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How to Eat for $30 or Less at 10 Quality Restaurants

By Sarah Freeman
January 13, 2014

Dining on a dime gets increasingly difficult as restaurants pay a premium for the finest local, sustainable and delicious ingredients. But just because dinner at that new trendy Italian restaurant costs the same as a month's rent doesn't mean that an expensive dinner is the only dinner. Plenty of restaurants are ready to satisfy your penny-pinching needs with affordable prix fixe and à la carte options. Check out these 10 places to snag a starter, main and dessert for under $30.

  • Café Ba Ba Reeba

    Mix and match your way to a delicious dinner at this Spanish tapas restaurant. Start with either the pintxo platter or two tapas followed by a serving of paella (chicken or market vegetable) along with a choice of dessert (or two) like the Marcona almond caramel bar in a butter crust or a coconut flan. The options seem endless, with most tapas hitting the $6 price point, including patatas bravas, bacon-wrapped dates and assorted empanadas.

    Twice as nice: Double up on that paella on Mondays when it's half off, along with craft cocktails.

    2024 N. Halsted St.; 773-935-5000

  • Dusek’s

    Debuting this past weekend, Dusek's offers a weekly Sunday Supper that includes courses of family-style dining (a shared appetizer, entree and dessert) complete with a pitcher of the house Czech pilsener, "Krusovice," for $25 per person.

    What’s for dinner: The inaugural menu featured dishes such as Werp Farms mixed-greens salad with mustard vinaigrette; choucroute with duck confit, house garlic sausage, bacon, sauerkraut and caraway pickled apples and a side of Southern braised green beans with bacon and butter-fried shallots; and roasted-chile churros with dulce de leche and bittersweet chocolate sorbet.

    1227 W. 18th St.; 312-526-3851

  • Gather

    Another restaurant welcoming guests to eat for cheap on Sundays is this Lincoln Square gem. Sunday Supper is served for $26 per person and includes a choice of dishes served family-style. Start with grilled flatbread with pomodoro, mozzarella and pepperoni, then move onto housemade tagliatelle with sautéed mushroom and creamy tomato sauce or pulled pork with roasted Brussels sprouts, crispy bacon and balsamic. Finish with sticky bun bites with toasted walnuts.

    Bring the kids: Children under the age of 10 eat for free on Sundays. Limit one child per paying adult.

    4539 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-506-9300

  • Photo by: Nick Murway

    The Radler

    This new Logan Square beer hall is an affordable alternative to the increasingly expensive neighborhood dining halls. Confit Brussels sprouts or marinated mushrooms with rahmkase cheese and buckwheat bread go for $8, all sausages cost $9 for a quarter-pound, and throw in a dessert of black forest cake or chestnut “Nutella” crêpe cake for another $7.

    Prost: Sausages come in four different “flavors,” including a traditional knockwurst and a gamey boarwurst. Add on a Haus Radler or Helles to this dinner, and you will just tip the $30 mark.

    2375 Milwaukee Ave.; 773-276-0270

  • Kinzie Chophouse

    Think steakhouses are out of the question when dining on a budget? Think again. This River North chophouse offers a seasonal prix fixe menu for $27. The winter menu offers entree choices of New Zealand lamb chops, seared duck breast over blue cheese potato gratin or pan-seared scallops with a carrot, corn and pea risotto. Start the meal with smoked Gouda and beer soup and finish it with maple bread pudding with bourbon crème anglaise.

    Where’s the beef: Right now, the cheapest cut of beef will cost more than the entire prix fixe dinner, but the restaurant has previously put steaks on the discounted menu.

    400 N. Wells St.; 312-822-0191

  • Nacional 27

    To celebrate the start of the year, this Latin joint offers a "$20.14" prix fixe menu through the end of the month. On Monday through Thursday evenings, guests may enjoy guacamole with chips and salsa; a selection of tapas (chicken tostones, chorizo croquetas and lamb tacos); and choice of entree (West Coast mahi-mahi tacos, chicken enchiladas suizas or Latin skirt steak).

    Spice up the night: Stop in to enjoy this meal on a Thursday, and take part in a complimentary salsa dance lesson, held at 7:30 PM in the lounge. During the lesson, the kitchen serves half-prices tapas from 5 to 7 PM.

    325 W. Huron St.; 312-664-2727

  • Pecking Order

    Bird is the word at this chicken-driven eatery, and you can get half of one for $12.95 or a whole one for $18.95. Guest can chose between grilled, fried or roasted, and add a side (sweet plantains, garlic fried rice, spicy cabbage and more) and Halo Halo shaved ice with seasonal fresh fruits, preserved tropical fruits, housemade syrups and coconut caramel for under $30.

    Mom knows best: Kristine Subido opened the Filipino-style chicken joint after leaving her position as executive chef at Wave at the W Hotel. Her mom, Melinda, helps her out in the kitchen and often has specials featured on the menu.

    4416 N. Clark St.; 773-907-9900

  • Sola

    Who knew you could travel to Hawaii for under $30 - or at least take a culinary adventure to the islands via this Hawaiian restaurant. Each month, Sola serves a $30 prix fixe menu that focuses on a single ingredient. This month the theme is bacon, with dishes like lentil bacon soup; bacon-wrapped cobia served with black rice, Napa cabbage and barbecue vinaigrette; and apple-bacon cinnamon egg roll with vanilla miso ice cream topped with hoisin caramel and bacon brittle.

    Go big: Just because the prix fixe menu skimps on price doesn’t mean it shies away from flavor. The menu often showcases some of the restaurant’s most creative dishes by taking on odd ingredients such as ice cream and chestnuts.

    3868 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-327-3868

  • Table, Donkey and Stick

    Every Monday take a trip to this alpine escape for an entire meal under $15. The restaurant celebrates $5 Mondays, during which menu items are on special for $5. These range from fried Brussels sprouts to Taleggio funnel cake as well as entree-sized items like a croque monsieur, latke poutine and chicken Cordon Bleu. The menu also usually features a burger like the mushroom and Gorgonzola as well as drink specials such as hot mulled wine.

    Extra cheap: Ready for the deal of the decade? Also on Mondays, cans of PBR are 50 cents. This is Logan Square, after all.

    2728 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-486-8525

  • Takito Kitchen

    It’s taco time at this Wicker Park hot spot known for its unique takes on traditional tacos. Feast on seasonal favorites such as the roasted winter squash with black beans, smoked pork belly, corn kimchi, pepitas and Urban Till cilantro. Taco options come in orders of three and include crispy fish tacos, beef barbacoa, chicken mole poblano or lamb chorizo. End on a sweet note with Mexican chocolate ganache or arroz con dulce de leche.

    Spare change: With this sample menu coming in at a cool $24.50, we’ve got $5.50 left over for a beer like Tecate, Pacifico, Modelo and Negra Modelo, or a seasonal Agua Fresca for $5.

    2013 W. Division St.; 773-687-9620

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Places Mentioned

Sola Restaurant

American • North Center

Food24 Decor21 Service23 Cost$45
 
 
 
Gather

American • Ravenswood

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Pecking Order

Eclectic • Uptown

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
Kinzie Chophouse

Steakhouse • River North

Food24 Decor20 Service23 Cost$46
 
 
 
Nacional 27

Nuevo Latino • River North

Food22 Decor22 Service21 Cost$46
 
 
 
Takito Kitchen

Mexican • Ukrainian Village

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
Dusek's Board & Beer

Bar • Pilsen

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
The Radler

Logan Square

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
 
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