Chicago | January 21, 2022 5:05 am

Where to Find Affordable Eats From Chicago’s Best Fine-Dining Chefs

You don't need to have a foodie budget to dine like a foodie in Chicago

For the best burger in America check out Small Cheval.
For the best burger in America check out Small Cheval.
Small Cheval

We love Alinea as much as the next Chicagoan, but if you don’t want to drop $600 on your meal, try these spots that are — dare we say it? — just as good for less than $20.

Chicago is a fantastic city for diners on a budget because some of the city’s best foods are easy on the wallet, says Stephanie Izard,  a James Beard award winner, first female Top Chef winner and owner/chef of her own easy-on-the-wallet spot, Little Goat.

“I think that great food and new experiences should be accessible to people from all walks of life,” Izard says.

Inspired by her words, we recently ate our way through the Windy City and found everything from braised beef by a James Beard Award winner to a torta from Top Chef — all at less than $20 per dish. Below, a guide to the more affordable restaurant concepts that are presided over by the city’s best chefs.

For the best Mexican street food in the Midwest: XOCO

Chef and owner Rick Bayless won seven James Beard Awards, a Julia Child Foundation Award, and he was the winner of Bravo’s first Top Chef Masterclass. He specializes in Mexican food, and originally opened a few high-end Mexican spots before bringing us XOCO, a teeny Mexican street place offering everything from short rib tacos ($13) to Baja Chicken tortas ($11) to the *can’t miss* bean-to-cup Aztec hot chocolate ($3.25). The churros ($2) are also a must-have, and can be a meal on their own, as you won’t be able to stop with just one. 

449 N Clark St

For a foodie version of diner food: Little Goat

If there’s anyone who can elevate sourdough pancakes ($14) or corned beef hash ($16.50), it’s Izard. After founding Girl & The Goat, the impossibly difficult-to-get-a-reservation spot in Chicago’s West Loop, she expanded her empire, bringing us pastries and brunch at Little Goat at totally affordable prices, though it’s still nearly impossible to get a reservation here, too. Once you do get in, you’ll experience comfort food the way mama never knew how to cook it. The Bull’s Eye French Toast, $16, (French toast with eggs, fried chicken and maple syrup on an onion brioche) is bursting with unique, creamy flavors that you’ll never be able to replicate, so you’ll have to return again and again. 

820 W Randolph St

For the best burger in America: Small Cheval

On any given day, there’s a line cascading around the block of Au Cheval, the brainchild of Chef Brendan Sodikoff. Yes, there are other items on Au Cheval’s menu, but Chef Sodikoff became restaurant royalty thanks to his burgers, which have won just about every award imaginable. So he did what any good businessman would do: He opened Small Cheval, an appropriately named tiny restaurant in Wicker Park (there’s also now a spot in Old Town, and outposts planned for the Hyde Park and Rosemont neighborhoods) which only served the famed burgers (and fries and shakes, obvi). They’re still packed, and we still recommend that you drop in at off hours. But here, you can snag the juiciest, napkin-required cheeseburger for just $10.45. 

1345 N Wells

For comfort food on acid: Big Kids

When Blackbird chef Ryan Pfeiffer and NOLA’s Turkey & the Wolf chef Mason Hereford combine forces, looking to do something totally fun and different, the result is this pandemic collaboration featuring four ‘90s-themed sandwiches. But like everything that we’ve brought back from the ‘90s, the sandwiches have their own twist. The fried bologna sandwich takes meat from the Paulina Meat Market, adds mustard, mayo, lettuce and cheese — resulting in a gigantic mess of a ‘90s sandwich blending everything you ever loved from your childhood and bringing it to life as comfort food elevated. 

2545 N Kedzie Blvd.

For real-deal Asian street food without the three-flight overnight journey: Kasama

Owned by Michelin Star Chefs and husband-and-wife team Genie Kwon and Tim Flores, this bakery and Filipino restaurant in the East Ukrainian Village neighborhood opened in the midst of the pandemic. Kasama, meaning “together” in Tagalog, serves an abridged street food menu for now, including favorites such as the Kasama combo sandwich ($14), but will eventually move to Filipino classics such as barbecue pork skewers and fried rice. Our favorite, the halo-halo (Asian pear granita, pandan and leche flan) is worth the long wait you’ll surely experience to be served. 

1001 N Winchester Ave.