City guides

5 essential restaurants for cheap eats in Chicago

Delicious food doesn’t have to be pricey, especially in Chicago. Not convinced? Taste the offerings at the Windy City’s best affordable eateries.

October 31, 2022
 min read
Last updated:
Apr 5
Three tacos filled with various meats and vegetables in a red takeaway container.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to eat well in Chicago. You don’t even need to spend a moderate amount of money to find delicious meals at the lowest price points, even as prices rise on everything else in the city. Chicago is a major hub for affordable dining with something to please even the pickiest palates.

From affordable sushi to slices of the city’s best pizza, smoked fish platters to crispy carnitas, this list has a little bit of everything. All of these Chicago eateries have one important thing in common. They’ll satisfy your hunger without breaking the bank.

You can get started at most of these eateries for under $10. That’s without sacrificing a thing when it comes to flavor, by the way. You can have it all with these essential Chicago cheap eats.

The Art of Pizza

3033 N. Ashland Ave. (Lakeview) & 727 S. State St. (South Loop)

Chicago is a pizza town through and through. Visitors may assume it’s all about the deep dish, but the corner tavern-style eatery is usually where you’ll find the locals. That doesn’t mean deep dish doesn’t have a place in the heart of a true Chicagoan, especially if it’s done well. Enter The Art of Pizza.

Deep dish pizza at the The Art of Pizza
Credit: Instagram: @artofpizzaonstatest

This counter-service eatery has been in Lakeview for over 30 years, topping lists as the best deep dish pizza in Chicago for its golden crusts, bright red tomato sauce, and a secret blend of spices. Visit the original location or their South Loop location on State Street for their daily slice specials. 

They call it “stuffed” rather than deep dish here, by the way, but it’s one and the same. You’ll still get a hefty slice of pizza that looks and tastes just like their full pies. The best part is that you won’t have to wait for them to make a full pie, an undertaking that takes about 45 minutes at most of Chicago’s best deep dish pizza joints. The slices here are warm and gooey and waiting for you upon arrival.

Price: You don’t need to limit yourself to a single slice of pizza, but if you’re keeping things budget-friendly, The Art of Pizza has 16 different kinds of toppings and pizza styles for you to choose from starting at $3.99* for their thin crust. A slice of stuffed crust will set you back $4.99*.

What to Order: This place is known for their thicker slices. Try a slice of their pan or stuffed varieties with no wait. The stuffed Arts Special with Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions is most popular and representative of what this spot does best.

Calumet Fisheries

3259 E. 95th St. (South Deering)

There’s no seating at this roadside seafood shack. There are no bathrooms, either. If it’s a chilly day, you may just have to eat in the car, so pack the wet wipes. That all said, locals have flocked to this South Side eatery since 1948 for smoked fish and fried shrimp plates at wallet-friendly prices.

Shrimp platter at calumet fisheries
Credit: Facebook: Calumet Fisheries

This place isn’t just affordable, though. Calumet Fisheries was recognized by the James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Awards back in 2010 for its quality food and its character. After decades of service, the shack remains a family affair. It was opened by brothers-in-law Sid Kotlick and Len Toll back in the 1940s and remains part of those same two families. 

You’ll become just as loyal to this roadside eatery once you taste their specialties.

Price: Half-orders of fish start between $5-$6*. Expect to pay around $8* for their fish dinners.

What to Order: You came all the way down here for the seafood, so order one of their smoked fish platters. Salmon, rainbow trout, herring, or chubs, a Chicago classic, are all popular options. Try their pepper and garlic rub if you order the trout or salmon. Looking for a fried specialty? Try the shrimp. Dinners some with fries, coleslaw, crackers, and extra sauce.

Carnitas Uruapan

1725 W. 18th St. (Pilsen) & 2813 W. 55th St. (Gage Park)

There are a lot of delicious taco shops in Chicago. Even better, there are a lot of delicious and affordable taco shops in Chicago. Carnitas Uruapan is Chicago royalty at this point thanks to its authentic carnitas. Those authentic carnitas come to Chicagoans courtesy of a family recipe brought to the city from Michoacán, Mexican by original owner Inocencio Carbajal.

3 piece tacos from Carnitas Uruapan
Credit: Instagram: @carnitas_uruapanchi

Little has changed about the restaurant since it opened in 1975. Locals lined up back then for the succulent meats and they do the same today. The tortillas here are homemade, too, and the perfect vessels for their carnitas.

The menu is limited outside of their carnitas, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone who tries them. On weekdays, their carnitas especial includes beans, chicharrones, and a taco dorado. That’s a crispy taco or “golden” taco with a potato, spicy pork brain, or potato and chorizo filling.

Price: A single carnitas taco is $3.99*. A full pound of carnitas is still just $13.99* and comes with salsa, tortillas, lime, onion, and cilantro.

What to Order: Whether you’d like them by the pound or stuffed in a street taco, you’re here for pork carnitas. They’re slow-cooked for several hours until they’re nice and crispy on the outside but somehow still moist on that first bite. If you’re visiting on a Saturday and Sunday, the shop also has menudo — that’s a soup made with tripe and a spicy red chilil pepper base — on the menu. It’s the perfect addition to go along with your carnitas.

Lawrence Fish Market

3920 W. Lawrence Ave. (Albany Park)

You can have delicious sushi on a budget in Chicago if you know where to look. Lawrence Fish Market is the city’s best-kept secret when it comes to high-quality rolls, sashimi, and other Japanese treats at prices that haven’t seemed to move in years.

Variety of sushis at the Lawrence Fish Market
Credit: Instagram: @lawrence_fish_market

It may not look like much upon arrival, but the family-owned fish market has been serving up high-quality sushi for over 40 years. They source the fish directly from Japan, and the result is meant to resemble the kind of sushi you’d expect if you made that trip overseas yourself. It’s affordable without sacrificing flavor.

If you’re feeding a large group, you can order one of their sushi trays in advance. Lawrence Fish Market is takeout only, so give them some time to prep your food if you’re ordering at peak hours. 

Price: Rolls start at $3.45* for basic California rolls and go up to $11.25* for their Sumo Roll, a shrimp tempura roll. Pieces of sushi start at just $1.30* and a cup of miso is only $2.50*.

What to Order: No matter how you decide to treat your sushi fix, don’t miss out on their classic Rainbow Roll. It may not sound as exciting as some of the flashier rolls, but it’s the best way to taste what you came here for: authentic sushi that tastes like it should cost you so much more.

Superdawg Drive-In

6363 N. Milwaukee Ave. (Norwood Park)

Ask any Chicagoan about their favorite hot dog spot in the city and Superdawg Drive-In will certainly be somewhere on that list. The nostalgia is strong with this one and the mascots on the rooftop are iconic.

Hotdog with pickles and fries at Superdawg Drive
Credit: Instagram: @superdawgdrivein

Those are Maurie and Flaurie, by the way, and they’re named after the original owners, Maurie and Flaurie Berman. The Bermans opened the carhop in 1948, and the shop has remained a family-run affair since it opened its doors.

While a hot dog dressed as Tarzan makes for some fun ambiance, the draw here is the food. More specifically, it’s about the hot dogs. A Superdawg is unique from all other hot dogs in the city. 

Per the owners, it’s not a weiner, it’s not a frankfurter, and it’s not a red hot. It’s a Superdawg, and it’s been trademarked as such since 1984. You can order retro-style in one of the carports or use their walkup window. There isn’t much seating at the Chicago location — there’s a larger Superdawg in Wheeling — so expect to have your food as takeout.

Price: A Superdawg with Superfries and all of the trimmings costs $7.25*. 

What to Order: You’ll want the original Superdawg. Your hot dog comes on a poppy seed bun, dressed with mustard, tangy piccalilli relish, a dill pickle, chopped onions, and a hot pepper. No, you can’t put ketchup on your hot dog here. Superdawgs come with crinkle-cut fries. If you want to finish things off with something sweet, order a strawberry Supershake.

*Prices correct as of December 1 2022.

*Prices fluctuate based on season and day of the week.

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Agnes Groonwald

Agnes Groonwald is a freelance writer and creator of Travel on the Reg, a blog for regular travelers who want to travel in a regular fashion. In her world, travel is awesome, but it can also be scary, funny, or less than Insta-perfect. She was born and raised in Chicago, but is currently writing from the road as a digital nomad with her husband and dog Kimmy Kibbler.