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A container of jerk chicken and sides.
Chicagoans will find irresistible chicken and great value at St Bess Jerk.
Jeffy Mai

20 Essential Restaurants for Affordable Dining in Chicago

Enjoy good eats on a budget

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Chicagoans will find irresistible chicken and great value at St Bess Jerk.
| Jeffy Mai

Chicago's high-end restaurants get a lot of buzz, and rightfully so, but it’s the depth of the city’s culinary scene that’s most impressive. Instead of splurging on one big lavish meal, diners can get the most out of their money by visiting some of the best spots for cheap eats. These places deliver delicious and quality fare at budget-friendly costs.

Thanks to Chicago’s incredibly diverse population, there are many different options and price points. Several iconic foods are also represented below, from the Polish sausage to the jibarito. The latest additions to the list include Jamaican chicken expert St Bess Jerk, Thai street food specialist Immm Rice & Beyond, and Pilsen staple Carnitas Don Pedro.

As of August 20, the city has mandated that everyone wear facial coverings while indoors. For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Ghareeb Nawaz

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2032 W Devon Ave
Chicago, IL 60659
(773) 761-5300
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Located on Devon Avenue, near UIC, and in Lombard, Ghareeb Nawaz serves dependable Indian food at low, low prices. Most dishes on the extensive menu are less than seven dollars and diners have choices that include biryanis, curries, kebabs, and grilled specialties like frontier chicken and butter chicken. Portions are sizable so even if folks have a big appetite, they should leave fully satiated.

2. Taste of Lebanon

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1509 W Foster Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 334-1600

A few bucks are all diners need to enjoy Lebanese cooking at this Andersonville storefront. The menu is brief but filled with Middle Eastern staples like hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, shawarma, and kebabs. The lentil soup is also ideal on a cold day.

3. Immm Rice & Beyond

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4949 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 293-7378
Visit Website

Most people are familiar with pad Thai and pad see eiw but Immm Rice & Beyond dives into an area that’s less explored in Chicago: Thai street food. The chalkboard menu is full of intriguing dishes like tum puu pla rah (funky green papaya salad with preserved crab and preserved fish); kai loog kuey (fried hard-boiled eggs with crispy shallots and tamarind sauce); and khao moo grob (crispy pork belly rice). During lunch hours, diners can save money by opting for khao rad gang — traditional rice plates served with pre-prepared curries, stews, and stir-fried proteins. Online ordering is available here.

4. Nhu Lan

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2612 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 878-9898
Visit Website

The city’s preeminent banh mi expert is a delicious and affordable option. The signature house special contains paté, head cheese, ham, and pork roll alongside a medley of veggies, but customers can also order their Vietnamese sandwiches with ingredients like barbecue pork, lemongrass chicken, sugarcane shrimp. What really sets Nhu Lan apart from the competition though is its bread, which is baked daily in-house. A second outpost is located in Uptown.

A pork belly banh mi.
Nhu Lan sells a variety of Vietnamese sandwiches.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

5. Lawrence Fish Market

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3920 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 267-6838
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A sushi feast doesn’t always have to cost a pretty penny. At Lawrence Fish Market, sashimi, nigiri, and maki rolls are sold at astonishing low prices without sacrificing quality. The selection features everything from California and spicy tuna rolls to fatty tuna and uni. Call ahead to place an order.

A platter of sushi.
Lawrence Fish Market has some of the cheapest sushi in town.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

6. Mr D's Shish-Kabobs

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6656 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60707
(773) 637-0042

Northwest Side residents know that the city’s best shish kabobs are at Mr D’s in Montclare. Owners Mike and Ann Antonopoulos marinate pork tenderloin in a special sauce, char it on the grill, and serve it with onions, tomatoes, and jus on a French roll. The similarly superb steak sandwich features thinly sliced rib eye and gravy. All orders come with perfectly crispy fries that are a paragon of the form.

7. Jibaritos y Mas

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3400 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 799-8601
Visit Website

A Chicago original, the jibarito was first introduced at the late Borinquen Restaurant in the ‘90s by restaurateur Juan Figueroa. Today, the Puerto Rican sandwich can be found on menus all over town. The classic recipe calls for thinly-sliced steak, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and garlic aioli in between two planks of fried plantains, but Jibaritos Y Mas also offers proteins like chicken, roasted pork, octopus, and shrimp. Online ordering is available here. Additional outposts are located in Lincoln Park and Dunning.

A steak jibarito.
Fried plantains replace bread on the jibarito, a unique sandwich created in Chicago.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

8. Redhot Ranch

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2449 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 772-6020
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Open until midnight, this no-frills joint is where many folks love to go for some late-night grease. The simple menu offers fried shrimp, Depression Dogs, and smashed burgers inspired by In-N-Out. They’re delicious at any hour of the day but even better after last call, especially when price is factored in. A second outpost is located in Lakeview.

9. Sultan's Market

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2057 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 235-3072
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Sultan’s Market is a Wicker Park essential that offers Middle Eastern cuisine at inexpensive prices. Have a light snack of hummus and baba ghanoush or devour sandwiches loaded with falafel, shawarma, and more. There's also a bountiful salad and hot bar and guests are welcome to bring their own alcohol. A second location is over in Lincoln Park.

A meat combination plate with rice and salad.
Sultan’s Market’s offerings are both affordable and vegetarian-friendly.
Sultan’s Market [Official Photo]

10. J.P. Graziano Grocery

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901 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 666-4587
Visit Website

Italian market and deli J.P. Graziano has been in operation since 1937 and is revered for its outstanding old-school subs. Each sandwich boasts fresh, quality meats and cheeses on D’Amato’s bread. The house specialty, “Mr. G,” features hot sopresatta, prosciutto, Genoa salami, and sharp provolone. Online ordering is available here.

11. Jim's Original Hot Dog

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1250 S Union Ave
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-7820
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An iconic stand that dates back to 1939, Jim's claims to be the originator of the Maxwell Street Polish. Diners can get juicy and delicious Polish sausages, pork chop sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, and more — plus free fries with every order — as late as 1 a.m.

12. Carnitas Don Pedro

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1113 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 829-4757
Visit Website

Crispy, juicy carnitas have attracted Chicagoans to this Pilsen mainstay for four decades. The pork — cooked in rendered fat until it’s tender — is sold by the pound. From white and dark meat to ribs, stomach, skin, and even brain, every part of the pig can be had. Build tasty tacos with the warm tortillas, onions, cilantro, and salsa that come with each order and don’t forget to get some chicharrones too. On weekends, it’s extra busy so arrive early to avoid the long lines.

13. Aloha Wagon

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2023 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 888-9613
Visit Website

The flavors of the Pacific isles take center stage at Pilsen’s Aloha Wagon. The food-truck-turned-restaurant recently relocated to a new space but diners can still look forward to the same hearty lineup of Hawaiian plate lunches. There are favorites like a kalua pork plate that pairs pulled pork with grilled cabbage, and a loco moco plate featuring two beef patties, over easy eggs, and gravy. Other items include an “Aloha Burger” (grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce), grilled fish tacos, Spam musubi, and Mexican pozole.

14. Chi Cafe

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2160 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 842-9993
Visit Website

In the heart of Chinatown Square sits Chi Cafe, a reliable late-night spot for Chinese fare. On the menu are classics such as lo mein, fried rice, noodle soups, and a large variety of beef, chicken, pork, and seafood entrees. It can be overwhelming with so many items to choose from, but the sizzling beef tenderloin is always great. Online ordering is available here.

A plate of beef noodles.
Chi Cafe is open until 2 a.m. every night.
Chi Cafe [Official Photo]

15. La Chaparrita

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4138, 2500 S Whipple St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 254-0975

One of Chicago’s best taquerias is housed inside a small corner store in Little Village. La Chaparrita specializes in tacos de fritangas, or “fried tacos.” Popular in Mexico City, they’re filled with ingredients like longaniza, suadero, and tripa — crispy cow intenstines — that are cooked in a round metal pan called a charola.

Crispy tripe and carne asada tacos.
The crispy tripe tacos are a can’t-miss at La Chaparrita.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

16. Maxwell Street Depot

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411 W 31st St
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 326-3514

When the late-night munchies hit, visit this 24-hour South Side institution. The signature item is a juicy bone-in pork chop sandwich, dressed with mustard and grilled onions. Other greasy delights such as hot dogs, burgers, and Polish sausages round out the affordable menu.

17. Surf's Up South Shore

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2236 E 71st St
Chicago, IL 60649
(773) 891-5544
Visit Website

This Louisiana-style seafood chain has locations in South Shore, Bronzeville, and the suburbs. The Hennessey wings are favorites, but the fish and fried shrimp dinners and the po’ boys are also stellar and affordable.

18. Lem's Bar-B-Q

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311 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60619
(773) 994-2428
Visit Website

Lem’s has been smoking exceptional rib tips in Chicago for seven decades. The tender pieces of meat are cooked in a customized aquarium smoker and smothered in a tangy, vinegar-based barbecue sauce. Roll up those sleeves and prepare to get messy in the best way, but expect to wait first as long lines are common.

19. St Bess Jerk

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4838 W 79th St
Burbank, IL 60459
(708) 634-2057
Visit Website

Jerk chicken is a wondrous dish when done properly and arguably the best version is coming out of this small kitchen on the southwest edge of the city. The birds are marinated overnight in an addictive sauce made from peppers, onions, celery, garlic, ginger, and a mix of spices. They’re then roasted in a barrel smoker over coals, resulting in smoky and flavorful pieces of white and dark meat. Diners can get the delectable chicken plus two sides for just $10 during lunchtime. The menu also features other Jamaican favorites like catfish, red snapper, curry goat, and oxtail. Online ordering is available here. A second St Bess Jerk outpost is located in Norwood Park.

A container of jerk chicken and sides.
Get a taste of the Caribbean at St Bess Jerk.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

20. Calumet Fisheries

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3259 E 95th St
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 933-9855
Visit Website

Head to South Deering on the far South Side to experience this lauded Eater 38 establishment. The James Beard-honored roadside shack smokes its seafood on-site. Salmon, sable, sturgeon, and trout are just some of the fish options, while other popular items include fried shrimp and fried scallops battered using a secret family recipe. Bring cash and be prepared to eat on the curb or in the car as there’s no seating.

A piece of smoked salmon.
Chicagoans make their way to this iconic shack for the smoked fish.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

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1. Ghareeb Nawaz

2032 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659

Located on Devon Avenue, near UIC, and in Lombard, Ghareeb Nawaz serves dependable Indian food at low, low prices. Most dishes on the extensive menu are less than seven dollars and diners have choices that include biryanis, curries, kebabs, and grilled specialties like frontier chicken and butter chicken. Portions are sizable so even if folks have a big appetite, they should leave fully satiated.

2032 W Devon Ave
Chicago, IL 60659

2. Taste of Lebanon

1509 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

A few bucks are all diners need to enjoy Lebanese cooking at this Andersonville storefront. The menu is brief but filled with Middle Eastern staples like hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, shawarma, and kebabs. The lentil soup is also ideal on a cold day.

1509 W Foster Ave
Chicago, IL 60640

3. Immm Rice & Beyond

4949 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640

Most people are familiar with pad Thai and pad see eiw but Immm Rice & Beyond dives into an area that’s less explored in Chicago: Thai street food. The chalkboard menu is full of intriguing dishes like tum puu pla rah (funky green papaya salad with preserved crab and preserved fish); kai loog kuey (fried hard-boiled eggs with crispy shallots and tamarind sauce); and khao moo grob (crispy pork belly rice). During lunch hours, diners can save money by opting for khao rad gang — traditional rice plates served with pre-prepared curries, stews, and stir-fried proteins. Online ordering is available here.

4949 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640

4. Nhu Lan

2612 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
A pork belly banh mi.
Nhu Lan sells a variety of Vietnamese sandwiches.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

The city’s preeminent banh mi expert is a delicious and affordable option. The signature house special contains paté, head cheese, ham, and pork roll alongside a medley of veggies, but customers can also order their Vietnamese sandwiches with ingredients like barbecue pork, lemongrass chicken, sugarcane shrimp. What really sets Nhu Lan apart from the competition though is its bread, which is baked daily in-house. A second outpost is located in Uptown.

2612 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

5. Lawrence Fish Market

3920 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
A platter of sushi.
Lawrence Fish Market has some of the cheapest sushi in town.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

A sushi feast doesn’t always have to cost a pretty penny. At Lawrence Fish Market, sashimi, nigiri, and maki rolls are sold at astonishing low prices without sacrificing quality. The selection features everything from California and spicy tuna rolls to fatty tuna and uni. Call ahead to place an order.

3920 W Lawrence Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

6. Mr D's Shish-Kabobs

6656 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60707

Northwest Side residents know that the city’s best shish kabobs are at Mr D’s in Montclare. Owners Mike and Ann Antonopoulos marinate pork tenderloin in a special sauce, char it on the grill, and serve it with onions, tomatoes, and jus on a French roll. The similarly superb steak sandwich features thinly sliced rib eye and gravy. All orders come with perfectly crispy fries that are a paragon of the form.

6656 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60707

7. Jibaritos y Mas

3400 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
A steak jibarito.
Fried plantains replace bread on the jibarito, a unique sandwich created in Chicago.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

A Chicago original, the jibarito was first introduced at the late Borinquen Restaurant in the ‘90s by restaurateur Juan Figueroa. Today, the Puerto Rican sandwich can be found on menus all over town. The classic recipe calls for thinly-sliced steak, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and garlic aioli in between two planks of fried plantains, but Jibaritos Y Mas also offers proteins like chicken, roasted pork, octopus, and shrimp. Online ordering is available here. Additional outposts are located in Lincoln Park and Dunning.

3400 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

8. Redhot Ranch

2449 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Open until midnight, this no-frills joint is where many folks love to go for some late-night grease. The simple menu offers fried shrimp, Depression Dogs, and smashed burgers inspired by In-N-Out. They’re delicious at any hour of the day but even better after last call, especially when price is factored in. A second outpost is located in Lakeview.

2449 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

9. Sultan's Market

2057 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
A meat combination plate with rice and salad.
Sultan’s Market’s offerings are both affordable and vegetarian-friendly.
Sultan’s Market [Official Photo]

Sultan’s Market is a Wicker Park essential that offers Middle Eastern cuisine at inexpensive prices. Have a light snack of hummus and baba ghanoush or devour sandwiches loaded with falafel, shawarma, and more. There's also a bountiful salad and hot bar and guests are welcome to bring their own alcohol. A second location is over in Lincoln Park.

2057 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

10. J.P. Graziano Grocery

901 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607

Italian market and deli J.P. Graziano has been in operation since 1937 and is revered for its outstanding old-school subs. Each sandwich boasts fresh, quality meats and cheeses on D’Amato’s bread. The house specialty, “Mr. G,” features hot sopresatta, prosciutto, Genoa salami, and sharp provolone. Online ordering is available here.

901 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607

11. Jim's Original Hot Dog

1250 S Union Ave, Chicago, IL 60607

An iconic stand that dates back to 1939, Jim's claims to be the originator of the Maxwell Street Polish. Diners can get juicy and delicious Polish sausages, pork chop sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, and more — plus free fries with every order — as late as 1 a.m.

1250 S Union Ave
Chicago, IL 60607

12. Carnitas Don Pedro

1113 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

Crispy, juicy carnitas have attracted Chicagoans to this Pilsen mainstay for four decades. The pork — cooked in rendered fat until it’s tender — is sold by the pound. From white and dark meat to ribs, stomach, skin, and even brain, every part of the pig can be had. Build tasty tacos with the warm tortillas, onions, cilantro, and salsa that come with each order and don’t forget to get some chicharrones too. On weekends, it’s extra busy so arrive early to avoid the long lines.

1113 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608

13. Aloha Wagon

2023 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60608

The flavors of the Pacific isles take center stage at Pilsen’s Aloha Wagon. The food-truck-turned-restaurant recently relocated to a new space but diners can still look forward to the same hearty lineup of Hawaiian plate lunches. There are favorites like a kalua pork plate that pairs pulled pork with grilled cabbage, and a loco moco plate featuring two beef patties, over easy eggs, and gravy. Other items include an “Aloha Burger” (grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce), grilled fish tacos, Spam musubi, and Mexican pozole.

2023 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60608

14. Chi Cafe

2160 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616
A plate of beef noodles.
Chi Cafe is open until 2 a.m. every night.
Chi Cafe [Official Photo]

In the heart of Chinatown Square sits Chi Cafe, a reliable late-night spot for Chinese fare. On the menu are classics such as lo mein, fried rice, noodle soups, and a large variety of beef, chicken, pork, and seafood entrees. It can be overwhelming with so many items to choose from, but the sizzling beef tenderloin is always great. Online ordering is available here.

2160 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616

15. La Chaparrita

4138, 2500 S Whipple St, Chicago, IL 60623
Crispy tripe and carne asada tacos.
The crispy tripe tacos are a can’t-miss at La Chaparrita.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

One of Chicago’s best taquerias is housed inside a small corner store in Little Village. La Chaparrita specializes in tacos de fritangas, or “fried tacos.” Popular in Mexico City, they’re filled with ingredients like longaniza, suadero, and tripa — crispy cow intenstines — that are cooked in a round metal pan called a charola.

4138, 2500 S Whipple St
Chicago, IL 60623

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16. Maxwell Street Depot

411 W 31st St, Chicago, IL 60616

When the late-night munchies hit, visit this 24-hour South Side institution. The signature item is a juicy bone-in pork chop sandwich, dressed with mustard and grilled onions. Other greasy delights such as hot dogs, burgers, and Polish sausages round out the affordable menu.

411 W 31st St
Chicago, IL 60616

17. Surf's Up South Shore

2236 E 71st St, Chicago, IL 60649

This Louisiana-style seafood chain has locations in South Shore, Bronzeville, and the suburbs. The Hennessey wings are favorites, but the fish and fried shrimp dinners and the po’ boys are also stellar and affordable.

2236 E 71st St
Chicago, IL 60649

18. Lem's Bar-B-Q

311 E 75th St, Chicago, IL 60619

Lem’s has been smoking exceptional rib tips in Chicago for seven decades. The tender pieces of meat are cooked in a customized aquarium smoker and smothered in a tangy, vinegar-based barbecue sauce. Roll up those sleeves and prepare to get messy in the best way, but expect to wait first as long lines are common.

311 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60619

19. St Bess Jerk

4838 W 79th St, Burbank, IL 60459
A container of jerk chicken and sides.
Get a taste of the Caribbean at St Bess Jerk.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

Jerk chicken is a wondrous dish when done properly and arguably the best version is coming out of this small kitchen on the southwest edge of the city. The birds are marinated overnight in an addictive sauce made from peppers, onions, celery, garlic, ginger, and a mix of spices. They’re then roasted in a barrel smoker over coals, resulting in smoky and flavorful pieces of white and dark meat. Diners can get the delectable chicken plus two sides for just $10 during lunchtime. The menu also features other Jamaican favorites like catfish, red snapper, curry goat, and oxtail. Online ordering is available here. A second St Bess Jerk outpost is located in Norwood Park.

4838 W 79th St
Burbank, IL 60459

20. Calumet Fisheries

3259 E 95th St, Chicago, IL 60617
A piece of smoked salmon.
Chicagoans make their way to this iconic shack for the smoked fish.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

Head to South Deering on the far South Side to experience this lauded Eater 38 establishment. The James Beard-honored roadside shack smokes its seafood on-site. Salmon, sable, sturgeon, and trout are just some of the fish options, while other popular items include fried shrimp and fried scallops battered using a secret family recipe. Bring cash and be prepared to eat on the curb or in the car as there’s no seating.

3259 E 95th St
Chicago, IL 60617

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