Because sometimes (all times?) you just need a break from turkey subs and microwave burritos from the convenience mart down the street, we criss-crossed the city to identify cheap-ass alternatives that truly represent each of 25 different neighborhoods. They’re all good -- and more often than not you're getting a hell of a meal for around $10 or less.
 

Albany Park

Salam Restaurant (address and info)
What you're getting: Beef shawarma plate with hummus, Jerusalem salad, and pita, $9.99; Falafel plate, $5.99
The most reliable spot on a strip of Middle Eastern restaurants, Salam does a steady business in tender chicken taouk, smoky house-made baba ghanoush, shawarma, falafel, and other standards -- accompanied by service that might best be described as slouchy but friendly.

Mike Gebert

Andersonville

Sunshine Cafe (address and info)
What you're getting: Saba shioyaki (grilled mackerel), $9.50
A homey, '60s-era Japanese cafe run by an older lady and her middle-aged son, Sunshine Cafe does simple, beautifully made Japanese comfort food like char-grilled mackerel or udon soup.
 

Archer Heights

Birrieria Zaragoza (address and info)
What you're getting: Large plate of birria, $10.50
A Mexican family restaurant in an old diner, this guy specializes in one dish -- roasted goat in spicy broth, served with handmade tortillas -- and it’s life-changingly, decide-to-move-to-Mexico good. It's hot and deep in meaty flavor and comfy with the chewy tortillas, all at the same time.

Mike Gebert

Bridgeport

Pleasant House Bakery (address and info)
What you're getting: Steak and ale pie, $7.50; Mushroom and kale pie, $6.50
If Bridgeport had its own flag, it'd be one with this place’s savory pies on it -- an imposing structure of flaky butter crust filled with steak, curry-spiced chicken, or mushroom and kale. Did we mention the kale is grown just down the block? 'Cause it is.
 

Chinatown

Sweet Station (address and info)
What you're getting: BBQ four things with fried rice, $7.95; Hong Kong-style stir-fried beef and rice noodle, $9.25
It's not the the most well-tread restaurant in Chinatown, but still has a pretty good value, especially given the ultra-lounge futuristic interior which makes it feel like it should be called Space Station instead. The noodle dishes and soups are standouts.

Mike Gebert

Edgewater

Cookies & Carnitas (address and info)
What you're getting: The Beefy Cheezy, $10; Pork belly or beef brisket tacos, $4.50 each
Chicago’s only "farm-to-table cookies and tacos and big meaty sandwich and pizza" joint... with a coffee bar attached. No you can't just move in.
 

Gold Coast

Lou Malnati’s (address and info)
What you're getting: Small sausage deep dish, $13.65
In a land of pickup bars and power steak joints, everybody needs a pizza once in a while, too. Malnati’s has deep dish history (Lou’s dad is probably the one who invented it) while not turning the style into a stomach anvil.
 

Humboldt Park

Grandma J’s Local Kitchen (address and info)
What you're getting: Braised pork belly Bennie, $14; Duck eggs and ham, $13
What’s the best thing that a place on a busy, unfriendly strip in a neighborhood with rough edges can do for you? Invite you in and make you feel like it’s the friendliest, homiest place in the world. That’s what this cute, cozy little breakfast and lunch spot does, with board games to help pass the time.
 

Irving Park

D’Candela (address and info)
What you're getting: Pollo entero, $10.50
There’s a long menu here, and some of the seafood items are quite good, but look around the room and you’ll see what draws everyone to this Peruvian restaurant -- crisp, juicy rotisserie chicken, served with spicy green aji for dipping.

Mike Gebert

Jefferson Park

Smak Tak (address and info)
What you're getting: Hunter stew old Polish style, $9.99; Pierogi plate, $9.99
Scratch Polish cooking in this woodsy restaurant on North Elston includes pierogis, potato pancakes, and the massive, feed-you-for-two-days hunter’s goulash -- all made to keep you warm through the winter.
 

Lakeview

BIG & little’s (address and info)
What you're getting: Cheeseburger and fries, $9; Foie gras and fries, $16; Samurai fish taco, $4.75
This is one of the best bets for people going through Hot Doug’s withdrawal -- order your fries with a side of foie gras and see for yourself. The wide-ranging menu has good burgers and such, but even better tacos, from al pastor to fish.
 

Lincoln Park

Del Seoul (address and info)
What you're getting: Sambal fish taco, $3.95; Bulgogi banh mi, $6.25
Del Seoul was one of the first places in Chicago to attempt Korean-Mexican fusion after it became a thing in LA, and their fish taco with Asian slaw on top is still one of the best examples in town.

Mike Gebert

Lincoln Square

Aroy Thai (address and info)
What you're getting: Beef ball and tendon soup, $9.50; Phrik khing with crispy pork, $11.50
Lincoln Square is Thai food central and this veteran restaurant remains one of the best examples. The best cold remedy in town is a bowl of their pungently hot and sour beef ball (no, not that kind) and tendon (yes, that kind) soup.
 

Logan Square

90 Miles Cuban Cafe (address and info)
What you're getting: Cubano sandwich, $7; Sopa de grouper, $4
As Logan Square dining becomes more upscale, you've got all the more reason to love this easygoing Cuban cafe (with a sibling in Roscoe Village). You'll find tasty Cubano sandwiches and ropa vieja, hearty chicken and skirt steak, and really good seafood soups here. It's also BYO, and if you bring your own rum, you can get a pitcher of mojitos.

Mike Gebert

The Loop

BenjYehuda (address and info)
What you're getting: Chicken shawarma flatbread wrap, $6.99
Middle Eastern fast food has popped up all over the Loop, but the winner is this Israeli-style place with fresh, authentic toppings to put on your chicken wrap or eat with your falafel.
 

Noble Square

The Butcher & Larder (address and info)
What you're getting: Daily special, around $10
The main business of this butcher shop is selling big hunks of raw meat, but the place was started by chefs -- and every day they practice their former trade a little with a couple of sandwiches. It might be a roast beef sandwich, or it might be Sloppy Joe or Italian beef -- doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, with great meat and a chef’s sense for balancing flavors, it’ll probably be the best of that thing you ever had in your life.

Mike Gebert

North Center

Cho Sun Ok Restaurant (address and info)
What you're getting: BulGoGi, $9.95; Kimchi jjigae, $7.95
One of the oldest Korean restaurants in town, but still regularly drawing lines on Friday nights, this spot specializes in cooking cha dol -- aka thinly sliced beef -- at the table in thick clay pots, and they’ll do it for you, thank you very much.
 

Pilsen

Del Toro (address and info)
What you're getting: Carne asada, pollo adobado, or puerco adobado tacos, $3
You can’t throw a rock without hitting good Mexican food in Pilsen, but here’s a little more upscale destination for people who want more than a hole in the wall, but still want muy authentico tacos. The good craft beer list is a plus.
 

River North

Dough Bros (address and info)
What you're getting: Pizza slice, $4; Roast pork sub, $10.29
A celebrated, high-end chef tackles everyday street food and shows how it’s done. River North -- we must be talking about Rick Bayless’s Mexican sandwich shop, right? Well, sure, but you already knew about Xoco, so check out Chef Roland Liccioni’s Dough Bros, which does an awesome New York-style slice even during late-night drinking hours in this area.

Mike Gebert

Rogers Park

Khan BBQ (address and info)
What you're getting: Chicken boti, 10.99; Half broast chicken, $9.99; Onion naan, $2.49
As you might guess from it being on the Indo-Pak strip on Devon, this isn’t American barbecue, but grilled meats cooked over fire in big clay tandoors. It’s still about as succulently meat-errific as a barbecue joint, thanks to juicy beef, chicken, or goat with eye-opening spices and lots of tasty char. Start with chicken boti and some naan, damping the heat as you go with cool yogurt sauce (raita).

Mike Gebert

Ukrainian Village

Fatso’s Last Stand (address and info)
What you're getting: Double Fatso with cheese, $6.50; Fresh-cut fries, $2; Grilled Polish with fries, $5
How does a big, fat cheeseburger coated in cheese and grease represent a Ukrainian neighborhood? Well, it doesn’t, but it stands for what brings us all together as Chicagoans at a stand like this: cholesterol. The grilled Polish and fried shrimp are great, too.
 

University Village

Al’s Italian Beef (address and info)
What you're getting: Italian beef, dipped, hot or sweet peppers, $5.25; Combo, $6.35
Give me grief for calling out Al’s yet again if you want. All I know is, I took some out-of-towners here for their first Italian beefs a couple of weeks ago and they’re still talking about the great Chicago experience they had.

Mike Gebert

Uptown

Nha Hang (address and info)
What you're getting: Pho Viet Nam, $6.95; Chicken goi ga, $10.95
You almost can’t go wrong looking for Vietnamese food on Argyle St -- I said almost -- but my favorite is this friendly (if nearly English-free) spot with good pho (noodle soup) and plenty of other good dishes, like goi ga (chicken salad) and deep-fried crab.

Mike Gebert

West Loop

Publican Quality Meats (address and info)
What you're getting: Parm #2, $9.50; Ribollita (bowl), $6
It’s a dice roll when high-end chefs do casual food, but this butcher-sandwich shop consistently comes up sevens, putting a refined spin on indulgently meaty sandwiches like the pork belly gyros or the (free-range, artisanal) chicken Parm.
 

Wicker Park

En Hakkore (address and info)
What you're getting: Bibimbap, $8; Paratha tacos, $7.50
Not the hipster neighborhood where I’d think to go looking for Korean food, but the bibimbap bowl at this sunny place is one of the most beautiful dishes in town, full of life-giving vegetables (but with a hunk of tasty beef to keep you from feeling deprived). The Korean tacos (wrapped in Indian-style parathas, who knows why?) are good too.

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Mike Gebert is a James Beard Award-winning food video producer and writer, and founder of SkyFullofBacon.com. Follow him on Twitter @skyfullofbacon.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Salam Restaurant 4636 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Albany Park)

The most reliable spot on a strip of Middle Eastern restaurants, Salam does a steady business in tender chicken taouk, smoky house-made baba ghanoush, shawarma, falafel, and other standards -- accompanied by service that might best be described as slouchy but friendly.

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2. Sunshine Cafe 5449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 (Andersonville)

A homey, '60s-era Japanese cafe run by an older lady and her middle-aged son, Sunshine Cafe does simple, beautifully made Japanese comfort food like char-grilled mackerel or udon soup.

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3. Birrieria Zaragoza 4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60632 (South Chicago)

This cozy South Side counter-serve is owned by a friendly family that's bringing Chicago a beloved regional specialty from Jalisco, Mexico: spicy, braised goat, or "birria." The grass-fed, locally sourced goat is the one and only meat you'll find in this unfussy, orange-accented space, where it's served in tacos, quesadillas, and by-the-pound. The move is to order a large plate of birria, swimming in a tomato-based consomme and served with freshly made tortillas and hot fire-roasted salsa on the side.

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4. Pleasant House Pub 2119 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

Pilsen’s Pleasant House Pub serves up pints and pies in an English pub setting. The menu is divided into pub snacks, pub plates, sides, salads, and flaky, savory “Royal” pies, which you can “crown” with mashed potatoes and gravy. Choose to eat this decidedly British fare in either the indoor or outdoor area, and if you have any room left, jump on the sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Stocked with a full bar of cocktails and craft beers, Pleasant House Pub will have you gabbing in your foolish English accent after one too many.

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5. Sweet Station 2101 S China Pl, Chicago, IL 60616 (Chinatown)

Sweet Station combines contemporary and traditional Chinese cooking practices for the perfect modern Hong Kong style Chinese. They've got you covered for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks.

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6. Cookies & Carnitas 5759 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60660 (Edgewater)

Cookies & Carnitas serve exactly what you think they would... plus sandwiches, pizza, tacos, salads, and the Dirk Diggler: an obscenely long, specially made kosher dog served with Mexican-style relish.

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7. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria 439 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610

With more than 40 locations across the greater Chicago area, Lou Malnati's is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, not least because of its signature buttery and pie-like crust, exclusive sausage blend, and mozzarella that's been sourced from the same Wisconsin dairy farm for more than 40 years. According to pizza lore, Lou's dad probably invented deep-dish pizza and even if he didn't, the chain's reliable pan pies are pretty close to what the original deep-dish tasted like.

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8. Grandma Js Local Kitchen 1552 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60651 (Humboldt Park)

This funky brunch spot has an appropriately vintage feel, eclectic antiques, a ceiling tiled with old tablecloths, and some damn good food: shrimp and grits, monte cristo, and chicken and waffle fritters. Oh, did we mention you can BYOB? Lunch is also served.

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9. D'Candela 4053 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Irving Park)

There’s a long menu here, and some of the seafood items are quite good, but look around the room and you’ll see what draws everyone to this Peruvian restaurant -- crisp, juicy rotisserie chicken, served with spicy green aji for dipping.

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10. Smak-Tak 5961 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60646 (Jefferson Park)

At Smak Tak, a Polish kitchen in Jefferson Park, you get the feeling you’re in a cabin basement in the Polski hinterlands. In a good way. With only five tables and all wood plank everything, this restaurant excels in specialties like potato pancakes, pierogis, and breaded and broiled meats. Let’s be real, you’ll take full advantage of Smak Tak’s BYOB policy because, well, it’s pretty dark in there, and what else is there to do in your middle-of-nowhere village anyway?

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11. BIG & little's 1034 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Lakeview’s B&L is a cash-only, counter-serve American eatery that offers some of the best-bang-for-your-buck food. Its soft-shelled crab po’boy is unbelievably tender and covered in a crunchy batter. It’s served with a bed of lettuce, pickles, fried soft shelled crab, a squeeze of lime, and delicious chili aioli "special sauce.” Other notable menu items are the cajun fries (crispy with a pillow-y soft inside) and tacos (al pastor and Samurai fish). Service is fast, and you may even get a glimpse of co-owners “Big” and “Little” in the kitchen.

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12. Del Seoul 2568 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Inspired by the Korean taco craze that's become a food truck staple across the land, DS is bringing that street ethos to a takeout-focused brick 'n mortar joint covered in food cart-esque sheet metal and three flat-screens touting the menu, so finally TVs'll actually help you stuff your face in front of them.

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13. Aroy Thai 4656 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (Logan Square)

Lincoln Square is Thai food central and this veteran restaurant remains one of the best examples. The best cold remedy in town is a bowl of their pungently hot and sour beef ball (no, not that kind) and tendon (yes, that kind) soup.

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14. 90 Miles Cuban Cafe 2540 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

There're plenty of reasons to love this easygoing Cuban cafe (with a sibling in Roscoe Village). You'll find tasty Cubano sandwiches and ropa vieja, hearty chicken and skirt steak, and really good seafood soups here. It's also BYO, and if you bring your own rum, you can get a pitcher of mojitos.

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15. BenjYehuda 10 S LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60602 (Loop)

Serving up killer falafel and chicken shawarma sandwiches with a crazy-wide array of add-ons like onions, hummus, Mediterranean pickles, and more, Benjyehuda delivers on its promise of bringing you "urban street food".

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16. The Butcher & Larder 1026 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (West Town)

From the man who used to run the meat-centric kitchen at Mado, B&L is a boutique whole-animal butcher procuring all of its product -- from T-bones & tenderloins to obscure cuts & offal -- from local farms, also using them in soups, charcuterie, and more.

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17. Cho Sun Ok 4200 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (North Center)

This North Center restaurant is a quality spot to chow down on tasty Korean BBQ made grill-top style. Pro tip: try the short ribs, beef dumplings, or kimchi fried rice. Service is quick and prices are more than reasonable. Oh, and they're BYOB, so don't forget your favorite booze!

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18. Del Toro 2133 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

Popular wisdom holds "liquor before beer and you're in the clear", but nobody's ever said "liquor before al pastor and you'll want some more"... until now thanks to Del Toro. From the family behind Pilsen staple F&R Liquors, DT's a laid-back adjacent tequila bar & grubbery with a mahogany hue, a U-shaped granite bar, and local abstract paintings, all punctuated by the sounds of Latin jazz and bossa nova, which is also how Brazilians describe their favorite PBS programming.

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19. Dough Bros 400 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

A celebrated, high-end chef tackles everyday street food and shows how it’s done. Check out Chef Roland Liccioni’s Dough Bros, which does an awesome New York-style slice even during late-night drinking hours in this area.

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20. Khan BBQ 2401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 (West Rogers Park)

Khan BBQ in West Rogers Park excels in sizzling Indian and Pakistani barbecued goods, particularly of the poultry variety. Dishes here, like chicken boti and tandoori fish are exceptional for their smoky flavor, the steamy evidence of which floats up to Khan’s tricked out chandelier that protrudes from the neon blue and green ceiling. To be frank, Khan’s is not a destination for atmosphere; staff scurry hurriedly and the experience is often frenetic. The good news is you’ll have too much naan, goat, rice, and chicken stuffed inside you to care.

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21. Fatso's Last Stand 2258 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Ukrainian Village)

This no frills, Ukrainian Village eatery pretty much has the perfect name, with a menu chock-full of items like fresh-cut fries, char dogs, and burgers. One of the staples here is the Double Fatso with cheese -- two perfectly grilled beef patties flanked by slices of American cheese, onion, and secret sauce -- a burger that can give In-N-Out a run for its money.

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22. Al's Italian Beef 1079 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL 60607

University Village’s Al’s Italian Beef is a strong believer in letting you choose how juicy you want it to be, it being their famous original Italian Beef sandwich, of course. The beef, which is thinly sliced and dry-roasted in a secret recipe blend of pure spices and natural juices, undergoes a hot-and-sweet-pepper-gravy transformation at increments ranging from “dry” and “dipped” to “regular” and “wet.” The counter-serve restaurant also offers fresh cut fries, char-grilled burgers, tamales, and chili. Sit down indoors or outdoors, or take out; Al’s isn’t picky.

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23. Nha Hang 1104 W Argyle St, Chicago, IL 60640 (Uptown)

You almost can’t go wrong looking for Vietnamese food on Argyle St -- almost -- but one of the best is this friendly (if nearly English-free) spot with good pho and plenty of other good dishes, like goi ga (chicken salad) and deep-fried crab.

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24. Publican Quality Meats 825 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

A tri-case deli & whole-animal butcher shop that'll supply you with sausages & charcuterie, PQM will hook you up with smoked Spanish chorizo or boudin noir, fresh-baked breads, specialty groceries, and seriously stacked sandwiches.

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25. En Hakkore 1840 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Bucktown)

En Hakkore puts forward budget-friendly Korean cuisine with a twist: think tacos, paninis, and sushi. Their eclectic decor features communal tables, chandeliers made from repurposed materials, and antique books on the walls.

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