5 Great, Healthy, Cheap Eats (sans tacos and ramen) – Chicago

Whether you are on a strict budget or just someone who appreciates a delicious and healthy meal at a bargain price, I think you will love these 5 great, healthy, cheap eats (sans tacos and ramen) in Chicago. They are listed in no particular order.

  1. Zaytune:  This is absolutely one of my favorite cheap eats in Chicago.  The family that owns this place

    has not disappointed me in the 10 years I’ve lived here.  That’s saying a lot, folks! Amazing homemade falafel and pita are turned out every day on-site in this cozy and comforting Bridgeport staple.  Really flavorful, grilled shrimp, lamb, lentil soup, salads and sweets are available as well.  I always feel so healthy when I leave here.  I wish this place was in my own South Loop ‘hood but that never stops me from hopping on the CTA #8 Halsted bus to 32nd Street and walking 4 blocks west to Zaytune.  The CTA Orange Line will connect you directly to the #8 Halsted bus at the Halsted ‘L’ stop. – 3129 S. Morgan St.

Soup at Zaytune's Mediterranean Grill

Shrimp skewers at Zaytune's


2.  Pleasant House Bakery:  Just one block north of Zaytune on the corner of S. Morgan St. and 32nd St., this adorable, tiny farm-to-table spot (Seriously, the owners have their own farm!), is incredibly special.  They are making traditional and modern savory pies with incredibly fresh ingredients.  I love the steak & ale pie (get the red wine gravy with it) and the mushroom & kale pie.  They bake all their own bread and mill their own grains.  The pies and sides are under $10 and daily specials are available.  Bonus!  Pleasant House Bakery is BYOB.  You can also have your meal delivered next door to Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, if you cannot snag one of the few tables at Pleasant House. – 964 w. 31st Street


Hibiscus tea at Pleasant House

Steak and ale Royal Pie

The pastry is so flaky and buttery. Yum!


3.  Oasis Cafe:  The only thing cooler than a jewelry story open on a Saturday is a jewelry store with a tiny, hidden Middle Eastern restaurant in the back.  This tasty spot is located in the Jewelry Exchange on Wabash Avenue in Chicago’s Loop.  Blink and you’ll miss it.  I missed it for years, until earlier this year.  They have the lightest and crispiest falafel in Chicago, hands down!  These dudes are slicing huge amounts of shwarma and serving up delicious soup and salads.  Now that you’ve spent less than $10 on lunch, buy yourself a bright and shiny bobble on the way out 😉 – 21 N. Wabash Avenue (Take the CTA Orange or Brown Lines to the Adams/Wabash ‘L’ stop and walk 2 blocks north)


Oasis Cafe in Chicago

Why, of course, I want some falafel and hummus while I jewelry shop!

Oasis Cafe on Wabash Avenue


4.  Joong Boo Market:  Open since 1992 in the Avondale neighborhood, Joong Boo Market is a pan-Asian supermarket with a tiny, quick-service Korean restaurant in the back.  They serve up generous portions of steaming hot soups, stews and other dishes (under $10) to packed crowds.  Even more popular is the dirt cheap dumpling truck in the parking lot out front.  Get a huge steamed dumpling with your choice of kimchi, pork or red bean paste for under $2.  Take it “to-go” or grab a seat inside the store at the tiny restaurant, while contemplating your next menu items 🙂  Don’t forget to do some grocery shopping before you leave!  – 3333 N. Kimball (2 blocks north of the Belmont ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Blue Line)


Dumpling truck outside of Joong Boo Market

Kimchi and pork dumplings for less than $2

Joong Boo Market

Dirt cheap but fresh dumpling truck outside of Joong Boo Market


5.  Middle East Bakery & Grocery:  Oh, how I love this place!  I could spend hours eyeballing the massive maze of rice, grains, beans and spices.  Bring your Crayola crayons and see if you can match them to the colorful groceries here.  Located in Chicago’s charming Andersonville neighborhood, this is place is your answer to “Where can I get a fresh falafel sandwich or interesting hand pie for less than $5.”  If you are cursing your local supermarkets for not carrying a certain spice, bean or grain then, this is your place.  But don’t stop there!  Grab some fresh made baklava, cookies and candies, as well.  Not in the mood to cook this week?  Grab some homemade lentil soup, baba ganouj, hummus and more.  It’s all made fresh daily.  Ground Turkish coffee is available, too.  They cater parties and a new eat-in cafe is currently being built. – 1512 W. Foster Ave. (10 minute walk west of the Berwyn ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Red Line).


Middle Eastern Bakery in Chicago

Falafel sandwich and fresh spices to-go!

Falafel sandwich at Middle Eastern Bakery in Chicago

I added some fresh made eggplant spread to my already awesome falafel sandwich.

Savory pies at Middle Eastern Bakery

In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA trains and buses to these 5 Great, Healthy, Cheap Eats.  Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking.  Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!

  • I was just in Chicago and ate at the most incredible Mexican restaurant. I wish I could remember the name right now. Next time I have to try your Middle Eastern pick…my husband is half Lebanese and we love Arabic food!

    • Hi, Michelle. Another great Lebanese spot is Semiramis on the north side in Albany Park neighborhood. It is right off of the CTA Brown Line. Really nice family. Chicago has great Mexican food from taquerias to Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill and Topolobambo. Do either of those sound familiar?