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Bargain Dining

Chicago is full of restaurants that offer good food for not much money; you just have to know where to look. We’ve gathered a definitive package of 90-plus great spots—ethnic, classic, nocturnal, and otherwise—where your dollar goes the distance.

(page 4 of 4)

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.



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