Slideshow: 15 Cheap Eats We Love in Chicago's Chinatown

Salt Miner's Eggplant at Yan Bang Cai ($9.95)
Salt Miner's Eggplant at Yan Bang Cai ($9.95)

When Double Li abruptly closed, I worried the space would be filled by some average pan-Chinese eatery. Instead, Yan Bang Cai moved in and went even more regional, with much of the menu drawing inspiration from the Zigong salt mines in Sichuan. (You can read all about in the shop thanks to a number of articles taped on the walls.) So I guess it's not a surprise that things are generally salty, which is exactly the way I like it.

I tried a few great dishes, but I was particularly smitten with the salt miner's eggplant, which barely sneaked in under the $10 mark. Strips of eggplant are lightly coated and fried until golden. What results is a crackly crust that gives way to meltingly tender center. As you'd expect from the name, each piece is well seasoned, but they are given some extra oomph thanks to some fermented black beans. It's one of those dishes that you don't expect to be such a hit, and then find yourself shoveling piece after piece in your mouth, even though you know more food is going to come to the table soon.

Yan Bang Cai, 228 W. Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL (map); (312) 842-7818; yanbangcaichicago.com

Hot & Sour Seafood Soup at Go 4 Food ($7.95 for small)
Hot & Sour Seafood Soup at Go 4 Food ($7.95 for small)

"Most hot and sour soups are gloopy, bland things, so full of gummy corn starch that it's hard to discern anything remotely hot or sour. But Go 4 Food's dynamic version arrives laced with spice and vinegar, and stuffed full of sweet and tender seafood. It's a meal in itself, and particularly satisfying on a frigid day." Read more here >>

Go 4 Food, 212 West 23rd Street, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-8688; go4foodchicago.com‎

Spicy Braised Beef Broth at Hing Kee ($6.99)
Spicy Braised Beef Broth at Hing Kee ($6.99)

"It can be hard to keep all the restaurants in the Chinatown Square mall straight, but it's easy to spot Hing Kee thanks to the thanks to the employee making fresh noodles by the front window. While it's fun to watch him work, it's even better to eat the result. The springy, distinct noodles probably taste great in every soup, but I particularly like them submerged in the spicy braised beef broth. Slurping here is encouraged." Read more here >>

Hing Kee, 2140 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-808-9538

Tony's Special Pot Stickers Lao Beijing ($5.95)
Tony's Special Pot Stickers Lao Beijing ($5.95)

"These skinny little cigars are unlike any pot stickers I've encountered before. The thin and crispy layers of dough kind of resemble phyllo, but aren't nearly as heavy as you'd imagine. Instead, each crackly bite gives way to a seasoned ground pork mixture. Though good on their own, some chili oil and vinegar sauce is not a bad idea." Read more here >>

Lao Beijing Restaurant‎, 2138 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-881-0168; laobeijingrestaurantchicago.com‎

Grilled Lamb Skewer ($2.00) and Fish Ball Skewer at ($2.00) Lao Ma La
Grilled Lamb Skewer ($2.00) and Fish Ball Skewer at ($2.00) Lao Ma La

"Lao Ma La also knows its way around a charcoal grill. Skewers are available for $2 a piece, which isn't exactly cheap, but you could never call these dainty. The lamb was well charred, but still tender, while the fish balls were slightly crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. They were sprinkled with a chili mixture, which was spicy, yet still allowed you to appreciate the grilled items." Read more here >>

Lao Ma La, 2017 S. Wells, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-225-8989; tonygourmetgroup.com

Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) at Lao Shanghai (8 for $5.95)
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) at Lao Shanghai (8 for $5.95)

"The order I had featured a thin exterior layer and a generous portion of liquid, which required me to delicately eat these over my plate so that I wouldn't stain my shirt. Perhaps the soup dumplings have steadily improved since Lao Shanghai's opening over four years ago, because on the night I visited, these were a hit." Read more here >>

Lao Shanghai, 2163 South China Place, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-808-0830; laoshanghaichicago.net

Cold Appetizer Combo at Lao Yunnan ($4.95 for three)
Cold Appetizer Combo at Lao Yunnan ($4.95 for three)

"My favorite part about Lao Yunnan is actually the cold appetizer buffet. For less than five bucks, you can score huge portions of three different items. While none of the items are labeled, my waitress was more than happy to explain each one to me. I ended up with a plate full of mushrooms, sour green beans, and spicy bamboo silvers, which I kept returning to throughout the meal. The pickled kick of the sour green beans reminded me of the Ground Pork with Sour Pickle from Lao Hunan, as it somehow manages to be funky, assertive, and cleansing all at once." Read more here >>

Lao Yunnan, 2109 S. China Place, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-326-9966; tonygourmetgroup.com

Salt and Pepper Shrimp at
Salt and Pepper Shrimp at "Little" Three Happiness ($6.95)

"Best known for inspiring the name for the LTH Forum, the original outlet of Three Happiness (the newer, larger one is located across the street) serves filling, hearty food with a focus on contrasting texture. No dish better sums this up than the fried shrimp. Go ahead and order them with the shells still on. They'll blister in the fryer, forming an extra crispy, yet completely edible, layer around the sweet meat. I've tried so many inferior version with tough shells that stick in my teeth, that I was floored at how great this dish really could be." Read more here >>

Three Happiness Restaurant, 209 West Cermak Road, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-1964

Macau-style Roast Pork at MingHin Cuisine ($8.95)
Macau-style Roast Pork at MingHin Cuisine ($8.95)

"Sure, I've eaten pork belly prepared a dozen of different ways, but never have I devoured one quite like the Macau-style roast pork at MingHin. Featuring a golden-hued crust, as crispy and crunchy as it looks, with white and mild meat, this pure gluttony with no chaser. Instead of covering it in a sauce, only a small saucer of sugar comes along the side. Sprinkle on just enough (but not too much) and that crust starts tasting like pork candy." Read more here >>

MingHin Cuisine, 2168 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-808-1999; minghincuisine.com‎

Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings at Sweet Station ($5.95)
Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings at Sweet Station ($5.95)

"The salt and pepper fried wings at Sweet Station are tiny things that are absolutely covered in MSG. But they are also greaseless, extra meaty (thanks, MSG!), and very crunchy. Their size means that you won't feel guilty about devouring a pile of these before the main course arrives." Read more here >>

Sweet Station, 2101 South China Place, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-2228; mysweetstation.com‎

Baked Egg Tarts at Cai ($3.50)
Baked Egg Tarts at Cai ($3.50)

"It's hard to comprehend just how many people dine at Cai on any given Saturday. The massive second floor room is packed with diners, as carts full of steaming dumplings zig zag through the aisles. Waits can be long, but everyone is there for what may be the best place for dim sum in Chicago. I didn't get close to trying everything, but Cai probably wins the title on the baked egg tart alone. Featuring a fine, flaky crust and a sunshine yellow egg filling, that jiggles uncontrollably at the barest movement, it's an indulgence worth braving the crowd for." Read more here >>

Cai, 2100 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-326-6888; caichicago.com

Barbecue Pork Bun at Chiu Quon Bakery ($.92)
Barbecue Pork Bun at Chiu Quon Bakery ($.92)

"What you can taste is the moist goodness of the copious, brick-hued pork against the plush, subtle sweetness of the egg-washed buns. What you can't taste is the addictive chemical they somehow work in there that leaves you completely satisfied, yet wanting more." Read more here >>

Chiu Quon Bakery and Cafe, 2242 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-225-6608; chiuquonbakery.com