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Eat well on a budget at these Chicago restaurants



Words like frugal, value, and deal mean different things to different people. So at 10Best, we picked a few of our favorite places where you can eat a yummy meal without spending tons of cash. A few of our favorites include Superdawg Drive-In and Al's #1, which are low in cost and serve some of Chicago famous hot dogs and beef sandwiches. While places like this get high marks for personality, they also are high in calories. That's why we also included some healthier options on our best value list. After all, you can only eat so much deep-dish pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches before you crave something that doesn't come with a side order of fries.

Some of the best values in town – and some of the best food in town – is found at Chicago's many ethnic restaurants. Here, you can order delicious, authentic and inexpensive dishes loaded with flavorful noodles, rice and meats. The unique spices of country's cuisine lets you try adventurous new dishes without coughing up a lot of money. Chicago also has some wallet-friendly Cajun restuarants that serve food which tastes like it was made in Louisiana. In Chicago, a cheap meal doesn't have to be a low-quality one.


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Opart Thai
Photo courtesy of Official Website


Lincoln Square's local Thai community is thriving. Among popular restaurants sporting authentic menus, Opart Thai House maintains a long list of regulars after two decades. Couples and friends enjoy Opart's welcoming BYOB policy while sharing crunchy Rangoons and nursing a generous-portion of Bamee soup. The atmosphere is cozy enough for a date, but budget-friendly enough to bring kids or a large group. The restaurant's located directly across the street from the Brown Line's Western Avenue "L" stop, and in neighborhood also known for its German heritage. After eating, you can stroll up and down the shops and restaurants along Lincoln Avenue.

Recommended for Best Value because: Consistently good food, a cozy interior and an off-the-L location make this budget meal a standout.

Megy's expert tip: Take the train. It's right across the street from the Western Ave. Brown Line "L" stop, and there are lots of places to walk around and see afterward.

Read more about Opart Thai →


Heaven on Seven


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!

Read more about Heaven on Seven →




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.

Read more about Sultan's Market →


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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.

Read more about Lou Malnati's Pizzeria - Gold Coast →




As you would expect, Penny's specialty is noodles! And she sells a lot of them to the hip crowd that packs her Sheffield Avenue location every night. Though the fare is admittedly, "Thai for the American palette," regulars swear the soups and pad Thai are some of the best in town � for a bargain price. Penny's is extremely popular, so expect to wait for a table, and bring your own liquor since Penny's doesn't have a license. EL: Red Line to Belmont. There are also locations in Bucktown, Oak Park and Wrigleyville.

Recommended for Best Value because: Locals flock to this place because you're in, you're out, the noodle dishes are consistently good, and it's an inexpensive meal.

Jamie's expert tip: Finding a table here can be challenging during peak hours. So to feel less squeezed, try going during off-hours.

Read more about Penny's Noodle Shop – Lincoln Park →




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.

Read more about Superdawg Drive-In →


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Little Italy
Al's #1


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.

Read more about Al's #1 →


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Downtown
Portillo's
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Portillo's


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.

Read more about Portillo's →


Luella's Southern Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Photo by Jamie Bartosch


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.

Read more about Luella's Southern Kitchen →


Furious Spoon
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Furious Spoon


The ramen noodle craze is sweeping Chicago, and a trendy place for some of the best ramen dishes is Furious Spoon. This ain't your college dorm ramen noodles. Here, they use homemade noodles, flavored broths, and fresh vegetables and meats. The prices are low - vegetable ramen is only $7. That's a good value, and it'll fill you up. There are also rice bowls with beef and chicken, and a nice selection of Japanese beers. Furious Spoon plans to open a few new locations around the city in 2016. It's an especially good place to dine during the cold Chicago winters, when a bowl of warm ramen soup will warm you right up.

Recommended for Best Value because: Gourmet ramen noodles are a hot restaurant concept right now, and this places serves up some of the best in Chicago.

Jamie's expert tip: Try one of the Japanese beers, which nicely complement the ramen noodles.

Read more about Furious Spoon →


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Meet Jamie Bartosch

Jamie Bartosch is a lifelong Chicagoan who thinks her hometown is the greatest city in the world. She is an award-winning newspaper reporter, a freelance travel writer, and the mother of two great kids.

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