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.
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 $4.
La Chaparrita Taqueria
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.
Cafecito in the Loop has some of the best Cuban sandwiches in the city. But what makes the food at this counter-service spot even better is knowing that you can eat here and not have five missed calls from your landlord asking you about rent. And while the Cubano is excellent, our favorite sandwiches are the ropa vieja with juicy stewed beef or the Guava Q with roast pork, grilled onions, and a tangy guava BBQ sauce. This is a popular spot for takeout, but their comfy couches and location right next to a hostel means there are always a few people eating inside.
Talard Thai Asian Market
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 three dishes (plus a side of rice) for just $8.75. 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.
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.
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 $7.25. That way, even if you’ve spent most of your money on drinks and karaoke you can still grab a meal here afterward.
Yummy Yummy Noodles
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.
This cash-only hot dog stand in Bridgeport just a few steps away from Guaranteed Rate Field, and a 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.
Sultan’s Market is a casual Wicker Park Middle-Eastern place that’s perfect for a quick sit-down meal, or grabbing something to go. But perhaps the biggest draw is that most of their delicious sandwiches (like the crispy falafel or chicken shawarma) are less than $10. Each one comes in a fluffy pita loaded with fresh vegetables, tahini, and a massive dollop of silky hummus that we’re considering adding to our skincare routine. And since this place is BYOB, it’s a great spot to split a six-pack with some friends on their sidewalk patio.
photo credit: Jack X Li
Nhu Lan Bakery
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.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Jibarito's y Más
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.
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 there's an ATM located inside.