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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
630-238-8261
Barbecue
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
773-327-5253
Thai
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
773-334-1600
Lebanese
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
312-666-8504
Pan-Asian
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
773-275-8691
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
773-267-9888
Swedish
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
312-733-3393
Italian
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
312-939-7167
Diner
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
312-986-1688
Chinese
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
708-366-8888
Thai
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
Evanston
847-328-5433
Thai
“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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