West Loop cheap eats
The West Loop location is a bit sleeker than the original, now closed, outpost in Humboldt Park (which is relocating as a pop-up to Logan Square), with artwork like skulls and a giant Coke sign made of army figures. The menu is the same, so score specialties like tacos arabes, pork tacos with thick, pita-like wrappers that are the result of Puebla’s Lebanese influence. Here, these chipotle-spiked beauties and their friend the cemita milanesa (a breaded pork steak with cheese and avocado on a sesame-studded bun) are among the best of the menu.
Soho House's chicken spot serves up rotisserie chicken, a chicken sandwich and sides for a quick, affordable meal in the West Loop. A whole chicken is $22, which can feed two with leftovers for the next day, and since the chickens are continually roasting away on a rotisserie behind the bar, they come out in minutes. Shake on Hot or Smokey sauce (the former is bright and piquant, the latter is thicker and sweeter) for some heat, and add in a tasty butter lettuce salad with avocado for a cooling side dish.
Comprising just five items, the savory menu at this petite spot (the repurposed front office of a brisket packing outfit) doesn’t take long to peruse. We’ll save you the trouble anyway: You’re having the reuben. The usual conventions—Swiss, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, piquant grilled rye—are all here, but the centerpiece is a boatload of thin-sliced corned beef. It’s a two-hander that’ll leave you with leftovers for later.
When the temperatures drop, it’s hard not to want to escape to somewhere remote and exotic. After one (or four) slushies in this hidden oasis under Green Street Meats in the West Loop, you can almost pretend you’ve been transported to a gritty basement ramen shop in Tokyo. Reminiscent of the cautioning one might find from a buffalo wing–centric sports bar, the menu begins with a stern warning of how spicy the soup can be—and spicy it is, but worth the momentary pain. Balance the flecks of chili in the classic High Five Ramen with one of the milder bowls like the Shoyu or Special Ramen, which are still impressive without the seductively creamy tonkotsu broth. The bracingly chilly bite of the fruity slushy cocktails will help tame the heat, too.
The old-school vibe at this corner shop isn’t manufactured—the Graziano family has been doing its thing here since 1937. While it’s hard to go wrong with any of the sandwiches, the Mr. G ($9.25)—prosciutto, salami and sopressata, with biting aged provolone and marinated artichokes tucked into crackly-crisp bread anointed with hot oil and truffle mustard vinaigrette—claims house specialty status for a reason.
Unlike Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Stephanie Izard’s sequel to Girl & the Goat—the restaurant that launched the revitalization of the West Loop, redefined the small-plate trend and proved that winning Top Chef can in fact translate into real-world success—is a sequel you’ll want to visit. The bilevel Little Goat is open as a bar, cooking studio and more.
Thinking of spending your Sunday morning at this classic Chicago diner? Better check the weather: The line snakes out the door well into the afternoon. Customers are treated to fresh, sugar-dusted doughnut holes (and, if you’re a woman, Milk Duds) while they wait, but the real feast starts when you sit down. Stacks of “meltaway” pancakes are perfectly browned, omelettes come in hot skillets (try the sweet, rich apple-and-cheese variety) and juicy, gooey patty melts seem too big to finish. But as with the rest of the irresistible dishes, you’ll find room.
This South African export delivers terrific grilled chicken slicked with spicy peri-peri sauce, plus well-made sides and sandwiches. Try the bright peas mashed with parsley, mint and chile; soft fries with peri-peri mayo or a cucumber salad with poppy seed dressing alongside your chicken, or try the Nandoca’s Choice, butterflied peri-peri chicken breast topped with crisp coleslaw and wedged into lightly seasoned garlic bread. Although you order at the counter, Nando’s is a step above fast casual, with geometric-patterned decor, a patio and booze. It’s also one of the few fast, cheap places on Restaurant Row, making it a solid lunch or post-bar spot.
This sweetly appointed shop, little sister to modern red sauce spot Formento’s, deals in classic Italian sandwiches done without much meddling. Go traditional with the chicken Parmesan sub ($9.99) or Nonna’s meatball sub ($9.99), both accented with milky mozzarella and bright tomato sauce. Vegetarians will appreciate the wood-fired zucchini ($7.99), which marries chilled slices of its eponymous ingredient with pickled shallots and verdant pesto.
The pizza venue at Soho House, Pizza East offers a variety of appetizers as well as a dozen pizzas. Start with the heirloom tomato salad, in which ripe tomatoes and big torn chunks of bread get a salty punch from anchovies and capers. Charcuterie hangs above the bar, and it’s a good deal—for $22 you get sizable servings of cheese and charcuterie like mortadella, San Daniele prosciutto and crumbles of pecorino, along with pickles and bread. The pizza crust, puffy with a nice chew, is spot-on, and toppings include burrata, tomatoes and black olives.
The sister restaurant to the Publican does a lot of things: It’s a butcher shop, a sandwich joint, a grocer and a bread bakery. The selection of locally sourced meats and dairy is a home cook’s (bourgeois) dream, but if you’d rather leave the cooking to Paul Kahan and crew, get a bowl of the deeply flavorful ribollita soup, a rotating sandwich (they're all great) and a seat at one of the communal tables.
When the Wasabi team opened Ramen Takeya in the West Loop, they focused on something a little different—chicken broth. Unlike all the porky bowls that dominate Chicago's ramen scene, the chicken paitan is more delicate, and precisely what you'll want to eat to stave off a cold. It comes packed with springy noodles, onions and a bright-orange yolked egg. On the side, try a mini donburi bowl, packed white rice topped with salmon roe, basically a giant nigiri. The space is small, but food comes out quickly, so you'll be moving along in no time.