Recession-proof Restaurants Chicago
They tell us we're in a recession. Gas prices are up. House-sale prices are down. Layoffs loom. Scary as that sounds, though, if you're eyeing your bank balance with a view toward scaling back on expenses, look for other cuts rather than your food budget.
After all, you've got to keep your strength up. And your morale. Do your part for the economy and go out to eat.
For those nights when you can't quite justify a big-ticket dinner check, you don't have to stick to rice and beans or bland burgers and fries. Here's a selection of great places where you can dine very well for under $15 a plate. They may not be fancy, but your palate won't know the difference.
Bar-B-Que Bob's, Howard-Hoyne Plaza, 2055 W. Howard St., Chicago, (773) 761-1260. Not much beyond a carryout counter and a few folding tables, Bob Dunlap's Rogers Park smokehouse serves top-notch barbecue, especially fragrant, smoky, succulent baby backs you can get your teeth into, caramelized with his signature allspice-tinged sauce, and a brisket sandwich filled with thick, tender, flavorful slices of smoky beef and crunchy charred ends. Save room for dessert -- you'll want to try both the stellar lemon cheese pie and the luscious sweet-potato pie. While a full slab of ribs with sides edges up beyond our price at $18, that's the most expensive item on the menu. A satisfying smoked brisket sandwich, with fries and coleslaw, will run you $6. Cash only.
Big Buns & Pita / Sahara Kabob, 6649 N. Clark St., Chicago, (773) 262-2000. This clean, no-frills Rogers Park storefront looks like a typical Chicago fast-food joint, in part because it is a fast-food joint. But skip the dogs, burgers and other items on buns for the Assyrian portion of the menu, which offers items like lahmin beajin, a delightful thin, crispy appetizer flatbread, covered with a light, zesty layer of seasoned ground beef mixed with peppers, tomatoes, onions and parsley, served with lemon wedges to squeeze over it, and boorek, described as "Mediterranean egg roll," a fat cigar of meat-filled dough. Don't miss the wonderful "Big Buns homestyle potatoes," crisp sliced rounds in a curried batter. The costliest entree is quuzi, $11, a meltingly tender lamb shank braised in tomato sauce, served over rice with a bowlful of vegetable stew to pour over the top. Cash only.
Irazu Costa Rican Restaurant, 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, (773) 252-568. Miriam and Gerardo Cerdas have been serving the cuisine of their Central American homeland in this tiny, triangular dining room since 1990. This BYOB spot is possibly more famous for its shakes than its food. The signature avena milkshake, made with oatmeal, has a malty, nutty characteristic; other options include pinolillo, made from cornmeal; sweet-tart mora, or blackberry; and delicate guanabana, or soursop. The chef's favorite, bistec tico, savory, thinly sliced ribeye steak, pan-cooked to tenderness with sliced onion, green bell peppers and tomatoes, served with rice, black beans, sauteed sweet plantains and a lovely Costa Rican-style salad of crisp green cabbage, shredded to slaw and tossed with chopped cilantro, will run you $13.50, while the celebrated veggie burrito is $4.95. Cash only.
Glenn's Diner, 1820 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago, (773) 506-1720. The fresh-seafood options at this reinvented diner go beyond or price range -- for example, on Tuesdays, all-you-can-eat crab legs run $30, but there's a long list of hearty sandwich options, and dishes like a half chicken roasted, then grilled with Guinness Beer barbecue sauce, and served with smoked cheddar mac and cheese, fresh veggies, watermelon and roasted red potatoe, $11, and a half-pound French-cut premium pork chop, marinated with honey and maple syrup, with corn bread stuffing, vegetables and potato pancake.
Icosium Kafe, 5200 N. Clark St., Chicago, (773) 271-5233, and Crepe and Coffee Palace, 2433 N. Clark St., Chicago, (773) 404-1300. This pair of eateries focuses on a variety of fresh ingredients, which you can choose to have folded into large Algerian-style crepes or heaped into a salad. The salads start with your choice of organic mixed greens or baby spinach leaves and offer a choice of dressings. The crepes run a little thicker and much larger in diameter than the standard French style; you get a single crepe folded into a plate-filling triangle. The basic choices for crepe fillings and salad toppings include three kinds of vegetables; a selection of cheese; fresh basil, mint, cilantro or arugula; and assorted nuts or dried fruits. The price for either a main-course crepe or a salad is $8.50. This gets you a vegetarian selection to which you can choose to add chicken or turkey breast, smoked salmon, turkey-ham, scrambled eggs, escargot beef sausage or merguez (a mildly spicy Algerian lamb sausage) for $3 more.
Khan B.B.Q. Restaurant, 2401 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, (773) 274-8600. This ultra-busy Devon Avenue storefront with dressy touches specializes in Pakistani tandoori fare. The cooks arrange the different foods on long spears to drop into the clay-lined tandoor oven, which runs on natural-wood charcoal. Khan's chicken boti is fabled and the big, moist chunks of skinless poultry, lightly charred and streaked with zesty green herb-yogurt paste, deserve every bit of their vaunted reputation and costs just $6.50, though you'll want to add $1 for a piece of the excellent, tandoor-baked naan bread. The most expensive item on the menu, a whole chicken -- grilled, broasted or steamed -- is $13. Cash only.