The best of Chicago's cheap eats

From deep dish to hot dogs to cheezborgers, get your mitts on the best affordable grub the Windy City has to offer.

by Holly Riddle

Talk to any Chicago native, or any lover of this great city, really, and you’ll be treated to tales of mammoth pizzas that are impossible to eat without a fork, ethnic cuisine with a history you can still taste and what is quite possibly the country’s best hot dog. You don’t need to break the bank to get your fill in this destination, however, and you’ll find some of the greatest bites are also some of the most affordable.

Deep dish pizza


Let’s just get the basics out of the way first. No trip to Chicago is complete without at least several helpings of cheesy, thick, gooey, mouthwatering Chicago-style deep dish pizza. The two highly acclaimed pizzerias in the city are Pizzeria Uno 74 and Gino's East 72. However, Pizzeria Uno claims that they’re the original creator, serving up pies since 1943. There’s typically a wait to be seated in the small dining room, which still has a vintage, old-school Italian restaurant feel, but the experience is well worth it. You can get a personal-size deep dish for a little over $7.

If Pizzeria Uno is an old-school Italian dive, Gino’s East is an eclectic, graffiti-covered hot spot. Just as the ambience is remarkably different, so is the pizza. While Gino’s still offers that hearty, rib-sticking goodness, there are a few key flavor differences, one being the crust, which incorporates cornmeal for a crunchier texture.

Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger!


The Billy Goat Tavern 79 is tucked underneath Magnificent Mile, in a location that may seem slightly sketchy to out-of-towners if headed there after dark. No worries, you’ll find you’re in good company at this institution. They offer the perfect greasy burger-and-fries combo that you desperately need after a long night on the town and a comfortable ambience that makes you feel right at home. You may recognize the tavern from its SNL fame, which was sparked by the Cheezborger skit featuring Billy Murray, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, or maybe you recognize the former Billy Goat as the same that cursed the Cubs in 1945. Regardless, if you don’t know this Chicago spot now, you will soon, and your wallet will thank you for it, as cheeseburgers start at just around $3.

The country’s top dog?


Gene & Jude's 74 has been serving up hot dogs in their little mom-and-pop shop since the 1940s. They’ve been featured as the best of the best in everything from Reader’s Digest to Rachael Ray Every Day, and have made appearances on a variety of TV shows. Dogs are served up simple — with no ketchup, piled high with mustard, onions, relish and a pickled pepper, with a side of fries. They’re obviously best enjoyed with a cold beer.

Getcha popcorn!


Of course, sometimes you’re only in the mood for a small snack to keep you going as you explore the Chicago streets. If that’s the case, look no further than any one of the Garrett Popcorn shops scattered around the city. The striped storefronts aren’t easy to miss, and once you have a bit, you’ll soon spot the matching bags everywhere, as this sweet and salty treat is a tourist favorite. There’s a huge variety of flavors to choose from, whether you want something a little spicy or extremely decadent and covered in chocolate. The best part? If you develop a craving after you’ve left the Windy City, you can have a gallon tin delivered straight to your doorstep.

Where’s the beef?


Chicago was home to a multitude of Italian immigrants back in the day, and they brought along some amazingly delightful dinner options with them. Johnnie's Beef 71 is all about the Italian beef sandwiches, dipped and then topped with your choice of peppers. The small eatery is a local favorite and has been recognized by a large variety of foodie stars. Hey, if it’s good enough for Anthony Bourdain, it’s good enough for you. The affordable price is just a plus.

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