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The 10 Best Cheap Eats In Chicago

By Staff in Food on May 21, 2014 7:00PM

Much as we love dressing up and dining out the fact is that can get expensive in no time at all and we don't have expense accounts here at Chicagoist. We eat on a budget and love finding specials or single menu deals. (It's one of the driving behind our "One Great Dish" series.)

Cheap eats abound within the city limits but we feel these ten selection epitomize the best around. We know you'll disagree with some of our picks and their locations so let's keep it civil in the comments. Feel free to share your favorites.

Dumpling from Joong Boo Market. (Photo credit: Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist)

Dumpling Stand at Joong Boo
Joong Boo is already one of our favorite International markets and a wonderful spot to grab a bite of delicious Korean cuisine, but sitting right out front of the market is one of my favorite affordable snacks in the city. Earlier this year a small wang mandoo (Korean steamed dumpling) stand opened next to the entrance of Joong Boo, serving up three options; pork with vegetable, kimchi with pork and a black rice bun with redbean. Each dumpling is $2 and is the size of a hefty softball. You could snack on one or grab a trio and make a meal out of it. These giants put another certain bao chain to shame, always fluffy, light and crammed with filling. The kimchi has just the right amount of heat, the pork with vegetable also has a nice touch of japchae noodles in the filling but my favorite is the slightly sweet black rice with redbean filling. I’ve never been a huge redbean fan, finding the filling usually too dense or dry, but these steamed buns have the perfect consistency, just a bit toothsome while also creamy and sweet. Although I usually end up stopping in the market and picking up some treats (tteokbokki snacks, anyone?) making the trip to Joong Boo is worth a dumpling snack on its own. — Lisa White

Joong Boo is located at 3333 N. Kimball Ave.

Steve’s Place
Steve’s Place is a greasy spoon. They’ve got burgers and sandwiches and eggs and cut up hot dogs on the grill. There is something on the menu for everyone, I promise. While the interior is nothing to write home about—the walls are plastered with family photos and funny newspaper clippings, and the booths are sketchy at best—the place just feels so comfortable and homey. And everything on the menu is dirt cheap. The staff is always super friendly and everything is just absolutely terrible for you which means it’s triply delicious. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Steve’s Place is located at 230 W. Chicago Ave.

Cemitas Puebla
If you haven’t gotten yourself to Cemitas Pueblas, you should be ashamed. Even Guy Fieri has been to the unassuming Humboldt Park dive specializing in Mexican cemita sandwiches. For about $12, you can get an order of freshly fried chalupas, a horchata and a cemita. These sandwiches are some of Chicago’s finest Mexican fair: fresh and crusty bread, a generous helping of avocado and cheese, and a wide arrange of salsas from tongue-tingling to mouth-charring. My favorite cemitas are the arabe and the carne asada but you really can’t go wrong here. Keep an eye out for groupon deals that provide an order of chalupas, two drinks, and two cemitas for about $7.
. — Erika Kubick

Cemitas Puebla is located at 3619 W. North Ave.

Maxwell Street Market
Chicago has tons of cheap Mexican options, but some of the best are available at the Maxwell St. Market. No longer actually on Maxwell St. the market fills Des Plaines from Harrison to Roosevelt each Sunday. Skip past the used tools and expired toiletries to find the clusters of food vendors where you can sample a whole gamut of street food delicacies, from churros, to elotes, to tacos and more! Don’t miss the tacos al pastor at Rubi’s or Manolo’s, truly among the best in the city, with handmade tortillas overstuffed with flavorful pork off the spit. Look out for tamales from Tamales Oaxaqueños as well as pambozos (drenched sandwiches) at the Green House. Grab yourself an agua fresca from any of the numerous vendors and explore the foods. Finish off the visit with a churro or some guava or mango nieve (ice cream). — Benjy Lipsman

The Maxwell Street Market is located on DesPlaines Street from Polk Street to Roosevelt Road and is open every Sunday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Lito’s Empanadas
Maybe the first time you have Nutella shouldn’t be inside an empanada, but because I did I’m forever endeared to Lito’s, whose empanadas still make for some of my favorite cheap eats. One bbq chicken with potatoes and one Nutella with bananas qualifies as a balanced meal after 10 pm, while an extra beef with rice on your hungrier days only costs you $2.99 extra. Service is also unfailingly sweet and a nice break from the saucier variety at the Wiener Circle a few doors down. — Melissa Wiley

Lito’s Empanadas is located at 2566 N. Clark St.

Taco Chino
I’m a firm believer that everything is better in taco form, and Taco Chino backs me up. While they serve the standard cheap Mexican eats, you can also choose to have your tacos, burritos, huaraches, quesadillas and tortas piled high with kimchi or bulgogi. Located half a block from “Honorary Seoul Drive,” this kimchi is worth the trip to the end of the Brown Line to try Mexican-Korean cheap eats.— Jennifer A. Freeman

Taco Chino is located at 4712 N. Kimball Ave.

Art of Pizza
Deep dish pizza is delicious but, in all honesty, rarely does one’s diet need an entire pie. Not only does Art of Pizza make our list of best pizzerias in the city, its deep dish slices are easy on your budget. At just $3.66 plus tax, a heaping pepperoni and sausage slice is a meal within itself. The daily selection of by-the-slice pizzas varies daily but there’s typically always something for cheese, veggie and meat lovers. —Katie Karpowicz

Art of Pizza is located at 3033 N Ashland Ave.

Pupusas from el Conde. (Photo credit: Melissa McEwen/Chicagoist)

El Conde S.A.
El Conde S.A. serves up a good variety of classic Latin American street foods. Grab a few pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran snack of pork and beans with cheese cooked between two fresh doughy tortillas. Don’t miss the tacos al vapor, steamed tacos filled with treats like mashed potatoes. And the fried plantains are also a delicious snack you can wash down with a cinnamon-rich horchata. —Melissa McEwen

El Conde S.A. is located at 1536 W. 18th St., 5139 S. Kedzie Ave. and 1247 S. Western Ave.

I realize this may deviate a little bit from a typical “cheap eats” option, but hear me out. There are a lot of bars in this city who keep their kitchens open late for the sole purpose of dropping something frozen into a deep fryer, sometimes this food is cheap, but it’s usually not as cheap as it should be. Scofflaw keeps their kitchen open late, prepares fresh food, and everything on the menu is either $8 or $4. You can even eat something that’s relatively healthy there if you want, or you can do yourself a gigantic favor and get a side of their fries because they come with pimento aioli. Also, did you know that at midnight they give everyone a free, just out of the oven, house-baked chocolate chip cookie? You’re welcome.
Jason Baldacci

Scofflaw is located at 3201 W. Armitage Ave

Saigon Sisters
The perfect lunch for me has to incorporate three main criteria: fast, unusual, and served in sandwich form. That's why a visit to Saigon Sisters is a usual stop for me. Bánh Mì is the perfect marriage of French and Vietnamese cuisines and I think that Saigon Sisters does a great job with representing it in Chicago. From the traditional (Vietnamese pork with pate) to the more inspired like the "Sun Tanned Cow" (Coconut milk braised Wagyu beef, kaffir lime leaf), there is something for everyone. Prices range from $7-9/sandwich and makes a great alternative to the usual lunch options. —Paul Leddy

Saigon Sisters is located at 567 W. Lake St., at the French Market 131 N. Clinton St., and at Northwestern Hospital 251 E. Huron St.