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A bowl of arancini with a side of marinara sauce.
Sfera brings Sicilian flavors to town.
Kristen Mendiola

The Essential Restaurants for Affordable Dining in Chicago

Enjoy good eats on a budget

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Sfera brings Sicilian flavors to town.
| Kristen Mendiola

Chicagoans take great pride in knowing where to find the best meal for the least amount of money. And there are excellent deals to be had all over the city, across all types of cuisines. Instead of splurging on a single decadent dinner, get the most bang for the buck by visiting the following spots. They offer delicious fare at budget-friendly prices and showcase everything from sushi, tacos, and jerk chicken to a prix fixe fine dining experience prepared by culinary students.

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.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Ghareeb Nawaz

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With three locations: 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 satisfied. Also, for a laugh, check out their social media; it’s unclear if the musings are sanctioned by the restaurant or just a super fan.

Sfera Sicilian Street Food

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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

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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

Nhu Lan

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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

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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 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

SUBO Filipino Kitchen

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Friendly service and home-style Filipino cooking are the hallmarks of this Albany Park restaurant. The menu highlights breakfast and pancit bowls, as well as traditional dishes like chicken adobo, lechon, and kare-kare. Can’t decide? The staff is more than happy to offer samples. And a combo plate, with two entrees and a side of rice, is just $13.99.

A plate filled with egg rolls, adobo chicken, a barbecue skewer, and rice.
Try a host of Filipino specialties at Subo.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

Joong Boo Market

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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

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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

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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. 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

Sultan's Market

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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. 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

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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.

J.P. Graziano

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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.

The Dining Room at Kendall College

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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

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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. A second location is on its way in Bucktown — close to the Lakeview and Avondale boundaries on Elston.

Carnitas Don Pedro

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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

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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. A second location recently opened in Northalsted, near Lakeview.

A plate of beef noodles.
Chi Cafe is open until 1 a.m. every night.
Chi Cafe [Official Photo]

La Chaparrita

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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.

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

Surf's Up South Shore

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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.

Lem's Bar-B-Q

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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.

Calumet Fisheries

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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

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Ghareeb Nawaz

With three locations: 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 satisfied. Also, for a laugh, check out their social media; it’s unclear if the musings are sanctioned by the restaurant or just a super fan.

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

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 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

Nhu Lan

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, 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 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 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

SUBO Filipino Kitchen

A plate filled with egg rolls, adobo chicken, a barbecue skewer, and rice.
Try a host of Filipino specialties at Subo.
Jeffy Mai/Eater Chicago

Friendly service and home-style Filipino cooking are the hallmarks of this Albany Park restaurant. The menu highlights breakfast and pancit bowls, as well as traditional dishes like chicken adobo, lechon, and kare-kare. Can’t decide? The staff is more than happy to offer samples. And a combo plate, with two entrees and a side of rice, is just $13.99.

A plate filled with egg rolls, adobo chicken, a barbecue skewer, and rice.
Try a host of Filipino specialties at Subo.
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

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. 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

Sultan's Market

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. 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.

J.P. Graziano

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.

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 — as late as 1 a.m. A second location is on its way in Bucktown — close to the Lakeview and Avondale boundaries on Elston.

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.

Related Maps

Chi Cafe

A plate of beef noodles.
Chi Cafe is open until 1 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 dishes to choose from, but the sizzling beef tenderloin is always great. A second location recently opened in Northalsted, near Lakeview.

A plate of beef noodles.
Chi Cafe is open until 1 a.m. every night.
Chi Cafe [Official Photo]

La Chaparrita

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, which are cooked in a circular metal grill 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

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.

Lem's Bar-B-Q

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.

Calumet Fisheries

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 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

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