CHIGuide

The Best $10 Meals In Chicago

Because it is, thankfully, still possible to eat great for under ten bucks in Chicago.
The Best $10 Meals In Chicago image

photo credit: Jack X Li

Chicago has plenty of great restaurants—but it also has a lot of expensive great restaurants. And while there are lots of places where we’ll happily spend $17 on small plates or cocktails, it’s also nice to have some options when you don’t feel like spending more than $10 for a meal. That's why we made this guide. All the dishes below cost about $10 or less, and won’t leave you hungry afterward.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Michael Tran

Mexican

Little Village

$$$$Perfect For:Serious Take-Out OperationLunchQuick EatsCheap EatsWalk-Ins
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The best al pastor tacos in Chicago are at a small casual spot in Little Village called Asian Cuisine Express. No, that wasn’t a typo. In fact, as soon as you walk in you’ll see the staff expertly carving a giant trompo of pork rotating around a live fire. The paper-thin slices of al pastor have the perfect composition of crispy exterior and buttery fat—all complemented by fresh green onion and sweet grilled pineapple. But maybe the best part is that each taco is $2.50—we did the math, and $10 gets you four.

Pizza Friendly Pizza is a casual Ukrainian Village restaurant that makes fantastic Sicilian-style pizza. Their slices have a thick sourdough-y crust that still manages to be light and airy, and it’s covered in a blanket of zesty tomato sauce and gooey cheese. And whether we’re eating our pizza in the small dining room, outside on the patio, or alone in our car blasting Adele while sobbing after a breakup—we can find solace in the fact that each slice is just $5.

Inside this small taqueria and market in Little Village you’ll find a handful of tables with colorful chairs, vibrant papel picado, and some of the best tacos in Chicago. A few of our favorites at La Chaparrita are their carne asada, smoky chorizo, and crunchy beef intestine. And since all of the tacos are hovering at $3, it’s easy to come up with all sorts of combos that will comfortably fall around $9. That extra dollar can go towards some candy, ice cream, or a lottery ticket so you won’t even need this guide.

Ragadan is an “American falafel shoppe” in Uptown with a slew of great options that all fall below the $10 mark. There's a variety of Middle Eastern dishes as well as twists on American classics, like a juicy burger with za’atar mayo. We’re constantly struggling to choose between the refreshingly tart labneh egg salad sandwich, or the one with crispy falafel and hummus that’s so silky we should probably add it to our skincare routine. Most people stop by this small, casual spot for takeout, but there are also a few tables and counter-seats.

From the crackly housemade baguette, to the large variety of delicious proteins, our heads make an Exorcist turn whenever we hear someone talking about Nhu Lan’s bánh mì. Plus, this Lincoln Square bakery sells great Vietnamese sandwiches for less than $10. We like to alternate between the Nhu Lan special topped with ham and fatty head cheese, or the #2 made with chunks of sweet roast pork. Both also get plenty of flavor from pate, crisp vegetables, and a sweet mayo that’s made in-house.

This little family-run seafood market in Portage Park has deep frying fish, crustaceans, and shellfish down to a science. Everything has a light breading and somehow manages to stay briny and juicy, like the excellent fried clams and calamari. Lucky for you, their crispy fish filet sandwich is also a winner, and clocks in at just $7. The flaky whitefish, tomato, lettuce, and tartar sauce on a toasted roll is what a Filet-O-Fish aspires to be. And if you’ve got money to burn after discovering your childhood piggy bank, splurge a little and spend $3 for a side, like hushpuppies or onion rings.

The back of this Edgewater grocery store has a cash-only food stall with delicious Thai food. Served cafeteria style, everything stays warm in steam baths, and you get an entree and rice for just $9.50. From sweet stewed pork with hard-boiled eggs, to prad prik with crispy pork and green beans, to creamy massaman curry, there are always plenty of choices. Just know that entrees rotate daily, so—unlike our credit card bill—certain dishes might end up disappearing.

This Puerto Rican restaurant in Logan Square has two other locations in the city—Lincoln Park and Dunning—and all of them have great jibaritos priced around $10. From thin steak with grilled onions, to blood sausage, to juicy roast pork, there are plenty of crispy plantain sandwiches to choose from. Plus, each one gets a fragrant layer of garlic spread on top that not only adds extra flavor, but is also a great way to deter anyone from speaking to us afterward.

This cash-only hot dog stand in Bridgeport is from the same people behind Red Hot Ranch. But we like this location just a few steps away from Guaranteed Rate Field because it's fantastic place to grab a cheap hot dog or burger before dealing with the hiked-up prices at a Sox game. The place is small, but we’ve always been able to grab a spot at the counter or the outdoor picnic tables, which still manage to have more room than our Spirit Airlines flight. The hot dogs have a great snappy texture, the burgers are juicy, and you can upgrade to a double dog or double cheeseburger, plus fries, without breaking the $8 barrier.

This cash-only Middle-Eastern spot in Andersonville is a great reason to always have at least one bill with a portrait of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s muse. And with that $10 you can get a sizable pita wrap full of chicken shawarma or pillowy falafel with hummus, a large plate of fries, and still have enough left over for a drink. It’s the ideal place for a quick lunch or dinner, and make sure to get their delicious (and potent) garlic sauce on the side (though you might want to pack a travel toothbrush with you beforehand).

Aside from being a good late-night spot (Chi Cafe is open until 2am), this casual Chinatown restaurant is a great place for an affordable meal. Hidden in its overwhelmingly long menu is a section labeled “On Rice.” There you can get a heaping scoop of steamed rice and a side, like chunks of stewed beef with vegetables in a savory sauce, spicy Sichuan shrimp and eggplant, or saucy mapo tofu—all for around $7.95. That way, even if you’ve spent most of your money on drinks and karaoke you can still grab a meal here afterward.

Red Light Chicken is a small take-out spot in Lincoln Park that only serves chicken sandwiches, nuggets, and fries. It has no seating, but there’s a small outdoor standing table, and their heating lamp set-up makes eating outside during the winter comfortable even though your apartment pipes might be frozen. Focus on the fried chicken sandwich which only costs $8. The meat is tender and is covered in a crispy breading, and they also have a variety of sauces. The best one is the hot honey, and regardless of how saucy things get, the fluffy potato bun is the perfect sponge.

When people want to go out for sushi, we might start doing the math to make sure we’ll have electricity next month. But that’s not the case at Lawrence Fish Market. This Albany Park takeout spot not only has quality sushi, but is also extremely affordable. Basic rolls like tuna, salmon, or hamachi all cost less than $6 while specialty rolls with multiple types of fish are priced around $8.25. And with most sashimi and nigiri pieces priced around $2, you can curate your own platter of favorites without breaking $10. This place is cash only but there's an ATM located inside.

This South Loop stand claims to have created the Maxwell Street Polish sausage, which we choose to believe because of how tasty theirs is. But they also have porkchop, grilled chicken, and fish filet sandwiches, plus burgers—all of which cost less than $10 and come with crispy fries. There’s no actual seating, but it’s still satisfying whether you’re eating at the standing counters on the side or trying to avoid spilling mustard all over your dashboard.

What’s better than a piping hot bowl of noodles and broth? A piping hot bowl of noodles and broth for less than ten bucks from Yummy Yummy Noodles in Chinatown. Each bowl from this casual Chinese restaurant comes with a light, savory broth, various proteins, and your choice of egg, rice, or ramen noodles that you can customize based on the thickness. The bright dining area is actually more spacious than it seems from the outside, so while you can definitely come here for a quick solo meal, it’s also great for a meal with friends where you won’t have to worry about reminding them to Venmo you later. 

The signature dish at this casual Colombian spot in Irving Park is a juicy roast chicken marinaded in a blend of soy sauce, garlic, and citrus. But if that’s not enough to pique your interest—maybe a $9.95 price point will. At Brasa Roja, that gets you a massive quarter chicken plate that either comes with potatoes and an arepa or rice, beans, and salad. Not in the mood for chicken? Their skirt steak costs the same.

Nearly everything here is less than $10, an impressive feat since this cash-only restaurant in Rogers Park’s menu has over 100 Indian and Pakistani dishes. Our go-to's are their creamy butter chicken and basmati rice or rich, spicy lamb nihari paired with warm garlic naan. But for maximum cost-effectiveness, order the biryani: a mountain of pillowy rice with vegetables or meat that’ll last for at least three meals. And since it’s open until 4am, their large dining space is a great place to go after a night out when the only thing you want to do is to bury your face in some curry.

Flub A Dub Chub’s in Lakeview East didn’t exist before 2008, but somehow this family-owned subterranean hot dog stand feels like it’s been around for decades. Checkered tile and diner stools are complemented by incredibly warm service and daily specials that laugh in the face of inflation, like $6 fried chicken sandwiches on Mondays and $5 bratwursts on Thursdays. But the best deal is on Wednesday, when you can get a plump and juicy “Flubby” (a picture-perfect Chicago dog loaded with relish and onions) and fries for just $7.

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