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La Chaparrita
Photograph: Nick MurwayCrispy Tripa Taco at La Chaparrita

The 19 best cheap eats in Chicago

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

Written by
Morgan Olsen
Contributors
Zach Long
&
Emma Krupp
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You can spend a lot of cash dining at the best restaurants in Chicago, but when your wallet needs a break, you can snag an equally delicious meal by dining like a local. The best cheap eats in Chicago may not be as flashy as the Instagram-friendly dishes that top most best-of lists, but this affordable fare helps paint a picture of the city's history and culture. From the top hot dog stands in Chicago an always-bustling restaurant in the Little India, these spots are vital parts of the city's culinary scene. And you won't need a ton of cash to enjoy the best cheap eats in Chicago—every item on this list rings up under $10.

RECOMMENDED: Discover more of Chicago's most iconic dishes

Best cheap eats in Chicago

The $1.25 BBQ pork bun at Chiu Quon
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

The $1.25 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.

  • 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.

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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.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105800431/image.jpg
Zach Long
Editor, Time Out Chicago
The $3.50 lengua taco at La Chaparrita Grocery
Photograph: Nick Murway

The $3.50 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.

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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.

  • 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 ban, 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.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105800431/image.jpg
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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • Restaurants
  • Puerto Rican
  • Humboldt Park

We know what you're thinking—a double-digit sandwich that almost 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.

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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 well under $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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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The $8.09 1/2 dark chicken dinner at Harold’s Chicken
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

The $8.09 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.

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