Chicago has gained prominence in recent years as a culinary destination. Thanks in large part to its impressive number of Michelin stars and the cache of its most expensive restaurants – including among them Charlie Trotter’s, Alinea, L20, and Next – Chicago has risen in the ranks of foodie cities and now counts itself as a peer of New York and San Francisco. Visitors to the city will not lack for high-end dining options should they want to pursue them.
But this does not mean that eating in Chicago needs to be expensive, even if you are trying to sample some of the city’s signature cuisines. Sure, a night at Cook Au Vin, one of the city’s top French locales, is probably out of the question for those on a budget. And even Chicago’s historical signature dish, deep dish pizza, is hard to get cheaply at any spot in town. Yet, there are almost limitless restaurants that can offer a Chicago eating experience on a bare-bones budget. To illustrate, here is a sample itinerary for a day’s worth of delicious and authentic eating – all for under $15:
Breakfast: Valois Restaurant, Hyde Park: Start your day by heading south of the Loop to Hyde Park, home of the University of Chicago and President Obama. This neighborhood brunch spot is an institution on the South Side, and it’s easy to see why: the portions are heaping, the quality is excellent, and the prices are very low. While the biggest stomachs should opt for an omelette, it’s hard to beat the French Toast– which will only set you back $3.10.
Lunch: Billy Goat Tavern, River North: You may be full from that French Toast, but you’re going to have to make room quickly during your trip to River North and the Billy Goat Tavern, the Chicago diner made famous by Saturday Night Live. While the ambiance here is nothing special, people go to the Billy Goat Tavern for other reasons, namely the eclectic mix of tourists and blue-collar regulars and, of course, the food. The decision of what to order is a relatively easy one: get the cheeseburger, which costs $2.85.
Dinner: Ghareeb Nawaz, West Rogers Park: When eating dinner on a budget in Chicago, your best bet is to explore one of the city’s numerous ethnic neighborhoods. You can eat cheap Greek food in Greektown, cheap Mexican in Pilsen, or cheap Puerto Rican in Humboldt Park. These are all great options, and your choice of an ethnic dinner should be based ultimately on your location in the city and your personal tastes. For this itinerary, however, we’re going to head north to the vibrant Indian community in Rogers Park, where Ghareeb Nawaz offers one of the cheapest menus in the city and is open 24 hours a day. Every dish is priced under $5, so we’re splurging a bit here by recommending the Chicken Biryani for $4.99. You won’t regret letting all those $3 entrees on the menu pass you by.
Late Night: The Wiener’s Circle, Lincoln Park: On the off chance that you’re still hungry and still haven’t gotten your day’s fill of meat, you’d be amiss to pass up a visit to Chicago’s infamous late-night hotdog stand. Wiener’s Circle, which has its own reality show on truTV, is open until sunrise on most weekend nights and is a go-to spot for drunkards leaving the Lincoln Park clubs. If you can make your way throughthe inebriated crowd, order yourself a Chicago-style hotdog for $3.10.
So there you have it folks a day in the life of a budget-conscious Chicago visitor who wants to sample some of the city’s most famous (and infamous) culinary offerings. The next time you’re in town, pull a $20 out of the bank, get away from Michigan Avenue, and use the YP Mobile App to explore cheap restaurants in the outer neighborhoods. That bill will go a long way if used wisely.