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Nonna's
Photograph: Neil Burger

16 Delicious cheap eats in the West Loop

Save some dough while dining on Restaurant Row at these affordable West Loop spots

Written by
Samantha Nelson
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The West Loop is home to some of the best restaurants in Chicago, but they’re not all fine dining spots helmed by celebrity chefs. There are plenty of spots offering cheap eats that cater to downtown workers, residents of the popular neighborhood and anyone else visiting the foodie hub. From a classic sandwich joint to some of the best fried chicken in town, we’ve put together a guide to the best meals in the West Loop that won’t break your budget. Check out these cheap eats in the West Loop the next time you want to save some dough on Restaurant Row.

RECOMMENDED: Find more things to do in the West Loop

Time Out Market Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

With 18 kitchens and plenty of space to eat (and drink!) Time Out Market Chicago serves plenty of dishes that don't exceed $20. Sample tacos from Lil Amaru, try a shawarma wrap from Evette's or grab a 10-inch pie from Candlelite Pizza. And if you're really looking for a deal, swing by on weekdays between 4–7pm during happy hour for $5 beer, $7 wine and $9 cocktails with any food purchase of $15 or more.

 

Cheap eats in the West Loop

  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

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 ($12)—prosciutto, salami and sopresatta, with sharp provolone and marinated artichokes tucked into crackly-crisp bread anointed with hot oil and truffle mustard vinaigrette—claims house specialty status for a reason. You can also order any of their sandwiches on bed of lettuce or arugula, an option particularly popular with the caprese and artichoke.

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Comprising just six items, the savory menu at this petite spot (the retail business for a wholesale meat operation) doesn’t take long to peruse. We’ll save you the trouble anyway: You’re having the reuben served with a pickle spear and housemade potato chips. 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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

The casual sibling to Formento’s locate just next door, Nonna’s offers New York- and Sicilian-style pizza by the slice ($5-$6) from Formento’s executive chef David Schwartz plus made-to-order sandwiches including eggplant parmesan ($11) and roasted turkey with marinated broccoli and spicy honey mayo ($12). Head back to work with your meal or grab a seat at the counter or on the outdoor patio where you can also take the time to indulge with a slice of housemade chocolate cake ($8).

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

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 Shio 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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • West Loop

Bonci adds to the variety of Chicago’s pizza options by serving Roman-style rectangular pies similar to focaccia that are loaded with toppings. Mix and match slices of novel varieties on the menu, which offers plenty of vegetarian and vegan offerings such as lemon ricotta and spicy eggplant. Dine in at the small counter-service restaurant, which also offers seasonal sidewalk seating, or order it to-go and you can finish cooking it at home.

  • Restaurants
  • Hamburgers
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Since 2008, this Chicago-based fast casual chain has opened seven locations throughout the city and North Shore serving a menu of locally produced, non-processed foods. Build your own burger featuring your choice of protein such as black angus beef, a Beyond Meat patty or fried chicken and enjoy it with a side of waffle cut sweet potato fries served with honey mustard sauce. Complete your meal with a decadent Nutella or peanut butter shake.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

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 head butcher/chef Rob Levitt, 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.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Get your fried chicken fix at this Memphis import that put down roots in the epicenter of Chicago's culinary scene. Choose from individual pieces (breast, thigh, wing, leg, tender) or build a plate that's served with baked beans, slaw and white bread. The bone-in pieces are arguably better, but all of the poultry here is blanketed in perfectly crunchy fried skin that'll have you licking your lips long after you've left Gus's.

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

Chicago's original food hall offers more than 20 vendors under one roof, letting you find affordable meals from around the world. Start your morning at Cubano Bros with a breakfast sandwich featuring egg, roasted pork and cheese on hot-pressed Cuban bread ($10), slurp down a bowl of pho at Saigon Sisters ($15) or pick up a plate of chicken tikka masala from Klay Oven Kitchen ($11). Dine in or take advantage of curbside pickup.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • West Loop

Enjoy Mexican street food and beers at this colorful brewpub sibling to Lena Brava. Favorites include plates of Oaxacan-style tacos with roasted green chile and housemade corn tortillas, and the Cali burrito, which features your choice of carne asada, grilled chicken or garlicky shrimp with crema, sliced avocado and Chihuahua cheese plus Au Cheval french fries. Pair your meal with a crisp, refreshing Mexico Calling lager or the tropical flavors of a Palm Shade hazy IPA.

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  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat helped turn the West Loop into a culinary destination when it launched in 2012, but you don’t need to make a reservation far in advance and shell out for fine dining to try the celebrity chef’s food. Little Goat Diner offers spins on classic diner fare such as smoked corn beef hash with eggs ($17) and spiced sourdough apple pancakes ($16) plus milkshakes ($9) and kimchi-spiced bloody marys ($12). Before you head out, visit the attached Sugargoat Sweets for cookies and ice cream.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Even on non-game days, the Palace Grill feels like an off-shoot of the United Center. The space is bedecked with Blackhawks paraphernalia and the patrons wear it as well (the diner is open late on Blackhawks game nights). Players have also been known to stop by ahead of the games. The menu offers diner staples including omelets, skillets, pancakes and burgers and you can also indulge in a bloody mary or a milkshake spiked with Baileys or Kahlua.

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

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. Women and kids are treated to Milk Duds while they wait, a tribute to the candy company’s original owner who was a regular and friend of the restaurant’s namesake, but the real feast starts when you sit down. Stacks of “meltaway” pancakes are perfectly browned, omelets 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.

  • Restaurants
  • Portuguese
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Diners
  • West Loop

A remnant of the old West Loop, Johnnie’s Snack Shop will make you feel like family, with attentive servers quick to welcome you and offer recommendations from the diner’s sprawling menu while keeping your coffee topped off. It’s hard to go wrong with an all-day breakfast featuring enormous omelets served with hashbrowns, grits or Greek potatoes plus your choice of toast, a bagel or an English muffin.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

When the Wasabi team opened Ramen Takeya in the West Loop, they focused on something a little different—chicken broth. Unlike all the pork broth 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.

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