Where to Eat in Chicago for Under $15
$12 Butcher breakfast at Publican Quality Meats
It seemed only logical that Paul Kahan's meat-centric Publican would spawn its own butcher shop; this spot in the industrial-chic Fulton Market district is also terrific all-day café with outdoor seating—it's a smart place to begin a weekday, while everyone else is working; order up this lumberjack-worthy plate with house bacon, sausage, eggs, rustic potatoes and slabs of very good bread.
Publican, 837 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-9555
$8 Chai Hot Chocolate at Mindy's Hot Chocolate
There's no secret to the longevity of Mindy Segal's Bucktown hangout—typically a hive of happy energy late into the evening, the skillful multi-taskers here offer something for everyone, from full-on dinners to dessert to mugs of hot chocolate in many varieties; with the Chai, you get 1/3 chai, 1/3 Mexican and 1/3 dark, topped with house-made marshmallow. You can ask for extra marshmallows, too ($0.50).
Mindy's Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen Ave, 773-489-1747
$13 Chicken Paitan ramen at Ramen Takeya
You can get all kinds of ramen in Chicago—ramen by Michelin-starred chefs, fusion ramen, ramen you line up for, very-authentic ramen that's an hour away in the suburbs. We'll make it simple for you—start by dropping in on this Fulton Market sleeper, known for their almost-elegant, chicken broth-based soups.
Ramen Takeya, 819 W. Fulton Market, 312-666-7710
$11.50 Cemita Atomica at Cemitas Puebla
Once a humble West Side storefront, now a popular mini-chain, this homegrown success story introduced many a Chicagoan to papalo, the medicinal herb that tops the Puebla-style torta, known as the cemita. Freshly-baked sesame rolls are filled with avocado, Oaxacan cheese and smoky chipotle sauce; the Atomica includes grilled pork loin, breaded pork loin and ham. (Light eaters, look elsewhere.)
Cemitas Puebla, multiple locations
$3 Tacos de Lengua at Rubi's
Even Chicagoans can't remember how many lives the legendary Maxwell Street Market has had since the old days, but two important things to know are that it still happens every Sunday on Desplaines Street, steps out of The Loop; it also happens to be one of better places north of the border states to sample Mexican street food. Eat as much as you can, but start at Rubi's, a market fave since the 1990s for terrific tacos (try the lengua, or beef tongue).
Rubi's, 800 S. Desplaines St., 312-745-4676
$9.95 Cheeseburger at Small Cheval
Let the crowds wait hours to eat one of the most sought-after burgers in America—you're going to Au Cheval's Bucktown spinoff, a casual cave with a giant communal table where you can chow down on its almost-identical twin. Two patties, a lake of molten American cheese and that perfect brioche bun are where it all begins; unlimited Sir Kensington's condiments and piles of terrific fries ($2.95) complete the picture.
Small Cheval, 1732 N. Milwaukee Ave.
$11 Gym Shoe at The Ruin Daily
An Italian beef sandwich topped with giardiniera (pickled peppers and other vegetables) or a proper gyro (HEE-ro) stuffed with off-the-spit lamb and drenched in tzatziki are about as Chicago as you can get; so too is this unfortunately-named—but delicious—hybrid sandwich not quite so appreciated as its birth parents, but one equally worth seeking out. This fashionable West Loop café is a fine place to try one.
The Ruin Daily, 328 S. Jefferson St., 312-929-2707
$9.25 brisket sandwich at Smoque
Chicago's all over the place when it comes to barbecue, so there's no harm in eschewing the classic spots in favor of this worth-a-journey Northwest Side favorite that's not so much a Chicago 'cue joint as it is one of the best 'cue joints in Chicago. Can't make the trek? Sample Texas-worthy brisket at Smoque's location inside The Loop's new Revival Food Hall.
Smoque, 3800 N. Pulaski Rd., 773-545-7427
$10.50 Shortrib red chile caldo at Xoco
Mexican food is as Chicago as the Polish dog, and while you could slog to the Southwest Side in search of the perfect birreria, you could also just stroll over to Rick Bayless' River North counter joint, home to some of the best caldos (Spanish for soup) in town. Braised Creekstone Farms shortrib served in a piping hot red chile broth with an exotic, aromatic hit of epazote is a time-tested cure for Chicago winters.
Xoco, 449 N. Clark St., 312-661-1434