Maybe you went ahead and reserved the iPhoneXXIV. Sure, you had to pre-pay and it’s coming out in 2025, but it will be worth it. Or maybe you’ve just finally accepted the fact that your credit card doesn’t work like a savings account. Either way, you’re trying not to spend a lot of money right now. But you’re also beginning to feel like a hermit, and you want to go out to dinner with a friend. Here are 13 places where you can eat something good and still have enough money to get a case for that new phone.
The Delta is a casual Southern bar and restaurant in Wicker Park. Their food specialty is tamales (made with cornmeal and simmered instead of steamed), and you can get three of the beef brisket version for $6. The rest of the food is excellent as well - with almost everything (from hush puppies to fried chicken) costing between $8 and $17. Make the back patio your go-to spot for a summer meal.
This Greek restaurant in Lincoln Park is one of our favorite spots in all of Chicago. One reason why is that for around $11, you can get the best thing on the menu - the chicken kalamata dinner. It’s a perfectly roasted half chicken over fries, served with a salad and bread and butter. And while that’s really what you should order, the other dishes (like the gyros and the spanakopita) are as reasonably priced and almost as good. As for alcohol, you can buy it at the adjacent bar and bring it over. Or just drink the chicken juice.
There’s a lot to like about 5 Rabanitos in Pilsen. Not only is it affordable and BYOB, but everything on the huge menu is delicious. That being said, we really like the tacos (you can get a single one for $2.75, or three with rice and beans for $13.50) and the very, very spicy torta ahogada (which is $9.50). You can come here on a weeknight for a casual meal, or on the weekend with a group of friends. Basically, you should come here even when you’re not trying to save money.
Dog Haus is a Lincoln Park location of a hot dog chain from LA, and even though Chicago has strong opinions regarding hot dogs, we’re really happy these are here. They’re all made in-house and served on King’s Hawaiian buns, and they cost $7 each (for a very large portion). The specialty hot dogs in particular are pretty great - like the Scott Baioli, which has caramelized onions, or the Thai sausage. They even have an off-menu Chicago-style dog you can order, but you should seriously consider branching out.
This spot in Logan Square is ideal for grabbing a casual sit-down lunch or dinner with some friends. The sandwiches here are delicious (our favorites are the reuben and the crawfish melt) and very filling. Plus, each one comes with housemade chips or a salad. If you can, spring for an order of the cheese curds, too. They’re worth it.
This is a fantastic casual restaurant serving affordable northern Chinese food with prices ranging from $6-$15. Their specialty is pork soup dumplings (on the menu as soup steam buns), and their noodle soups are also very good - all of the noodles are made in-house and have a thick, springy texture. Most dishes can easily feed three to four people, so bring friends and order as much as you can. Or come by yourself, and plan on having enough food to last for days.
Here’s the thing about deep dish - it’s delicious and filling, but an entire pie with approximately 30 pounds of cheese can be expensive. Luckily there’s Art of Pizza in Lakeview, which serves very good deep dish by the slice. But the best is their stuffed pizza, which has an extra layer of dough at the top. This is a counter service operation, but there’s a huge dining room that looks a little like a rec room. So BYOB and pretend you’re hanging out at a friend’s house.
If deep dish by the slice is still too cheesy for you, go to Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe. Jimmy’s serves New York-style pizza - meaning huge, foldable, greasy slices on little paper plates. Come for the basics, like plain cheese with red sauce and a garlicky white pizza topped with blobs of ricotta.
Crisp in Lakeview serves excellent Korean fried chicken, and our favorite order here is the sweet and spicy Seoul Sassy wings. Whatever version you choose, you can get five huge wings or a half chicken for around $10. If you’d rather eat something kind-of-healthy, they have a variety of rice bowls (including their version of bi bim bap) for the same price. This place tends to be crowded no matter when you come, but it’s a casual spot with fast turnover, and if you loom effectively, you won’t have to wait long for a table.
If you’ve hit the skill ceiling on your home-cooked Italian food, go to Pasta Palazzo in Lincoln Park. This place specializes in big bowls of pasta that range in price from $8-$11. Get the penne bolognese, or one of the handmade pastas like the gnocchi or ravioli. It’s good for dining solo, but you could also invite your roommates - they’re tired of your pasta with sauce from a jar, too.
Entertaining out-of-towners can be stressful when you don’t want to pay for a lot of big meals out. But they’ll probably be excited if you take them to a classic establishment like Portillo’s. And you should be grateful for any excuse to eat the food here, anyway. Come for the Italian beef sandwiches, make sure there’s at least one Chicago-style hot dog on the table, and because everything is so affordable (as in $3-$6), get a chocolate cake shake, too.
Lonesome Rose is the kind of restaurant you’ll want to spend some time in. The space is light and airy, with lots of plants (which, unlike the ones in your apartment, are still alive). Benches and large tables make it great for groups, and the Tex-Mex dishes on the menu are easy to share. Get an order of the chili con queso, and the fried chicken torta - it’s big enough to feed two people.
Left Coast is an all-day spot serving healthy things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll find stuff like tofu wraps, grain bowls, and avocado toast with orange slices, ricotta, and sunflower seeds - all ranging from $7-$15. It’s the kind of nourishing food that will make you feel like a responsible person, even if you spent your last paycheck on a party for your dog’s half-birthday. They have two locations (one’s in River North), but we prefer the Lakeview space for its beach house feel and outdoor patio.