Bargain Dining After Hours | Grand Prix Fixe | Counter Intelligence


 La Humita's marinated shrimp cocktail

Photograph: Leonard Gertz
Photo Styling: Sheila Styling
Food Styling: Mary Valentine
Photo Assistant: Abe Sands



It doesn't matter whether you're a starving grad student or an investment banker: everyone loves a bargain. Before you crisscross the city and suburbs in search of the best places for a good cheap meal, we suggest you explore the following pages. We've packed them with 90-plus budget-friendly restaurants, a roster that includes discoveries, classics, late-night hangouts, and special penny-pinching menus at upscale spots. Pick one, invite a friend, and make it your treat while you're at it. In these places, you can afford it-no matter what your bank statement looks like.

Angelica's Cleary's on Clark La Sierra Sweet Baby Ray's
Ay Ay Picante Crêpe and Coffee Palace The Lucky Platter Tac Quick Thai Kitchen
Bhabi's Kitchen Czech Plaza Maíz Taste of Lebanon
Café Amuse Edelweiss Max & Benny's Tatsu Sushi Bar
Café El Tapatío El Llano Mysore Woodlands Tien Giang
Café Fez Goose Island Brewpub Pasta Palazzo Tre Kronor
Calvin's BBQ Greek Islands Pho Xe Lua Tufano's Vernon Park Tap
Calypso Café The Handlebar Ras Dashen White Palace Grill
Casbah Café Kabul House Reflections Yang Chinese Restaurant
Chi Tung La Humita Sushi Luxe Yum Thai Restaurant
      Zab Thai Kitchen




Photography by Leonard Gertz and Matthew Gilson

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3244 North Milwaukee Avenue
"How can they make a profit here?" one of my tablemates wondered as she sampled the fresh vegetables, potato salad, jellied pork, fruit salad, and more on the salad bar. As if that weren't enough, all meals arrive with a lively tri-salad plate of coleslaw, sauerkraut, and red cabbage salad. Hearty Polish entrées include stunningly tender boiled beef in horseradish sauce ($6.99) and rolled veal loaf ($7.99) in brown gravy. As we relaxed in our nicely upholstered booth and sipped a $2 shot of honey-flavored Polish vodka, we couldn't come up with a legitimate answer.
–D. R. W.

Ay Ay Picante
4569 North Elston Avenue
Calling all spudsters. Potatoes originated in Peru and the good folks over at Ay Ay Picante-an open kitchen storefront with wall designs of pre-Columbian glyphs-know exactly what to do with them. Ocopa, boiled potatoes topped with cheese sauce, Peruvian black mint, and walnuts, tastes marvelous ($6.50). Papas rellenas, deep-fried mashed potatoes stuffed with savory beef and raisins ($6), also delight. Zesty seviche de pescado comes with corn, onions, and boiled potatoes ($9.90), and rich marinated beef heart shish kebab ($6) with-you guessed it-boiled potatoes. For dessert-a fine wedge of flan-not a tuber in sight. BYO.
–D. R. W.


Photos: Matthew Gilson

Bhabi's Kitchen


Bhabi's Kitchen
6352 North Oakley Boulevard
This colorful BYO spot covers a lot of bases with splendid, everything-from-scratch home cooking. Vegetable ($1) and beef ($2) samosas with three dipping sauces start things off with a bang. Our favorite vegetarian entrée is bagarey balgan ($9)-eggplant in a fantastic sauce seasoned with ground peanuts, sesame seeds, coconut, and coriander. We're also fond of the kicky chicken boti ($8) from the tandoor (oven). And did someone mention bread? Bhabi's offers 20 kinds, including a divine naan ($4) sprinkled with pistachios.
–J. T.

Café Amuse
706 South Buffalo Grove Road
Buffalo Grove
Korea native Alex Moon cooks American dishes with French and Asian influences in his smart 12-table strip mall spot-and an upscale, down-priced salad of crab with grapefruit and orange segments on greens ($6.75) proves he's on to something. Steamed mussels in spicy chili sauce ($6.55) deliver restrained Asian heat, as do hefty meatballs in honey chili-miso sauce ($6.95). Grilled chicken breast with artichoke-caper sauce ($9.15, comes with soup or salad), on the other hand, is deliciously European at heart. An order of chocolate-dipped strawberries makes any dinner feel festive, and I was elated by the $22 price tag for the spicy Australian Paringa Shiraz. Amused? I'm tickled pink.
–D. R. W.

Café El Tapatío
3400 North Ashland Avenue
You'll find lots of ways to fill up at this popular spot without going broke. The pitcher of margaritas ($22.95) gives four drinkers a good buzz, and chips and salsa are free-¡olé! We love the pechuga Oaxaca (broiled chicken breast topped with mango-jalapeño sauce; $9.75) with warm tortillas and the revoltijo ajijic (steak, mushrooms, and poblanos served over grilled plantains; $9.95). Both come with rice and steamed vegetables. Nothing haute here, but everything is far beyond the ordinary.
–J. T.

Café Fez
4659 North Elston Avenue
Décor doesn't get much more bare-bones than this, but hospitality flows along with the mint tea here, and the food is an earthy pleasure. Start by smearing pita triangles with zaalouk (mashed roasted eggplant dip) or ratatouille-like taktouka ($3.50 each); then segue into lamb tagine with prunes and almonds ($9.50) or perhaps the couscous ($7.50). But whatever you do, don't miss the triumphant chicken pastilla ($8.50), a phyllo-wrapped pie of chicken, egg, and almonds, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. BYO.
–J. T.

Calvin's BBQ
2540 West Armitage Avenue
You're seduced by hickory smoke before you even walk into Calvin Woods's new BYO spot (he also owns Smokin' Woody's). The cops have already sniffed it out-another good sign. With any entrée other than a sandwich you get a fresh salad, coleslaw, and a choice of potatoes. The sauce is righteous and the baby back ribs ($16.95), brisket ($9.25), and chicken ($6.50/half; $8.95/whole) are terrific; so is the fried catfish ($9.25). All that bothers me is that the place is so clean inside. But, hey, it's a barbecue shack: it'll get properly sooty in time.
–D. R. W.

Calypso Café
5211 South Harper Court
Let's face it: Hyde Park is hardly a foodie mecca. But the locals line up for lively Caribbean chow at this faux tropical hut. Frozen daiquiris in hand, they dig into an appetizer of magnificent Jamaican jerk chicken wings so jumbo, the eight of them are perfect for two to share ($10.45). So are the greaseless plantain chips with guacamole and spicy Cuban black bean dip ($7.25). Smoked baby back ribs caribe in a fruity barbecue sauce hang over the plate ($17.95/full slab, $11.95/half), and I fell hard for the baked chayote squash stuffed with a curried vegetable medley. The coconut banana cream pie adds a bit of tropical splendor.
–D. R. W.

Casbah Café
3151 North Broadway
Moroccan, Middle Eastern
This is one sweet spot-a North African and Middle Eastern veteran with an evocative Arabic soundtrack, inviting banquettes, and a cozy fireplace. The appetizer combo ($13.50) could be a light dinner for two: stuffed grape leaves, white beans with carrots, sautéed spinach and onions, hummus, falafel, and a basket of warm pita. Great stuff-but wait. Entrées include salad or soup (like a well-spiced carrot number), and it's hard to choose between the Marrakech lamb stew and the Moroccan chicken-brochette couscous. Finish with creamy mulalabie (rice pudding) garnished with pistachios. As savory as sweet, but memorable nonetheless. BYO ($4 corkage). Word to the wise: meter parking is tough; the $10 garage across the street is the cheapest option.
–D. R. W.

Chi Tung
9560 South Kedzie Avenue
Evergreen Park
This sprawling, modern setting resembles a one-stop upscale-Asian food court. People stream in for a huge menu of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese dishes washed down with big mai tais. An army of cooks at a battery of woks whip up likable standards with fresh ingredients. For starters, try the plump pork pot stickers ($4.95), barbecued ribs ($6.95), and chicken satay ($4.95). The crispy half duck ($8.95) and the Thai red beef curry ($7.95) are both musts; the sushi is a must not-it was gummy and left me cold. (Bonus: lunch buffet is $5.99.)
–D. R. W.




Photo: Matthew Gilson

Cleary's on Clark: traditional Irish breakfast.

Cleary's on Clark
3438 North Clark Street
Irish, American
If you've ever had a traditional Irish breakfast, you know that it pretty much takes care of lunch and dinner, too. Cleary's, a glossy Wrigleyville pub, gets it right, dishing up (day or night; $9) a hearty plate of sausages, rashers (here, strips of broiled bacon), puddings (sausage links made of pig's blood, minced pork, breadcrumbs, and seasonings), beans, fried egg, and thick house-made brown bread (plus an American nod: herbed fries). If you're in the mood for less, try a picture-perfect pint of Guinness, and dig into the delicious Harp beer–battered onion rings ($5) or an order of crispy chips ladled with thick, pungent curry sauce ($4).
–J. R.



Photo: Leonard Gertz

Kiwi-, strawberry-, and Nutella-filled Crêpe garnished with berries and strawberry ice cream at Crêpe and Coffee Palace

Crêpe and Coffee Palace
2433 North Clark Street
Here, complicated-sounding crêpes prove to be as delicious as they are filling. You might think you're not ready for the Marrakech crêpe (with soup, $6.95), which enfolds toasted almonds, raisins, spinach, caramelized onions, mint, cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and tapenade, but give it a shot. For those who like their pancakes less rococo, there are plainer ones spread with jam, Nutella, cheese, or other simple fillings ($4.50 to $4.75). A giant fruit cup ($4.25) is easily shared. Finish with a fine cappuccino ($2.75). BYO.
–J. T.


Czech Plaza
7016 West Cermak Road
They don't make 'em like this anymore, and it's too bad. Less than $10 gets you a cup of soup, meat (we're partial to the smoked pork butt and the Long Island duck), potatoes or dumplings, cabbage or another vegetable, and a fresh-baked kolácky-and it's all as tasty and authentic as can be. Don't miss the baseball-size fresh fruit dumplings ($6.25 for three) with fluffy dollops of sweet farmer cheese. To drink: brawny bottles of Czech beer.
–J. T.


Photo: Matthew Gilson

Edelweiss feast: baked pork shank, red cabbage, sauerkraut, and German fries.

7650 West Irving Park Road
"We won't let you leave until you finish it," the waitress says in a mock-stern German accent about the Bayerische schweinshaxen she's just set down with a thud. It's a three-pound baked pork shank with bock beer sauce-a $21 behemoth that could feed the whole oompah band playing. I share it to stay inside the budget-and my belt. The excellent beers and food at this festive German restaurant are music to my ears: don't miss the roasted duck with crackling mahogany skin and the delightful apple strudel.
–D. R. W.


El Llano
3941 North Lincoln Avenue
When the waitress brought out my breaded pork loin at this reliable Colombian BYO, everyone at the table busted up laughing. The plate was heaped absurdly high with thinly pounded pork cutlets, french fries, fried plantain, cassava strips, rice, and veggies ($10.95). It was enough for three people. But no one could offer help, considering they all had their own challenges in the form of chimichurri strip steaks ($13.95), massive corn pancakes ($2), and plates full of cured Colombian sausage in bite-size nubs ($2.50).
–J. R.

Goose Island Brewpub
1800 North Clybourn Avenue
Any bar meal that starts with a $6 beer flight of four different craft-made brews and a sampler of fine sausages ($8.95) from Paulina Market can't be all bad. For another savory treat, try the fried, then vinaigrette-marinated and chilled chicken livers ($3.95). The huge chicken pot pie is fab ($10.95), as is the Stilton burger in a pumpernickel roll ($9.50). Wind up with the Dreamsicle float made with Goose Island orange cream soda ($3.75). During the weekday happy hour (4 to 6 p.m.; until closing on Monday), all appetizers are half price. Even better: on Fridays oysters are 50 cents each.
–D. R. W.

Greek Islands
200 South Halsted Street
Flamed saganaki is as American as apple pie. Too much ouzo on my brain, you think? Think again. Saganaki was invented in Chicago, and Greek Islands is a heck of a good place to catch the "Opaa!" spirit. Just order the family-style dinner ($19 per person) and all good things will come your way. The inexpensive wine flows, the saganaki flames, the dolmades are lemony, the unfussy meatballs and roast lamb are savory, the moussaka and pastitsio are soul-satisfying. As I polished off the fresh baklava with strong coffee, I thought: My big fat Greek appetite has been well satisfied.
–D. R. W.

The Handlebar
2311 West North Avenue
This easygoing Wicker Park favorite is aimed at bike messengers and vegetarians-I'm neither, and I still love it. There aren't many places in Chicago with more interesting-or ample-meatless dishes, such as the portobello tacos with tomatillo salsa ($8.50), or a "Green Meanie" sandwich spilling with avocado, herb feta spread, and sprouts ($7.50). Or shift gears to the black beans maduros, layers of sweet plantains, brown rice, jack cheese, and beans over a spicy chipotle-tomato sauce ($9.50). Nice beer list; even nicer desserts, like Key lime pie and plantains Foster.
–J. R.

Kabul House
3320 West Dempster Street
The philosophy at this earnest strip-mall spot seems to be: Let's put as much food on the table as we can and show off the bounty of Afghani cooking. It works like a charm, especially in well-done standards such as aushak, doughy scallion-filled dumplings in a yogurt and meat sauce ($5.25), and buranee badenjan, cardamom-tinged sautéed eggplant with homemade yogurt and bread ($5.25). And we don't know any other place in Chicago where you can eat qabili palau-a chunky lamb and rice dish stocked with carrots and raisins ($10.95)-in a curtained, semiprivate booth. BYO ($1.50 corkage).
–J. R.

La Humita
3466 North Pulaski Road
A neon ear of corn signals the origin of this Ecuadorian lovely. Nestor Correa, the owner, guides first-timers through the dishes, beginning with his mother's humita, moist tamale-like corn dough made with fresh cheese and eggs, rolled up in a corn husk, and served with a blazing Ecuadorian salsa ($2.50). Carefully cooked steaks served with sides such as lentils and plantains are easy to like ($12.95 to $13.95), and so is the cheesecake made with a tropical fruit called a naranjilla. There's no cuy (guinea pig), an Ecuadorian favorite, on the menu, but the stewed beef tripe in peanut sauce ($11.95) makes up for it.
–D. R. W.


La Sierra
1637 West Montrose Avenue
Mexican, Ecuadorian
This bright, clean Ravenswood BYO has a double-duty menu filled with lovingly done Mexican standards like crisp tamales stuffed with shredded pork ($1.25)-and Ecuadorian rarities such as goat stew cooked in white beer ($10.50). You can't go wrong with either. The little old lady in the kitchen churns out delicious warm corn tortillas; fresh, chunky guacamole; and an insanely large bowl of homemade chicken soup, bones and all ($5.25). Try a side of delicious plantains ($2.50) and marvel at the offbeat wall of birdhouses.
–J. R.


Photo: Leonard Gertz

A Lucky's Sandwich Company stack: roast beef, fries and slaw.

The Lucky Platter
514 Main Street
Global, eclectic
It's hip world cuisine at this kitschy spot where upside-down colanders hung with beads pass for chandeliers and tables are covered with old-fashioned dishtowels under plastic. The $5 cocktails and terrific house-made cream soda get the crowd in the mood for little boutique pizzas and Caribbean pumpkin soup ($2.25 a cup, $3.25 a bowl) that tastes like a jazzed-up liquid pumpkin pie. My favorite entrée is the grilled skirt steak topped with blue cheese and shiitake mushrooms ($14.25), and the soufflé-light Key lime pie ($3.75) has won raves from native Floridians.
–D. R. W.



Photo: Matthew Gilson

Maíz dining room

1041 North California Avenue
The name translates as "corn," which is the star at Carlos Reyna's brightly decorated Mexican spot. The specialty is cheap-and terrific-street food based on the corn masa treats you see a woman here making in a wooden tortilla press. Tacos, quesadillas, sopes (crisp masa boats), and huaraches (thick oval-shaped tortillas) come with a big choice of traditional fillings from chorizo to cactus, and are served with pico de gallo and sour cream. When huitlacoche (corn fungus) is available, try it with Chihuahua cheese in a giant quesadilla-great with a margarita. It's cash only, but the most expensive thing on the menu, alambra cazuela (do-it-yourself tacos), costs $9.95.
–D. R. W.


Max & Benny's
461 Waukegan Road
Max & Benny's isn't your average deli. For starters, it's in a suburban strip mall and the staff is pleasant. Then there's that deli counter/bakery offering everything from smoked trout to strawberry cheesecake. But the real draw from the giant menu is the tried and true-nicely browned kishke ($3.95); hot brisket sandwiches ($9.95); tangy-sweet cabbage stuffed with ground beef ($5.95); enormous scoops of chopped liver ($6.95). Or do like the locals: grab a lean stacked corned beef sandwich to go ($8.95) and wolf the whole thing down during the SUV ride home.
–J. R.

Mysore Woodlands
2548 West Devon Avenue
You don't go to Mysore for the ambiance-there isn't any in the harshly lit large dining room. Go for authoritative South Indian vegetarian food, beginning with dahi vada, fried puréed lentil balls accompanied by yogurt dip ($4.50). Then head to the uthappam ($6.99), a pancake of fermented lentil and rice flour filled with onions and peas. Don't miss the Royal Family dosai ($11.95), a folded crispy rice crêpe the size of a maharajah's robe stuffed with spiced onions, potatoes, peas, and carrots. The Madras payasam ($3.50) of vermicelli cooked in milk and honey and garnished with raisins and cashews will temper the spices, as will a mango lassi at this BYO. (Also in Westmont: 6020 South Cass Avenue, 630-769-9663.)
–D. R. W.


Photo: Leonard Gertz

Jalapeño gnocci at Pasta Palazzo

Pasta Palazzo
1966 North Halsted Street
Hmm. A narrow storefront with barstool-style chairs at high bare tables. Bar seating near an open kitchen. I thought I had walked into a pub until the small menu set me straight. It begins with smoky grilled calamari in a lemon herb vinaigrette ($4.95) and baked goat cheese with tomato-basil sauce and garlic toast ($5.95). Conchiglie shells with Italian sausage and red bell peppers in marinara topped with melting ricotta ($8.95) are every bit as savory as the penne with porcini, portobello, and white mushrooms in Marsala sauce ($8.95). Moist espresso cake ($3.95) is the perfect nightcap: coffee and cake rolled into one.
–D. R. W.


Pho Xe Lua
1021 West Argyle Street
The tricky menu takes a bit of getting used to, but what's your hurry? Explore the delicate spring rolls with shrimp or pork ($3.50) or the banh hoi bo nuong tom, a fine bowlful of rice vermicelli with beef and shrimp ($8.95). Lavish fresh greens show up everywhere-most successfully in the tender beef with lemon (bo tai chanh; $10.95). And, of course, there are soups: a surefire choice is the giant serving of canh rau cai dau hu, vegetable soup with tofu ($8.95). For dessert, or just for fun, try the bubble tea ($3.50).
–J. T.


Photo: Leonard Gertz

Ras Dashen's injera bread pudding with berries and vanilla ice cream.

Ras Dashen
5846 North Broadway
Marito Tqkala, daughter of the owner at this pretty Ethiopian spot, overheard us marveling at the portions. "It's my mom," she said. "She can't stop herself, she's so generous." Marito got that right. They give you tons of injera, the addictive sour/ spongy flatbread essential for scooping up food and acting as an edible plate. Kitfo tere (steak tartare), seasoned with kibe (spiced clarified butter) and surrounded by Ethiopian kale ($10.95), packs a punch, as does yebeg tibs be bebere ($12.95), tender lamb chunks cooked with onions, green peppers, and rosemary. Injera bread pudding ($4) is soothingly warm and exotic, and Ethiopian beers and spicy chai teas are on hand.
–D. R. W.


38564 North Edgewood Street
Lake Villa
Out on the shores of Deep Lake, an old resort has been converted into a charming wood-clad Polish supper club. An Okocim beer at hand, I finished off the barley-sausage kiszka patties with sauerkraut appetizer ($4.95) and then dug into an awesome platter of golabki (stuffed cabbage), pierogi scattered with chopped bacon, and Polish sausage with sauerkraut ($10.95). My wife finished her borsch, which came with a meat-stuffed browned rolled pastry ($3.50), and plowed through about half of her crisp breaded pork loin ($10.95). Not long after, our Polish-accented waitress brought over the dessert platter holding the most amazing napoleon I ever ate ($4).
–D. R. W.


Photo: Leonard Gertz

At Sushi Luxe, the bento box includes a side of sushi.

Sushi Luxe
5204 North Clark Street
Bento combinations look pricey, but when supplemented with a tower of gorgeous goma-ae ($4) and a few extra pieces of sushi, one can easily satisfy two hungry people. We like the combo with the generous serving of shrimp and vegetable tempura ($16): it includes three pieces of sushi, a California roll, miso soup, salad, and rice. Split a large jug of warm saké ($7) and you'll still have enough cash left over for a ball or two of red bean mochi ($2) and steaming mugs of green tea.
–J. T.



Sweet Baby Ray's
249 East Irving Park Road
Wood Dale
You'll need the paper towel roll on your table at this new barbecue joint. A descendant-and user-of the popular eponymous sauce that started on Chicago's West Side, this dine-in or takeout counter-service spot is putting out some mighty fine 'cue. The baby back ribs ($16.99) and spareribs ($15.99) are both smoked on premises, and both are scrumptious, chewy-tender to perfection. And there's righteous pulled pork ($9.99 a pound), smoked chicken (whole $9.99), and gumbo ($3.99). Now pass me those wet wipes.
–D. R. W.

Tac Quick Thai Kitchen
3930 North Sheridan Road
It looks like a takeout place and the name implies speed rather than excellence, but guess again: familiar and unusual dishes are prepared with panache-and are pretty, to boot. Appetizer-wise, we adore the super-crisp, limey som tum papaya salad ($6) and the daringly spicy nam tok beef salad ($6). And we can't get enough of the plump fried chive dumplings ($4.50) they call pot stickers, or creamy peanut curry with chicken over noodles ($7). Even the Thai custard is special, topped with coconut and cashews. BYO.
–J. T.

Taste of Lebanon
1509 West Foster Avenue
This shabby Andersonville storefront could use a makeover, though there's something irresistible about the giant beach mural and faded posters of Lebanon. It helps that the food is on the mark, nothing costs more than $5, and the place is BYO. Massive shawarmas spill with tender marinated beef and chicken, lamb kebabs and falafel swim in addictive tahini; even the crisp baklava rises above the usual honey-soaked version at other restaurants. For four people, our entire feast came to $28.80-and provided enough leftovers for days.
–J. R.


Photo: Leonard Gertz

Tatsu's garlic shrimp heaped with broccoli, cabbage, and carrots.

Tatsu Sushi Bar
1062 West Taylor Street
Sushi in Little Italy? Locals drop in at this pleasant sushi bar for Japanese as well as Thai and Chinese dishes-so you can begin with miso, tom yum, or fried tofu-all equally good. Besides well-made sushi, Japanese favorites such as shumai dumplings and tempura are delightful. Stir-fried wide rice noodles with egg and broccoli in sweet soy sauce (pad si-yu) comes with tofu, chicken, beef, or shrimp; and the garlic beef with Chinese cabbage packs a punch.
–D. R. W.


Tien Giang
1104-06 West Argyle Street
Vietnamese, Chinese
Tien Gang bills itself as Vietnamese and Chinese, and when I asked what's the difference, our young waiter said, "Vietnamese is lighter and less greasy than Chinese." So we know where he stands-and the menu is overwhelmingly Vietnamese. Everybody seems to be ordering the huge banh xeo (crêpe) packed with bean sprouts, pork, and shrimp ($6.50). I'm loving the tom xao xa ot-shrimp stir-fried with garlic, lemongrass, and chili ($9.50), and the awesome con dop: spicy mussels stir-fried with chili, oyster sauce, and green onions ($9.95). BYO ($5 corkage).
–D. R. W.

Tre Kronor
3258 West Foster Avenue
Tre Kronor feels like a cozy Swedish inn with its amusing mural of dancing trolls and cheerful blond waitresses. Start the small menu with toast skagen: dill-seasoned arctic shrimp salad on a bread disk garnished with roe ($6), or share the plate of two kinds of house-pickled herring ($6). And what's a Swedish restaurant without meatballs? Tre Kronor's are irresistible in lingonberry sauce with mashed potatoes and marinated cucumbers ($10). Finish with eggy burnt custard while you rethink your position on Scandinavian food. BYO.
–D. R. W.

Tufano's Vernon Park Tap
1073 West Vernon Park Place
A neighborhood destination for cheap, honest Italian for 75 years, and no wonder: just look at the prices on the blackboard menu. Chewy spicy sausages sautéed with green and red peppers is a rib-sticking $9. Half a juicy roast chicken topped with non-greasy fried potatoes is a steal at $7.25, and four mongo shells filled with seasoned ricotta and finished with a simple tomato sauce is a heap of good chow for $9. All that, friendly staff, inexpensive wines, and crisp cannoli ($3.50) to finish. With prices like these, the cash-only policy never causes a problem.
–D. R. W.

Photos: Matthew Gilson

White Palace Grill

White Palace Grill
1159 South Canal Street
The South Loop's venerable late-night classic (see page 118) has a name that evokes royalty, but the budget-friendly prices at this 24-hour institution would please a pauper. Eggs reign supreme here at any hour of the day, making their way into a variety of dishes from omelets and skillets to steak platters and sandwiches. But other diner favorites-pancakes, burgers, chili fries, milk shakes-share dominion as well. Great views of the city and reliable service add to the experience.
–K. C.

Yang Chinese Restaurant
28 East Roosevelt Road
Tucked into the ground floor of the South Loop's historic Roosevelt Hotel, this is a popular place for takeouts before hitting the nearby el stop. It's also a bright spot for BYO dining ($2 corkage), with its cheery owner, An Chi Yang, making sure patrons are satisfied. I am. It's not a place for exotica but rather for well-made stalwarts like egg foo young ($3.95 small, $6.25 large) and General Tso's chicken ($5.50, $8.50). Don't miss the beef with string beans ($5.25, $7.95) and the shrimp with garlic sauce ($5.75, $8.75).
–D. R. W.

Yum Thai Restaurant
7748 West Madison Street
Forest Park
This comfy BYO strip-mall haven beguiles, and not just with its elaborate embroidered wall hangings. It's with treats such as hoi tawt ($7.95), a bean sprout salad topped with succulent fried mussels in chili sauce. And with nya yang nam tok ($6.95), which translates as "waterfall beef." Our waitress couldn't enlighten us about that mystery, but it's a fine spicy grilled beef salad. Muu gratiem prik tai ($6.95) delivers tender pork seasoned with black pepper and garlic. Don't forget the hot banana dumplings with sweet rice and black beans ($2.25).
–D. R. W.

Zab Thai Kitchen
503 Main Street
"Zab" is Thai for "delicious," which ain't false advertising. This sharp-looking new spot fashions excellent chicken satay with zippy peanut sauce and spring rolls ($5) of tofu, vegetables, and omelet topped with orange sauce. Red or green curries with chicken, beef, or tofu ($8)-made with green beans, bell pepper, and eggplant-are mandatory. Sizzling boneless roast duck with vegetables is a highlight ($9), and piping hot Thai custard ($3) caps off the enjoyment. BYO for now, so cool out with a Thai iced tea freeze.
–D. R. W.