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Chilo y Chela tamales
Photograph: Nick Murway

The 23 best cheap eats in Chicago

The best part? Everything on this list rings up for around $10.

Written by
Morgan Olsen
Contributors
Zach Long
&
Emma Krupp
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When it comes to affordable dining, you'll find few better cities to eat in than Chicago. From ooey-gooey slices of deep dish pizza, to stacks of fried chicken, to pork dumplings swimming in Sichuan chili oil, our city's cheap eats never compromise on flavor—and what's more, they showcase the very best of Chicago's food history and culture. Of course, sifting through the city's countless neighborhood restaurants can be a bit daunting, so we've rounded up some of our favorite picks into an ever-expanding guide to cheap eats for every palate and pocketbook. 

A brief note on pricing: Like pretty much everyone else lately, the restaurants on this list have been dealing with rising inflation rates, which means many have had to increase prices. You might notice that's pushed some of our picks just above the $10 mark, especially when including tax and tip. Rest assured that your total will still come in well under $15—get ready to dig in!

RECOMMENDED: Discover more of Chicago's most iconic dishes

Best cheap eats in Chicago

BBQ pork bun at Chiu Quon
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

BBQ pork bun at Chiu Quon

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 sugar, salt, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil. 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: Starting at $1.50

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

The titular meat is served by the half-pound at Carnitas Uruapan, a popular Pilsen storefront with a newer 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: Starting at $6.50

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  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Lincoln Square
  • price 1 of 4

With locations in Uptown and just to the west of Lincoln Square (on Lawrence Ave), 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 $10, and you can snag a flaky baguette wrapped around tender pieces of ginger-marinated tofu as well as carrots, daikon, jalapeno and cilantro.

Price: $9

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Zach Long
Editor, Time Out Chicago
Lengua taco at La Chaparrita Grocery
Photograph: Nick Murway

Lengua taco at La Chaparrita Grocery

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) and the al pastor—two close seconds.

Price: $3.50

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  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Albany Park
  • price 1 of 4

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 $8, but we love shopping the à la carte section, where you can snag single slices of pristine sashimi for as little as a buck. 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: $1–$2

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • West Ridge
  • price 1 of 4

This always-bustling Indian restaurant on Devon Avenue boasts an entire menu of dishes that won't break the bank, most of them are served on metal cafeteria trays, if you're dining in. 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 nan to your meal if you like—you'll still come in under budget, because it's only a buck.

Price: Starting at $5.50

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Zach Long
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Little Italy, UIC
  • price 1 of 4

Though it was franchised at the turn of the millennium, this location of Al’s is the oldest (having opened in 1938) and the only direct descendant of the original (a stand at Laflin and Harrison). These days, you’ll find Italian beefs all over town, but there’s something about eating one at this surviving piece of Little Italy. A six-inch bun piled with tender, thinly sliced beef is only better as a “combo” (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 $9

  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Wicker Park
  • price 1 of 4

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 Jerusalem salad. 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: Starting at $7

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  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

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 $10—if you want beef or shrimp, it will run you $11. There are enough noodles here for one very hungry person or two folks looking for a dish to share.

Price: $10

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Zach Long
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Hot dogs
  • Avondale

Fixin’ Franks, the hot dog stand operating inside 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 mould and spring for a pork-and-beef Polish sausage topped with mustard, sauteed onions and giardiniera from J.P. Graziano, a salty-spicy combo available at 10 Home Depot locations spread throughout the city and suburbs. 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

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Emma Krupp
Assistant Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Andersonville

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

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Zach Long
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • West Loop

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 and green onion, then sprinkled with a heap of black sesame seeds to complete the glorious medley of textures.

Price: $10

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Emma Krupp
Assistant Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Grand Boulevard
  • price 1 of 4

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, but the mini is enough to serve one person, accompanied by fries and bread help soak up excess sauce.

Price: Starting at $7.50

  • Restaurants
  • Hot dogs
  • River North
  • price 1 of 4

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

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  • Restaurants
  • Ukrainian Village

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 $9, you can also snag the breakfast sandwich topped with crispy-edged longganisa, a Filipino sausage that’s made in-house.

Price: $8

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Emma Krupp
Assistant Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • New City

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: $9

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lincoln Square

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: $10

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Emma Krupp
Assistant Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Puerto Rican
  • Humboldt Park

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

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Humboldt Park
  • price 1 of 4

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

  • Restaurants
  • Hot dogs
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

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

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  • Restaurants
  • Bridgeport

Like many of the menu items at this Chengdu-homaging restaurant in Bridgeport (with additional locations in Lincoln Park and North Center), 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: $8

  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Lake View
  • price 2 of 4

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

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1/2 dark chicken dinner at Harold’s Chicken
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

1/2 dark chicken dinner at Harold’s Chicken

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 $10 (the price you see may vary, based on location), the filling 1/2 chicken dinner (light or dark meat) comes served atop a slice of white bread and a bed of fries. 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 $7

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