clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A griddle cheeseburger.
No, this burger from Lola’s won’t cost customers $20.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The Essential Restaurants for Affordable Dining in Chicago

Enjoy good eats on a budget

View as Map
No, this burger from Lola’s won’t cost customers $20.
| Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The food world has been inundated with rising food costs, and that’s spiked prices for many restaurants. Unfortunately, customers’ paychecks haven’t kept pace with the cost of inflation, and that means affordable restaurants are cherished more than ever.

Pound for pound, Chicago’s restaurants excel in delivering high-quality meals and affordable prices. Cooks take great pride in giving customers value in Chicago. The city’s street food culture is a big part of that. Immigrant-owned restaurants often get pigeonholed into the cheap eats category, but they’re honestly showing up other restaurants that beef up the profit margins. Below, find some of Eater’s favorite affordable restaurants.

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; it may still pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

Read More
Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process.

Ghareeb Nawaz

Copy Link

With four locations: Devon Avenue, near UIC, Lincoln Park, and Lombard, Ghareeb Nawaz entire identity revolves around serving cheap Indian and Pakistani food. And that pricing (and large portions) has built them a strong following, especially among those outside the South Asian diaspora. Most dishes on the extensive menu are less than $7 and diners have choices that include biryanis, curries, kebabs, and grilled specialties like frontier chicken and butter chicken.

Sfera Sicilian Street Food

Copy Link

After operating out of farmers markets and a ghost kitchen for several years, owners Steven Jarczyk and Daniela Vitale landed a brick-and-mortar home in Edgewater for their business this summer. The pair sling Sicilian-style street foods like arancini filled with beef ragu, saffron risotto, and mozzarella; a Chicago muffuletta sandwich (mortadella, hot capicola, salami, provolone, giardiniera relish); and slices of sfincione — thick-crust Sicilian pizza. Customers can also grab a coffee, hand-pressed limonata, or jars of house-made marinara sauce to go.

St Bess Jerk

Copy Link

Jerk chicken is a wondrous dish when done properly and arguably the best version is coming out of this small kitchen in Norwood Park. 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. A second outpost is located in Burbank.

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

Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Copy Link

An Andersonville favorite on the northwest corner of Foster and Clark, Middle East Bakery is a combo grill and grocery with supplies like Palestinian olive oil, dates, and hummus. The hand pies with come in spinach, feta, or meat, are great to keep in the fridge and heat up for a quick meal. The restaurant side features wraps in a variety of flavors all for under $10.

Nhu Lan

Copy Link

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, and 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

Lawrence Fish Market

Copy Link

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 skimping on quality. The selection features everything from California and spicy tuna rolls to fatty tuna and uni.

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

Joong Boo Market

Copy Link

Nestled in the back of Asian grocery store Joong Boo is a counter-service restaurant dubbed “Snack Corner.” Here, customers will find Korean staples such as bulgogi, sundubu-jjigae, and bibimbap. The market also sells wang mandu (stuffed steamed buns) out of a tiny shed in front of the store plus sashimi platters, which are only $30 on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Mr D's Shish-Kabobs

Copy Link

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. A 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.

Jibaritos Y Mas

Copy Link

The jibarito was introduced to Chicago 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. Additional outposts are located in Lincoln Park and Dunning.

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Redhot Ranch

Copy Link

This late-night hot dog stand is known for affordability and quality. There are two locations that serve the Depression Dog, the Chicago-style wiener with diced onions and relish. But the value comes from the griddled burger which punches way above its price of under $6 (with fresh-cut fries). This isn’t just a post-bar destination, but great for when you’re working late and don’t have time for a sit-down meal. RHR satisfies.

Sultan's Market

Copy Link

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. Additional outposts are located in Lincoln Park and Logan Square.

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

Podhalanka

Copy Link

A cozy Polish Triangle hole-in-the-wall that’s been around for more than three decades, Podhalanka delivers classic Eastern European dishes. In addition to pierogis, potato pancakes, and stuffed cabbage, owner Helena Madej whips up a variety of soups, including sour borscht and beetroot. Diners don’t have to worry about breaking the bank as all items are less than $10.

Lola’s Coney Island

Copy Link

This Humboldt Park stand blends Detroit and Chicago hot dog culture with care. Lola’s specializes in Detroit Coneys, smothered with chili, onions, and yellow mustard. But the soups and other sandwiches aren’t factory-made. There’s actual cooking in the tiny kitchen with a staff that is proud of what they serve. Most sandwiches are under $10 (the Wednesday steak special is $13 and also presents a good value).

A hot dog with mustard and chili. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The Dining Room at Kendall College

Copy Link

Affordable dining is a relative thing. When it comes to a burger, $40 may seem excessive, but for a three-course prix fixe fine-dining meal, it’s a steal. The cooks and servers are all students at Kendall College and the menus vary, depending on who’s the kitchen. Diners can count on a mix of classics — vichyssoise, steak al forno, pan-seared salmon — along with newly-invented specials. Wine and beer pairings are also available.

Jim's Original Hot Dog

Copy Link

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. A second location is open near the Bucktown and Avondale border on Elston.

Two Maxwell Street Polishes with fries. Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Carnitas Don Pedro

Copy Link

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 but don’t forget to get some chicharrones too. On weekends, it’s extra busy so arrive early to avoid the long lines.

Chi Cafe

Copy Link

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 dishes to choose from, but the sizzling beef tenderloin is always great.

Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

La Chaparrita

Copy Link

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, which are cooked in a circular metal grill called a charola.

Surf's Up South Shore

Copy Link

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

Calumet Fisheries

Copy Link

Head to South Deering on the far South Side to experience this lauded eatery. 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

Loading comments...

Ghareeb Nawaz

With four locations: Devon Avenue, near UIC, Lincoln Park, and Lombard, Ghareeb Nawaz entire identity revolves around serving cheap Indian and Pakistani food. And that pricing (and large portions) has built them a strong following, especially among those outside the South Asian diaspora. Most dishes on the extensive menu are less than $7 and diners have choices that include biryanis, curries, kebabs, and grilled specialties like frontier chicken and butter chicken.

Sfera Sicilian Street Food

After operating out of farmers markets and a ghost kitchen for several years, owners Steven Jarczyk and Daniela Vitale landed a brick-and-mortar home in Edgewater for their business this summer. The pair sling Sicilian-style street foods like arancini filled with beef ragu, saffron risotto, and mozzarella; a Chicago muffuletta sandwich (mortadella, hot capicola, salami, provolone, giardiniera relish); and slices of sfincione — thick-crust Sicilian pizza. Customers can also grab a coffee, hand-pressed limonata, or jars of house-made marinara sauce to go.

St Bess Jerk

Jerk chicken is a wondrous dish when done properly and arguably the best version is coming out of this small kitchen in Norwood Park. 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. A second outpost is located in Burbank.

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

Middle East Bakery & Grocery

An Andersonville favorite on the northwest corner of Foster and Clark, Middle East Bakery is a combo grill and grocery with supplies like Palestinian olive oil, dates, and hummus. The hand pies with come in spinach, feta, or meat, are great to keep in the fridge and heat up for a quick meal. The restaurant side features wraps in a variety of flavors all for under $10.

Nhu Lan

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, and 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

Lawrence Fish Market

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 skimping on quality. The selection features everything from California and spicy tuna rolls to fatty tuna and uni.

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

Joong Boo Market

Nestled in the back of Asian grocery store Joong Boo is a counter-service restaurant dubbed “Snack Corner.” Here, customers will find Korean staples such as bulgogi, sundubu-jjigae, and bibimbap. The market also sells wang mandu (stuffed steamed buns) out of a tiny shed in front of the store plus sashimi platters, which are only $30 on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Mr D's Shish-Kabobs

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. A 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.

Jibaritos Y Mas

The jibarito was introduced to Chicago 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. Additional outposts are located in Lincoln Park and Dunning.

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Redhot Ranch

This late-night hot dog stand is known for affordability and quality. There are two locations that serve the Depression Dog, the Chicago-style wiener with diced onions and relish. But the value comes from the griddled burger which punches way above its price of under $6 (with fresh-cut fries). This isn’t just a post-bar destination, but great for when you’re working late and don’t have time for a sit-down meal. RHR satisfies.

Sultan's Market

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. Additional outposts are located in Lincoln Park and Logan Square.

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

Podhalanka

A cozy Polish Triangle hole-in-the-wall that’s been around for more than three decades, Podhalanka delivers classic Eastern European dishes. In addition to pierogis, potato pancakes, and stuffed cabbage, owner Helena Madej whips up a variety of soups, including sour borscht and beetroot. Diners don’t have to worry about breaking the bank as all items are less than $10.

Lola’s Coney Island

This Humboldt Park stand blends Detroit and Chicago hot dog culture with care. Lola’s specializes in Detroit Coneys, smothered with chili, onions, and yellow mustard. But the soups and other sandwiches aren’t factory-made. There’s actual cooking in the tiny kitchen with a staff that is proud of what they serve. Most sandwiches are under $10 (the Wednesday steak special is $13 and also presents a good value).

A hot dog with mustard and chili. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The Dining Room at Kendall College

Affordable dining is a relative thing. When it comes to a burger, $40 may seem excessive, but for a three-course prix fixe fine-dining meal, it’s a steal. The cooks and servers are all students at Kendall College and the menus vary, depending on who’s the kitchen. Diners can count on a mix of classics — vichyssoise, steak al forno, pan-seared salmon — along with newly-invented specials. Wine and beer pairings are also available.

Jim's Original Hot Dog

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. A second location is open near the Bucktown and Avondale border on Elston.

Two Maxwell Street Polishes with fries. Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Related Maps

Carnitas Don Pedro

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 but don’t forget to get some chicharrones too. On weekends, it’s extra busy so arrive early to avoid the long lines.

Chi Cafe

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 dishes to choose from, but the sizzling beef tenderloin is always great.

Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

La Chaparrita

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, which are cooked in a circular metal grill called a charola.

Surf's Up South Shore

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

Calumet Fisheries

Head to South Deering on the far South Side to experience this lauded eatery. 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

Related Maps