Chicago Restaurant Week is nearly over and we’ve covered some great restaurants to dine at, but sometimes you don’t want to spend the money and time to get a fancy prix fixe meal. There’s nothing wrong with getting a good, cheap meal. Luckily, Chicago has some great eateries that are just as good or even better than some fine dining places. Here are the five best Chicago fast, casual eateries.
100 W. Ontario St.
What started as a hot dog stand in a trailer in Villa Park, IL has gone on to be a fast food empire of over 30 locations across four states, and that’s due to their quick service and diverse, delicious menu. At the Ontario Street location you can order everything from pasta to ribs to the usual burgers and fries. My pick will always be the hot dog with everything on it. It’s nice to go to specialized hot dog spots that offer different kinds of meats, but when you want a quick, reliable, and guilt-inducing hot dog on the go then head to Portillo’s.
2. Bombay Wraps
122 N. Wells St.
330 E. Ohio St.
Fast food in the United States typically deals with American and Mexican food, so the idea of a fast, casual Indian restaurant is intriguing enough and when you try food at Bombay Wraps it’s definitely more than appetizing. This lack of diversity in fast, casual food is what made Falguni Dewjee and Nik Jain open their Indian restaurants to give people a taste of the street food they grew up on in Mumbai. Their focus is on wraps where you can get mouthwatering chicken tikka, chicken reshmi, potato tava, samosa, cheese paneer wrap and much more. Those who aren’t to familiar with Indian food might stick with the chicken wraps but push yourself to try others, especially the lamb curry, as there is no wrong decision. Sides like sweet potato fries with typical hot and sweet ketchup go great with the wraps. To add even more of an Indian flavor to your meal make sure to try one of the various lassi smoothies, which is a yogurt-based smoothie blended with fruit and spices.
3. Al’s #1 Italian Beef
Hot dogs get a lot of love in Chicago and rightfully so, but one of our other delicious, utilitarian meals invented here is the juicy Italian beef sandwich. As always invention is the mother of necessity and with the Great Depression creating a food scarcity it was important for Chicagoans at the time to do the most they could with the cuts of less desirable beef they had. So they sliced it real thin, slow-roasted and simmered it in Italian herbs and spices, and placed it in a loaf of bread creating arguably the most tender, juicy sandwich. No one does it better than Al’s #1 Italian Beef where you can not only have an Italian beef, but it’ll be made using the same recipe created by Al Ferrari, Frances Pacelli, and Chris Pacelli, Sr. in 1938 and you can still have it in their original location on West Taylor Street.
4. Epic Burger
It will always amaze me how people will continue to go to the big chains when you can get a better burger in the same price range, same wait time, and even better for you at Epic Burger. David Friedman opened Epic Burger in Chicago to prove that you can provide the public a juicy burger without any processed ingredients for a decent price, and he has more than delivered on that idea. Epic Burger’s ingredients include all-natural beef, Wisconsin cheese, nitrate-free bacon, daily-baked buns, humanely-raised chickens, organic milk, and much more. This obsession with non-processed ingredients is what makes Epic Burger burgers taste better than any chain burger and as good or better than a restaurant burger. Sure you can save $2 at the chain for a flavorless burger, or you can take those $2 that you probably lose weekly in the couch and take a bite of a burger where you can taste the sweetness of the tomato, the crispness of the lettuce, savoriness of the patty, and every other ingredient that you can add in your customizable burger including avocado, bacon, and grilled onions.
5. Big and Little’s
Chicago is littered with great taco spots and everyone has their favorites, but sometimes your favorite has a long line and even times just a line to make the line to get a taco. One place that I’ve never encountered much of a wait that serves a delicious taco that is actually a favorite of many is at Big and Little’s. A good seafood taco is hard to come by at most places but you can’t go wrong here where you have options like fried whitefish, shrimp, soft-shell crab, and even a banh-mi taco with white fish. This cash-only spot also serves other handheld favorites and next to their seafood tacos you can’t miss out on their po’ boys.