Lincoln Park is home to Alinea and a lot of fancy houses. But this neighborhood also has a number of spots where you can have a very good, affordable sit-down dinner (we’ve defined “dinner” here as an entree with either an appetizer or a drink). Whether you want pizza, tapas, or seafood, this guide has a good under-$30 option - so you can save up some extra money for a townhouse, or a meal involving edible balloons.
Blue Door really wants you to know you’re eating in the Midwest. Lots of plants and little watering cans make the interior feel like a farmhouse, which fits with the menu of things like cheese curds, roasted chicken, and fresh-baked cookies. If you’re in the mood for a casual and affordable comfort food meal, come here. You won’t even have to churn your own butter to save money.
Homeslice has everything that makes pizza a great choice for groups: it’s inexpensive and satisfying, and it easily feeds a variety of people with minimal argument over what to get. This place isn’t reinventing the wheel, either - the pies (which have a hand-tossed crust, like a way better version of Papa John’s) aren’t Chicago’s best, but they’re perfectly good. Come here with friends to enjoy the excellent patio, which is full of funky lights and large tables. In addition to pizza, there are appetizers like potato skins and meatballs, plus salads for the people you’re with who don’t understand that pizza is better than salad.
If Homeslice is the roomy college sweatshirt, Bebu is your Lululemon zip-up. Sleek, minimally decorated, a little more serious. You’re not here to hang out - you’re here to eat pizza and leave. And that isn’t a bad thing. The Neapolitan pies here are excellent (the one with meatballs and giardinera is a standout), and there are a few small plates and salads, too. Come here by yourself and sit at the counter, or bring a friend in the above-mentioned workout gear to stare at you while you eat pizza. They’ll have some eventually.
Cedar House is a casual BYOB Lebanese restaurant. The space is small and cozy, decorated with fringe-covered chandeliers and wooden carvings. It’s nice enough for date night, and the food is tasty and very affordable. If you want to try a bunch of different things, go with the sampler appetizer for $10.95 (it comes with hummus, baba ghanoush, dolma, tabouli, falafel, feta cheese, and pita). Their kaftas and shawarmas are great for entrees, and all come with a choice of soup or salad. Plan on leaving here with leftovers.
The menu at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba gives you the chance to have a $30 meal with a lot of variety. The tapas and pintxos here range from around $5 to $15 each, and the paellas start at around $13 per serving (minimum of two, so that’s better for sharing). Order a selection of stuffed dates, vegetables dishes, and meats - it’s like all the best parts of eating at a buffet, without having to wait behind other people or have your food sit out for a questionable amount of time. If it’s warm outside, definitely get a table on the patio, where you can sit out for as long as you want.
Deep dish pizza is two things: delicious, and a good value. One large pie is plenty of food for four or five people, even by Chicago standards. And the thick, caramelized crust on the pizza at Pequod’s is our favorite. You can get a large pie with one topping for about $20, or a personal-sized one starting at $7.45. They have other things like wings and garlic bread - but you should really just order more deep dish. And maybe a wheelbarrow to carry you home.
Clearly pizza is a solid choice if you’re working with a budget, and by now it’s obvious that Lincoln Park has some excellent options. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, in the basement of a Prohibition-era house, is one of them, but you’re not getting traditional pizza here. Instead, you’re getting pizza pot pie, i.e. a bowl-shaped crust filled with sauce and toppings, then covered with an extreme amount of cheese. It’s always a good (if slightly intimidating) sign when you order something by weight - and here, a half-pounder starts at $12.95.
This neighborhood Greek restaurant is one of our favorite spots in all of Chicago, and it happens to be very affordable. In fact, you’d have to work pretty hard to spend over $30 here. The chicken kalamata dinner is something you should order, and the other dishes (like the gyros and the spanakopita) are just as good. As for alcohol, you can buy it at the adjacent bar and bring it over. Basically, if you haven’t already eaten at Athenian Room, that needs to change.
The specialty at Del Seoul is Korean fusion food - in particular, tacos (the shrimp ones are our favorite). For a larger meal, get their bibimbap or the tofu hot pot. And even though this is a serious takeout operation, it’s also a comfortable place to sit down and eat. Do that and then spend the money you saved at the two bars on either side.
Half Shell is a tiny little basement bar with a few plastic tables and Christmas lights that never seem to come down. Despite this (and the fact that they’re in the Midwest), they have excellent seafood. Sit at the bar, order some beers, and get oysters, shrimp, or fried frog legs. Just note that it’s cash only, which actually makes it fairly easy to stay on budget - open your wallet, hand the cash to your server, and say, “Give me this much.” (Don’t actually do that.)
Unsurprisingly, Oyster Bah has oysters. They are fresh and very good, and you should order them whenever you’re here. But beyond that, the menu has other great, reasonably-priced seafood dishes. You’ll find fish and chips, mussels, and fish tacos, and the casual space is perfect for meeting friends after work, but still nice enough for a low-key date night.
Dog Haus is a hot dog chain from LA that was brave enough to open a location in a city that’s highly opinionated about hot dogs. It was a good decision - the hot dogs here are really good, in part because all of them are served on King’s Hawaiian buns. The specialty versions, in particular, are delicious - we especially like the Scott Baioli (with caramelized onions) - and the drinks are highly affordable. The space is large, making this a good place for big groups of people looking to not spend a ton of money. They even have an off-menu Chicago-style dog you can order.
Crisps serves excellent Korean fried chicken, and it tends to be crowded no matter when you come. But it’s a casual place with fast turnover, so you won’t need to wait very long for a table. And it’s so good you might be tempted to sell your Alinea tickets to come here instead.
Rickshaw Republic is a casual BYOB restaurant serving Indonesian street food. You can get small bites like lumpia and chicken satay, or larger plates like Penyet fried chicken (the mains start at around $17). Alternatively, you can spend your whole budget on the $25 rijsttafel, or “rice table experience,” which gets you 11 items of street food to try.
Sometimes you just want an easy pasta dinner that you didn’t cook yourself. Pasta Palazzo is the place to get it. The pastas here range in price from $8-11, which means if you’re truly starving, it’s possible to order three of them while keeping your bill under $30. Definitely get the penne bolognese, or one of the handmade pastas like the gnocchi or ravioli.