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Mini challenge: $1 dishes

Savor these alternatives to a fast-food value menu.

Illustrations: Peter Bollinger Cheap Eats Challenge
By Amy Cavanaugh |

McValue menu? Forget it. These $1 dishes trump a listless double cheeseburger any day.

Meatballs at Three Aces (1321 W Taylor St, 312-243-1577) Rock-lovin’ Three Aces gets sassy with modern Italian small plates, including the mother of all meatballs—made with Slagel Family Farm beef, served in a pool of tomato sauce laced with chili flakes and dusted with wisps of shredded cheese. They’re also approximately the size of golf balls. $1 for four (25 cents individually) on Tuesdays, 5pm–1am.

Chicken hand pie at Sweet Nick Caribbean Restaurant (741 W Howard St, Evanston, 847-869-7172) It’s worth a little brusque service at this Haitian joint to snag the spiced shredded chicken, tucked into layer after layer of flaky pastry. $1.

Banana dumpling at La Bomba Restaurant (3221 W Armitage Ave, 773-394-0106) This friendly Puerto Rican restaurant is awash in $1 deals, a beef hand pie and a hefty cod fritter (watch out for bones!) among them. Tops is the banana dumpling, a baseball-size mound of pork and roasted banana tucked in a fried crust reminiscent of a corn dog and served steaming hot. $1.

Falafel sandwich at Babylon (2023 N Damen Ave, 773-342-7482) When cravings for Middle Eastern food strike, sate them at Babylon in Bucktown, where a freshly baked pita teems with crunchy balls of ground chickpeas, plus a hefty dose of tomatoes, cucumbers and tahini. 99 cents on Fridays.