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Chicagoist's 10 Favorite Cheap Eats

By Staff in Food on May 29, 2013 7:15PM

We spend a lot of time around here writing about some pretty high-end food. Next, Elizabeth, Tru; they're all great restaurants, but most of us are lucky if we can ever afford to go there, let alone eat there regularly. What we really love is a great cheap spot for a tasty bite—a great burger, taco, falafel, sandwich or cupcake. Here are some of our favorite spots for cheap eats.

When you have out-of-town visitors that need a stuffed pizza fix, you have plenty of options. A lot of people would spend $40 to have one delivered, or wait 45 minutes with the rest of the tourists under a poster with Derrick Rose's face on it. We recommend stopping in at Art of Pizza. You can order a whole pie there or have it delivered, but what sets them apart are the ready-to-serve, by the slice options. All slices, pan or stuffed, are $3.42 plus tax. Two giant wedges of stuffed pizza come out to about $7.50. Ostensibly, one would set you back just $3.75, and easily make a full meal. Sadly, we’ve never ordered just one. The sauce is well balanced (not too sweet), and all of the ingredients are fresh. The crust is buttery, holds together well under its own ridiculous weight and has a nice crunch on the ends while staying soft in the middle. All of the staple toppings are available on demand: cheese, sausage, pepperoni, sausage and pepperoni, but our favorite is spinach, mushroom and onion. It’s also BYOB if you decide to dine in. You can use the money you save on a $2.95 slice of cheesecake or carrot cake. Or maybe a gym membership. It’s your call. —Scott Flynn
Art of Pizza is at 3033 N. Ashland Ave.

My favorite cheap meal is a falafel sandwich from Sultan's Market. For $3.75, you get a fresh, warm pita filled with hummus, falafel, and jerusalem salad. The crunch of falafel paired with a little heat, smooth, creamy hummus and the coolness of the jerusalem salad has kept me stopping by Sultan's at least once a week for the last five years or so. My favorite part is that they line the bottom of the sandwich with extra pita and hummus, which helps the sandwich structurally and leaves you with a delightful end to your meal. You can choose to get it mild, medium, or spicy and if you want to round out your meal, add a cup of the best lentil soup in Chicago for $2. Served with a wedge of lemon, Grandma Zarifa's lentil soup is a delicious accompaniment to any sandwich or a great meal on its own. —Julia Weeman
Sultan's Market is at 2057 W. North Avenue.

Stroll down Devon Avenue and take your pick of any Indian lunch buffet. They usually cost between $9 and $13 (less on weekdays), and they're all tasty. Our favorite is Indian Garden. You have your pick at the buffet, plus they bring a sizzling plate of tandoori chicken to your table and a basket of warm, fresh naan. If you're not familiar with specific Indian dishes, the buffet is the best way to get acclimated. Be sure to taste some of everything and take notes for future reference. —Samantha Abernethy
Indian Garden is at 2546 W. Devon Ave.

If you're looking for cheap eats at my favorite deli in Chicago, skip the pasta entrees and focus on the panini at Gio's Cafe and Deli. Their hot and cold sandwiches are monsters that would cost more anywhere else, given their size. I'm partial to the Diavolo ($6.50), the meatball sandwich ($5.75), or order off menu and ask for a tuna with light oil, heavy mustard, and plenty of lettuce, tomatoes and onions. If you don't have to be anywhere, enjoy it at the store with its card table seating and vinyl red checkered tablecloths. —Chuck Sudo
Gio's Café and Deli is at 2724 S. Lowe Ave.

There's a reason this River Grove hot dog stand consistently makes national lists of the best eats in America and all it takes is one bite into their hot dogs to understand. Gene and Jude's hot dogs have that classic Vienna Beef snap. It's the epitome of the Chicago-style hot dog. They've recently re-opened after last month's floods forced them to close. This week's rains haven't affected them. —Chuck Sudo
Gene and Jude's is located at 2720 River Road in River Grove.

The 360 Café (formerly the ING Café) is a banking center and coffee shop where your barista doubles as your banker. Open an account or get financial advice while you take advantage of their low cost coffees ($1.50), cappuccinos ($3) or on-the-go sandwiches ($5). You don’t need a Capital One 360 account to get these prices, however they usually have specials for account holders or students (Loyola has a campus just down the block) listed on the board out front. Keep an eye on their website or facebook page, too, for these savings and occasional “Savings Events” like speakers or seminars. —Michelle Meywes
The 360 Cafe is at 21 E. Chestnut Street

If you're looking for the cheapest of cheap eats, there's no way you could possibly beat $1 burger night at Big Chicks. Gay bars aren't exactly known for their value, and we wouldn't drink most dollar drinks if you paid us. But the burgers at Big Chicks are fairly solid. Reminds of us tales of free lunches at Chicago pubs back in the day, salty as could be to get you to drink more beer. Those old bars probably didn't have quite as much queer action going on—though maybe we're underestimating the past. Play along with the game and order a few drinks, if you have a couple of bucks in your pocket. —Anthony Todd
Big Chicks is at 5024 N Sheridan Road.

Photo Credit: Chuck Sudo
The best way to acclimate yourself to Chinatown is to eat. As I wrote last month, the subterranean food court on the eastern edge of Chinatown square is now home to a small but exciting number of grab-and-go spots, my favorite being Snack Planet. Only one item on their menu crosses the $10 threshold and you should be able to scrounge enough change behind your couch cushions to enjoy a wide variety of their shaslik, mini kebabs of meat, root vegetables, fungi and sometimes offal and organ meats priced between 50 cents and $1 each. If sticks of offal aren't your thing, then consider any of the noodle dishes, including the Nanshan Spicy Chicken, which will break your budget at an "I can't believe it's" $3.30.—Chuck Sudo
Snack Planet is at 2002 S. Wentworth, B5.

When my 10-gallon hat is feeling five gallons flat, I don't hanker for a hunk of cheese—I crave cheap tacos. Thankfully I'm a short walk from Tacos Erendira, where the tacos are worth much more than the $1.85 they cost. You're given a choice of beef, chicken, chorizo, pork or beef stew, and al pastor, which is one of Chicagoist's "one Great Dishes." For the non-meat eaters, there are options including beans or avocado. Skirt steak will cost you 40 cents more. —Chuck Sudo
Tacos Erendira is at 3207 S. Halsted Street. Cash only.

It's about 12:30 a.m., and you're a few drinks into your night out. Then comes the call, "Tamales!" And you see that red cooler. Perhaps no man will ever make us as happy as The Tamale Man. He has perfected the art of finding you just at the moment your drunk tummy starts to growl. There's a certain art to eating the tamales, hunched over a bar dipping the corn meal-encased chicken, pork or cheese into those little cups of green or red salsa. It's probably the best $5 you'll spend at a bar. If you have leftovers, toss them in the fridge when you stumble home and fry them up for breakfast with an egg and some cheese, which our Lorna Juett described as one of the best hangover foods in Chicago. —Samantha Abernethy
The Tamale Man can be found... well, he just shows up. Try following the TamaleTracker.