Cheap eats and free museums—without the big-city price tag.
Chicago’s richly textured and infinitely walkable neighborhoods deliver the quintessential urban experience without the big-city price tag. Whether you hit the pavement in leafy Lincoln Park, gritty Pilsen, or hipster enclaves like West Town and Logan Square, you’ll discover cheap eats, free museums, and—when the cold winds aren’t blowing—an almost overwhelming number of outdoor events where the fun is free of charge.
1 Green City Market
The Spread: Between May and October, the south end of Lincoln Park comes alive with sustainably minded farmers and producers every Wednesday and Saturday (the market moves indoors to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum during the winter). The 55 stallsâ€”stocked year-round with everything from organic micro-greens to artisanal cheeses like butterkaseâ€”draw many of Chicago's best chefs. No less than Alice Watersâ€”the high priestess of America's local culinary movementâ€”has called Green City "the best sustainable market in the country."
Most Unusual Find: Grass-fed, hormone-free elk meat (sold as steaks, roasts, burger patties, and bratwurst-style sausages) from Hawks Hill Elk Ranch in Monticello, WI.
2 National Museum of Mexican Art
Itâ€™s only fitting that Chicagoâ€”home to the second-largest Mexican population in the United Statesâ€”would have a world-class museum dedicated to Latino arts. Located just west of the bustling 18th Street corridor in the colorful Pilsen neighborhood, the museum represents a crash course on the story of the Mexican experience: from indigenous Mayan and Aztec cultures through the colonial period, the Mexican revolution, and 20th-century equality movements. Entry is free all year long.
Fine dining is broken down to the barest essentials at this 32-seat steampunk bistro on Ashland Avenue in West Town. The menu of Asian-tinged, eclectic American dishes changes seasonally, but staples include a daily crudo selection and maple-soy-glazed black cod. Somehow, the dining roomâ€™s vintage and repurposed aestheticâ€”making excellent use of old theater seats, church pews, and other design castoffsâ€”radiates warmth, not pretentiousness.
4 Reno, Logan Square
The views of Logan Squareâ€™s historic, tree-lined boulevards make the pumpkin seed bagels at this rustic breakfast-lunch-dinner spot taste all the more perfect. Come back in the evening, when the wood-fired ovens crank out pizzas with creative toppings like savory-spicy pork belly carnitas.
5 Logan Theatre
Logan Squareâ€™s residents cheered the reopening of this 1915-built movie house, which has been refurbished in all of its Art Deco glory. Film showings range from new releases to indies and cult classics. Donâ€™t forget to pop into the retro-tinged bar lounge for a post-flick pour from nearby craft brewery Revolution Brewing.