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Thursday, July 18

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One of the best things about living in a neighborhood filled with shops and sidewalk life is the proliferation of great places to eat that promise to leave you with enough money to splurge at any of the independent jewelry, clothing or bookshops that catch your eye. While this list is by no means comprehensive and I've drawn my arbitrary boundaries to include the area bordered by Diversey, Sheffield, Addison and the lake, these are ten restaurants that I've come to know and love and revisit time and again — and I can get a great meal at any one of them for under $10. With low prices and quality food, I never feel guilty for spending my money at any of these places.

Burritos as Big as Your Head

Buena Vista Restaurant
3147 N. Broadway
Monday-Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-10pm

I'm always hesitant to try Mexican restaurants because, as someone who spent the majority of her formative years in southern New Mexico, I know from Mexican food. Imagine my surprise when some of the best Mexican food I've ever had came from this small, one-room restaurant featuring tacos filled to the brim with seasoned, tender meat, wrapped in warm corn tortillas. The crispy flautas are topped high with sour cream, lettuce and tomato and offer a satisfying crunch to the choice of meat. As much as I advocate against it, it's nearly impossible to not eat the head-sized burritos with a knife and fork, so stuffed are they with meat, cheese, beans, sour cream and the requisite veggies. Don't be afraid to stray from the safety of the $1.50 tacos and $4 burritos. I thought my mother was the only one who made chilaquiles, a fried mixture of corn tortillas and eggs, and while I'll never be convinced to try it myself, Mom would be delighted to order the menudo, made with real tripe. The heaping entrees of enchiladas, chiles rellenos, fajitas and carne asada come with rice and beans that are almost as good as my mother's. Almost.

Finger-lickin' Chicken

Chicken Hut
3200 N. Broadway
Daily 11am-10pm

Sure, the name is ridiculous. If you've been remotely near the corner of Belmont and Broadway you've surely seen this restaurant's green awning and window signs advertising quarter-chicken, half-chicken, and eight-piece combo meals, and while you've walked past the place everyday you've probably never stopped in. You should. Instead of ogling the mounds of whole chickens grilling in the widow, slathered with their special marinade, you should stop in and plunk down $4.38 for a juicy wing and breast, or thigh and drumstick. Paired with a side of mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, coleslaw, rice or potato salad, the grilled chicken is the only item on the menu, but it's the one thing that will keep you coming back. It's a silly name, but it's great chicken and that's all you need to know.

It's 2am, but You Don't Want Greasy

Pick Me Up Café
3408 N. Clark
Monday-Friday 5pm-3am, Saturday-Sunday 24 hours

Admittedly, Clarke's has the monopoly on late night dining in Lakeview, but there are other nighttime restaurants with great food that aren't filled with drunk Cubs fans and college students. Just up on the way on Clark Street, Pick Me Up offers breakfast all day and, on the weekends, food all night long. My staple is the $6 gold coin plate, a simple but satisfying plate of eggs with tasty potatoes, turkey sausage and a bagel. But other tasty plates have included smoked turkey "sammitches," and a shared pile of fries topped with real cheddar cheese, veggie chili, and ranch dressing for $7.25. Perhaps what sets Pick Me Up apart from the typical late night spot is the attention paid to healthy and vegetarian food. From tofu scrambles to vegan French toast, "sammitches" made with marinated veggies and provolone cheese to vegan Rice Krispy treats, this really is the kind of place that will appeal to everyone. With retro decorations, mismatched tables and a staff that's always ready to offer up menu suggestions, wouldn't you rather be where the food is good and not where everyone else is? I know I would.

A Taste of Philadelphia

Philly's Best
907 W. Belmont
Monday-Thursday 11am-12am, Friday-Saturday 11am-2am, Sunday 12pm-9pm

Recently remodeled, this unassuming sandwich shop is the place to go for enormous slabs of bread stuffed with hot meats, cheeses and fresh veggies. Home to the "authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich — not a Chicago imitation," the original cheese steak comes topped with American cheese and sautéed onions; add mushrooms, olives, green peppers or get the steak on garlic bread for a change. At $6.50 for an Original, the real bargain driver is the fact that these sandwiches are big enough to fill at least two people, and even then there might still be leftovers. If you're not dying of hunger when you come to Philly's, be prepared to share. Other sandwich options include oven-baked grinders, a pre-cursor to Quizno's, filled with Italian favorites like meatballs, pepperoni and eggplant parmesan. However, what I love about Philly's Best is their incorporation of, perhaps, one of the greatest design feature ever: the walk-up pizza window. Showcasing slices of both flat and stuffed, a sidewalk window where you can get your slice and go is an idea whose time has definitely come.

Pizza by the Slice

Pie Hole
737 W. Roscoe
Sunday-Thursday 5pm-2:30am, Friday-Saturday 5pm-4am

There are tons of places to get great pizza and every year, the major lists of the best pizza spots in the city seem to contain a different set of ten. I can't tell you that Pie Hole has the best pizza you'll ever have, because that's an opinion as varied as the colors in the spectrum, but I can tell you that Pie Hole is a great little spot that has great pizza, especially if you like to get creative with your toppings. With $3 per slice of pizza and 50 cents for each additional ingredient, you can get a nice couple of slices that won't hurt your wallet. If you're traditional you can get your slices with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and, of course, extra cheese. If you feel like stepping it up, add homemade bacon, green pesto, artichokes or giardiniera (that mix of hot peppers and veggies you put on sandwiches). You might never have thought of it without Pie Hole's suggestion, but you'd be surprised at how good it is. Flat pies only, but if you need the stuffed stuff you know Philly's Best has your back.

Sushi and Then Some...

Ecce Café
3422 N. Broadway
Monday-Friday 4pm-11pm, Saturday-Sunday 12pm-11pm

There are plenty of places to get sushi in the area, but Ecce Café's contemporary atmosphere makes it one of the most calming. There's something about the photographs printed on large canvases, the orange lettering and the blue lights that simply make it a nice place to be. With the average roll costing $6, Ecce provides their own maki concoctions alongside the California, kappa and tekka maki staples. Try the signature Ecce maki, filled with unagi, avocado, cucumber, cream cheese, tempura and topped with unagi sauce. The Roscoe maki is made with unagi, smoked salmon, and avocado with unagi sauce. If sushi's not your thing, but you've been dragged here by your sushi-loving friends, $6-$9 gets you hot plates of Pad Thai, ginger chicken and curries yellow and red. Nothing ends a sushi meal like green tea ice cream, but how about mango cheesecake or fried white chocolate banana wontons, $4 and under? With just a little imagination, Ecce manages to be a comfortable place to eat for the sushi-philic and -phobic alike.

Stuffed Pitas

921 W. Belmont
Sunday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm

Sometimes there's nothing like a warm pita stuffed with meat and vegetables — I used to get great shawarma sandwiches at The Nile in Hyde Park, but since moving to Lakeview I've found that Sinbad's satisfies those pita cravings quite nicely. At Sinbad's, fill it with falafel plain, falafel plus hummos or baba gahnouj, kifta, lamb, chicken kabob, chicken shawarma and other good meats, all under $4. Sandwiches aren't everything, so if you're looking for a full entrée, although the sandwiches are more than filling for one person, you can get plates of kabobs, shawarma, and veggies in all manner of combination. But why would you do that when you can get a hot, foil-wrapped pocket of bread stuffed to brim with marinated and roasted meats and fresh veggies, all fitting in the palm of your hand? Pick it up on your way home from the El and enjoy an easy, filling meal.

Voted Most Fun Way to Get Heartburn

Chili Mac's 5-Way Chili
3125 N. Broadway
773-404-7252 or 773-404-2898
Sunday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm

This is not the place to go for health food. This is, however, the place to go for a hot, hearty bowl of chili that will keep you full and warm and happy. First, pick your chili from one of the four varieties. For those wanting to cut down on the fat, there's vegetarian chili and turkey chili. For those who like things hot, there's the spicy Texas chili. And for those like a classic bowl of meat, there's the Cincinnati chili. Next, decide how you want it. 1-Way is plain and unadorned. A bed of spaghetti cradles the 2-Way. Make it a 3-Way and you've got cheddar cheese; bump it up to 4-Way, and you can add kidney beans or sweet onions; take it all the to the 5-Way and you've got the spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans in one. Topping out at $7.25 for a large 5-Way, most bowls of chili stay under $5. And if those weren't enough choices, you can have your chili on hot dogs, baked potatoes, fries and more — including the elementary school favorite, Fritos. Sure, it's a heart attack waiting to happen, but it'll feel so good on the way down.

A Warm Bowl

The Soupbox
2943 N. Broadway
Daily 11am-10pm

Great soups are a necessity in the fall and winter, but there aren't too many places that keep more than the mundane chicken noodle or beef vegetable in stock. With 12 fresh soups daily, the Soupbox keeps you in hot, fresh bowls of soup seven days a week. Get a 12oz. bowl of beef stew for $4.50, a 16oz. bowl of Mexican tortilla for $5.50, or a bread bowl of beer cheese and bacon for $6.25 and every day's menu features several varieties of vegetarian soups. In the summer, this soup haven becomes the Icebox, transforming its insides to house 20 flavors of Italian ice — from blueberry to mango to chocolate — proving that this small eatery is indeed a place for all seasons. Of course, I could yada yada over all of this and just mention the delicious, creamy lobster bisque.

Cheap Dates

La Creperie
2845 N. Clark
Tuesday-Friday 11:30am-11pm, Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-9:30pm

With drinks it'll certainly cost you more, and as the most expensive restaurant on the list it just barely eeks under the $10 limit, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include La Creperie in the pantheon of wonderful, cheap eats. When most people think crepes, they think of the sweet variety, filled with fruits and creams and other goodies. While La Creperie has those in numbers — the chocolate one is nothing more than gooey, hot melted chocolate chips — but the bulk of their menu comes from the savory crepes that make for a filling and tasty dinner. For $7-$9.50, a plate-sized square of folded buckwheat crepe is placed in front of you, filled with anything from coq au vin to ratatouille to beef bourguignon to, one of my favorites, creamy chicken and mushrooms. Vegetarians need not be wary as the menu also features hearty broccoli and cheese, tomato and spinach cr�me crepes to satisfy the veggie-only. If, after polishing off your plate, you think you can muster a dessert, the sweet crepes come with such fillings as apples, bananas, nutella and the aforementioned luscious chocolate. If you're looking for an affordable, charming place to treat your boy or girl, you can't go wrong with this little spot. The beauty of La Creperie, however, is that it's also the perfect place to hang out with budget-conscious friends who simply want an outstanding meal.


About the Author(s)

Veronica Bond is a Slowdown editor for Gapers Block. She reads lots of books in her Lakeview apartment.

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