Food & Drink

Where to Score Free Food in Chicago

Published On 02/19/2016 Published On 02/19/2016
Lagunitas Taproom | Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Free popcorn & bar snacks

Cody’s Public House (address and info)

Walking into Cody’s is like walking into your buddy’s place for a barbecue. Pull up to the bar, grab a handful of free pretzel sticks, and throw a couple darts at this dog-friendly neighborhood joint. If you get hungrier, you can always go pick up some brats and grill ‘em on one of the two grills in back for nothing.

Bernard’s Bar at the Waldorf Astoria (address and info)

Gold Coast
Bartenders at this intimate, leather-clad bar in the Waldorf Astoria Chicago Hotel provide the most classic of all bar snacks to whet your palatal senses: a bowl of salty mixed nuts.

Quenchers Saloon (address and info)

With 24 rotating craft beers on tap and close to 200 more bottle and cans to choose from, you’ll need the complimentary popcorn to keep you thirsty.

Beermiscuous (address and info)

The casual coffee-shop-like atmosphere of this bar and craft-brew store encourages patrons to snack on pretzels as they discuss the ins and outs of stouts, sours, and IPAs.

Lagunitas TapRoom (address and info)

The massive brewing facility offers pretzels and peanuts in the upstairs taproom -- just a little something something --  which will help sop up some fiendishly high ABV percentages.

Monk’s Pub (address and info)

Monk’s Pub is a traditional Chicago staple. And in keeping with tradition, they provide bar goers with peanuts, inviting them to simply toss the shells on the floor.

The Lounge at Travelle (address and info)

Near North
Sip a Sazerac and savor the complimentary malt vinegar corn nuts or candied cayenne nut mix while overlooking one of the best views of Chicago. That’s some fancy snacks.

Grace and Leavitt Fire Escape (address and info)

North Center
The list of daily and weekly drink specials is so long at this friendly neighborhood joint, it’s amazing they offer free popcorn when you’re already spending so little money.

Friar Tuck (address and info)

Enter through the barrel-shaped doorway Wednesday nights for karaoke and warm up your vocal chords with a pint and a basket of popcorn. Or seven.

Bucktown Pub (address and info)

Bucktown Pub’s been serving the neighborhood since 1933, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of touch. A great list of big- and small-market beers and complimentary popcorn will keep you satiated as you wait for their next local tap takeover or patio barbecue.

Five Guys (address and info)

Lincoln Park (& other locations)
Why you would go in and not order a burger, I don’t understand. But if you’re really only in the mood for a soda, you can always snag a scoop of free peanuts.

Courtesy of Map Room

Free appetizers

312 Chicago (address and info)

If you find yourself off work a little early, but don’t want to brave that rush hour train just yet, have a seat at the bar for “Aperitivo Hour” between 4pm-6pm and enjoy a gratis selection of small bites paired to your cocktail by the chef.

Map Room (address and info)

Come by Map Room to tackle the enviable beer list and then sink your teeth into an arrayed tasting of meats and cheeses free of charge Monday afternoons.

Paddy Long’s (address and info)

Chicago loves bacon and Chicagoans flock to Paddy Long’s for their incredible bacon delights. But if you’re patient enough to wait out the crowds for a beer until midnight Sunday through Thursday, you’ll find yourself the proud owner of your very own delectable bacon treat on the house.

The Florentine

Free pizza & chicken

The Burwood Tap (address and info)

Lincoln Park
Free wings on weeknights. Just beware the likelihood of hungry DePaul students. Like, a lot of them.

The Florentine (address and info)

If you’re looking for a classy mid-afternoon manhattan, scamper over to The Florentine inside the JW Marriott to enjoy a personal pizza chaser compliments of the house. Come alone, though, because it’s only one pizza per party -- and, thus, only one cowabunga per person

Porn and Chicken Dance Party at Evil Olive (address and info)

Wicker Park
Free chicken while supplies last on Monday nights -- if you can handle porn on the big screen and near-porn on the dance floor.

Big Chicks

Free buffets

Big Chicks (address and info)

The cool big sister bar to Uptown’s killer brunch spot, Tweet Let’s Eat, offers locals a free bbq buffet Sunday evenings all winter long. Check out the rotating menu here.

Howl at the Moon (address and info)

River North
Party like you’re at prom again Friday nights at this dueling pianos concert complete with complimentary buffet, neon cocktails, and Taylor Swift covers. On the way home, take all the money you saved on dinner and #treatyoself to an Ice Cream Donut Sandwich from Firecakes. You deserve it.


Free sweets

Scofflaw (address and info)

Logan Square
Show up just before midnight and get in line quickly as bartenders hand out warm chocolate chip cookies any night of the week. Oh, and the cocktails are mighty fine, too.

Lou Mitchell’s (address and info)

West Loop
At the end of the rainbow that is America’s Route 66 lies this pot of gold: Chicago’s own Lou Mitchell’s -- one of the oldest restaurants in the state. Step inside and find your hands full of freshly made donut holes. Ladies also get a box of Milk Duds in honor of Uncle Lou, who had “an eye” for them.

Eataly Chicago

Free samples

Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine (address and info)

Andersonville (& other locations)
You don’t have to feel sneaky getting samples at this cheese counter because the staff of cheese geeks at this small chain are eager to talk shop with you as you taste your way through the entire refrigerated curd case. And they’ll cut and sell you any size portion you ask, so you’ll likely walk out having eaten more cheese than you bought.

Eataly (address and info)

River North
Eataly is home to a dozen different Italian restaurants and eateries all pulling their ingredients from the same stock of imported items they sell on the floor. Take the opportunity, then, to sample as many meats, cheeses, vinegars, and oils as you can at the before you sit down to your meal. How else can you know to order what you like?

Trader Joe’s (address and info)

Lincoln Park (& other locations)
Not only do they offer free bite-sized pairings of a snack and juice all day, but they change the offering to fit the hours you’re shopping. That means three-four mini-meals a day, my friend!

Mariano’s (address and info)

Lincoln Park (& other locations)
You can frequently find Mariano’s staff posted up around the store for free taste battles between name-brand and store-brand foods. That’s two snack birds for the price of none.

Whole Foods (address and info)

Lincoln Park (& other locations)
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Clear. Plastic. Domes. Also, you can sample just about anything on the shelves without question from the staff if you simply ask!

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Zack Shornick is a Thrillist contributor and will eat just about anything that comes free with booze. Follow him @zackshornick