occasional painting. Yet, somehow, the divier parts of this tiny taqueria are what seem to stick out: the battered stools, the terse short-order cooks. Luckily, it takes only a few bites to forget about atmosphere. Order the tacos al pastor, tortillas bulging with pork carved off the spit and thrown on the griddle until dotted with crunchy bits of char, or a chorizo torta, the oily sausage mingling with avocado to rich, creamy results. After those, the look of the place will be the last thing on your mind.

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Steamed Buns at Chiu Quon Bakery.
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Restaurants, Bakeries

Chiu Quon Bakery

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Dim sum fans are accustomed to cart service and ordering cards, but the majority of the small dishes traditionally served originated in tea houses and bakeries in southern China. Chinese bakery Chi Quon has been making these delectable items for more than 25 years, attracting locals and visitors from around the city. Its Uptown location is a bit smaller than its original Chinatown store, but it offers many of the same items, including fresh BBQ pork buns, sesame balls filled with bean paste and shrimp dumplings. Pop in for a snack or make a meal out of the various baked goods on display.

Croissant and Coffee at La Patisserie P.
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Restaurants, Bakeries

La Patisserie P

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This Argyle bakery leans a little more European than Chiu Quon, fusing French techniques with Asian delicacies. Scarf down the croissants, red bean filled sesame balls, buttery Filipino ensaymada, passion fruit cakes. Make a meal of it with barbecue pork buns, ham and cheese sweet buns and more.

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Restaurants, Vietnamese

Pho 777

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The main event at this Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall is, as the name would suggest, the steaming bowls of pho, a Vietnamese beef noodle soup that is the perfect elixir on a cold and snowy Chicago day. When bleak weather subsides, switch gears with something bright and springy, like the citrus-kissed beef salad piled with crunchy bits of peanuts, fresh mint and green chilies that add just the right amount of heat.

Restaurants, Vietnamese

Pho 888

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“Clean yet complex” sums up this Argyle spot’s namesake soup, which bears a hint of sweet star-anise flavor, subtle beefiness and silky fresh noodles. Those same noodles serve other dishes almost as well, but our two favorites don’t include them. The banh mi thit nguoi nails perfectly crusty bread, salty ham, a slather of earthy pâté, plus crunchy daikon, carrots and sliced chilies. And the massive lotus-root salad is the best around, with plump, fresh shrimp, plenty of crunchy peanuts and tangy, herb-flecked dressing.

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Restaurants, Vietnamese

Pho Lily

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This tiny spot off Argyle’s main drag serves Vietnamese standards with precision, if not flair, in a stylish setting (though we could do without Two and a Half Men on the TV—with the sound on). Start with the papaya salad—crunchy, full of shrimp and delivering heat—and the bulging, heavy-on-the-coconut-milk banh xeo. Our banh mi was a little dry, but you can’t go wrong with phos 55 (pork, fish ball, shrimp, squid) and 45 (eye round steak, beef meatball), both chock-full of perfectly cooked noodles and deeply satisfying.

Restaurants, Vietnamese

Pho Xe Tang (Tank Noodle)

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Known as Tank to Anglos, this spot is the answer for indecisive diners wandering Argyle Street. For Vietnamese-food pros, authentic picks are done well; for novices, the staff is apt with both English and suggestions. Lotus-root salad is everything this cuisine can be—limey and minty with shrimp flavor, crunchy peanuts and a subtle chili kick, and the pho is among the best around.

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