Open for breakfast and lunch only, people who love spicy Cajun and Creole dishes take a shopping break to feast on some of the zestiest gumbo this side of the Mason-Dixon. Or, try red beans and rice, jambalaya, or a catfish po' boy. All the Louisiana-style classics are boldly flavored and expertly prepared. Choose your poison from the wall of fiery hot sauces if you're feeling brave. The huge menu also offers basic lunchtime fare like deli sandwiches and burgers if you aren't in the mood for spice. Either way, the place is full of color and bustling with activity. Cash only. Also a location in west suburban Naperville.
Recommended for Best Value because: There aren't many inexpensive downtown restaurants, but this is one of them.
Jamie's expert tip: Just for fun, try a super hot sauce. And be sure to capture the moment with video!
This budget-friendly and delicious Middle Eastern spot specializes in falafel sandwiches on warm pita bread. But you can't go wrong with any of their Middle Eastern offerings, including homemade masada chicken soup or the lamb or chicken shawerma. Or share a plate of hummus as an appetizer. You will smell the garlic and olive oil as soon as you walk into this the small, dark, family-run restaurant, decorated with hookahs and drapes. Look through the glass displays to see what you want. Then order at the cafeteria-styled counter and take your tray to any open table. Walk off your meal by exploring North Avenue's little shops and restaurants. Also a Lincoln Park location.
Recommended for Best Value because: Warm pita, flavorful meats and budget-friendly prices make this a great and quick grab-a-bite spot.
Jamie's expert tip: While they're best known for their falafel, their shwerma dishes are just as delicious.
This old-school pizza shop knows a thing or two about pies, and locals swear by the place's deep-dish crust, which showcases all manner of toppings. Try the "Lou," named for the restaurant's founder. It includes fresh spinach, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, and mozzarella, romano, and cheddar cheeses. The "Deluxe" is a great value: cheese sausage, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Remember, a slice of deep dish pizza is way more filling than it looks, so when ordering, keep in mind that two slices is enough for most adults. Leaving Chicago? No problem, pizzas can be shipped overnight to most US cities.
Recommended for Best Value because: The deep dish pizza is among the best in Chicago.
Megy's expert tip: The wait for a deep-dish pizza can be up to 45 minutes, so call and place your pizza order in advance. That way it'll be waiting for you.
Family-owned since 1948, this hot dog drive-in (or eat-in) is a local institution, not only for its great menu but for its enormous, roof-top wiener mascots. Don't call them hot dogs, though. They're Superdawgs. Served in a box with the trademark "Hiya!" phrase on the front, the supersized dogs are nestled in poppy-seed buns and done up with relish, pickle spears, hot peppers, and pickled tomatoes. They come with hot, salt-sprinkled fries crammed into the box. Other possibilities: burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, Polish sausages, fish sandwiches, and ice cream. A kitschy classic that absolutely lives up to the hype.
Recommended for Best Value because: The throwback, friendly feel of this place compliments its tasty, super-sized hot dogs and french fries in a box.
Jamie's expert tip: Don't call them hot dogs when you're ordering. They're Superdawgs.
Spots to sample a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich abound, but no place holds a candle to the Little Italy original, which has been around since the late 30s. Steak spiced with garlic and oregano, grilled onions and peppers and a soggy loaf of white bread roll; this is what a sandwich is supposed to be! And it's also probably why napkins were invented. In addition to the signature sandwich, they also offer hotdogs and burgers. Nobody comes here for the decor, or if they're counting calories. But they'll leave with a happy full feeling, and the quintesential Chicago dining experience.
Recommended for Best Value because: It's THE place for an Italian beef sandwich in Chicago. Don't be fooled by the no-frills interior. The beef sandwiches are delicious.
Megy's expert tip: Grab plenty of napkins and lean forward when you take a bite, so the beef juice doesn't drip on our shirt.
When people move away from Chicago, Portillo's is the first place they want to go to when they come home. This chain, which has dozens of locations around the Chicago area, specializes in hot dogs, Polish sausage and Italian beef sandwiches - three iconic Chicago meals. And they cook them up perfectly. The service is fast, the prices are low, and the food is delicious. If you want something less heavy, try their chopped salad. They also sell ribs on Monday nights. Some of the restaurants are housed in the same building as Barnelli's Pasta Bowl, a fast food pasta, salad and sandwich restaurant. So there'll be something for everyone in your group.
Recommended for Best Value because: This is one of the best places in the city to get Chicago's iconic hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.
Jamie's expert tip: Save room for chocolate cake! Their moist chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is sold by the slice, or mixed into their chocolate cake milkshake.
Phenomenal Southern, Cajun and soul food dishes - like Shrimp and Grits, BBQ brisket macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and waffles, and catfish tacos - are what pack people in to this small restaurant along busy Lincoln Avenue. The restaurant is named for Chef Darnell Reed's Mississippi-born great grandmother, and some of Reed's family members work at the restaurant. The service is friendly and the vibe is warm and homey, just like the food. There's not a bad item on the menu. It's a great place to go before or after a concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which is across the street.
Recommended for Best Value because: The southern food is outstanding, and it's a friendly restaurant and neighborhood.
Jamie's expert tip: Call in advance and order the skillet cornbread, which takes 20 minutes to cook because it's freshly baked to order. You'll be glad you did.
The ramen noodle craze swept the nation, and Furious Spoon is a reliable spot for perfectly executed ramen bowls. Expect homemade noodles, deeply flavored broths, and fresh vegetables and meats. There are also dumplings, rice bowls with various proteins, and a nice selection of Japanese beers and sake plus cocktails and whiskey flights. Bring the little slurpers for their own bowl of noodles, too. Furious Spoon is an especially good place to dine during the cold Chicago winters, when a bowl of steamy ramen soup will comfort and melt even a cold, cold heart.
Recommended for Best Value because: Ramen noodles are always a welcome bowl of culinary love, and Furious Spoon serves up some of the best in Chicago.
Jamie's expert tip: Try one of the Japanese beers, which nicely complement the ramen noodles.