Track down the Windy City’s best food bargains, from breakfast through late night.
Best Cheap Eats in Chicago
Alinea, Grace, Topolobampo, Spiaggia, 42 Grams, Moto and El Ideas: You could eat a different high-end prix fixe meal every night of the week and blow baller amounts of money in Chicago. But the Windy City dining scene isn’t built on opulence alone. The diversity and depth of taquerias, noodle joints, hamburger shacks, BBQ joints and hot dog huts is foundational to our standing as a premiere dining destination. For every caviar-filled mother-of-pearl spoon or seared lobe of foie gras on offer, there’s probably a hundred superlative (under $10) cheap eats just as satisfying. Here’s a guide to a few of the best.
Carne Asada Tacos at Taqueria El Asadero
There are hundreds of steak taco options in Chicago, but most of them stem from sad-looking remnants that have been over-steaming for indefinite periods in the warm corner of a grill. But not at El Asadero. The carne asada tacos ($2.25) are so popular that the guys behind the counter are constantly caramelizing a fresh whole skirt steak on the grill, letting it rest, then slicing hunks of well-seasoned smoky meat off the side of beef. They spritz the sliced-to-order meat with fresh lime before swaddling it in a warm corn tortilla and sprinkling it with a shower of sharp onion and zesty cilantro.
Carmelized Onion and Parmesan Empanada at 5411 Empanadas
5411 Empanadas (named after the international area code for Buenos Aires, Argentina) was one of Chicago’s pioneering food trucks; they’re now up to three brick-and-mortar locations and counting. The flaky baked hand pies ($2.50) come in fancy flavors like Malbec-wine-soaked beef; blue cheese, mushroom and thyme; and bacon, date and goat cheese. But the vegetarian option with golden ribbons of caramelized onion and salty buttery Parmesan might be the best — it tastes like a Latin pot pie riff on a French onion soup.
Cemita Milanesa at Cemitas Puebla
Imagine a thinly pounded, crispy-fried pork loin slathered with a pineapple chipotle sauce, oozing with melted mozzarella-like Oaxacan cheese and served in a crusty, house-baked sesame-studded roll. It’s like a Mexican torta met an Italian parmigiana sandwich. Cemitas Puebla’s owner, Tony Anteliz Jr., designed the sandwich ($7.95) based on his nostalgia for the cemitas he ate on childhood visits to his father’s hometown of Puebla, Oaxaca.