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Good Places to Eat in Chicago's South Loop

Updated on October 13, 2011

As the Taste of Chicago festival approaches, including hundreds of restaurants set up in Grant Park for food sampling on June 24 through July 3, I figured I'd highlight some of my favorite places to eat in the South Loop regularly.

The South Loop is right where three popular colleges are located: Columbia College, DePaul University, and Roosevelt University. As you can imagine, most of the population in this area is comprised of students, so there are quite a few places to eat, most of them mainstream chains like Panera Bread or Subway. But there are a few locations that are uniquely Chicagoan, a few of which will be at the Taste of Chicago festival. Only a couple of these will be there, but these are some of my favorite places, places which are reasonably priced, some of which I've nearly worn out from going to so much.

Pauly's Pizza-Ria

The first place I can think of is a place called Pauly's, located on South State Street, right between the intersections of Balbo and Eighth. It's a nice place if you want relatively cheap pizza and they have many other items on the menu if you want other things. While not the cheapest for many things (you can get more boneless wings for cheaper at Wing Stop) the pizza there is excellently priced, and the types they have are plenty to choose from. It's not the best pizza in the world, but it's pretty damn good, and for $3.99 a slice, which really is one huge slice cut into two, it's great. They also sell garlic knots (good if you don't plan on going out and meeting anyone face-to-face for the rest of the day) as well as waffle fries, which are good, and quite a few other nice sides, all of which aren't too expensive for what you get. The customer service is definitely something that keeps me coming back as well, even if I've grown a little tired of having their pizza for a year straight.

South Loop Club

The worn out side of this brick building states a quote from an unknown source saying that they have the best burgers in Chicagoland. Whoever said that, I'd like to eat with, because these burgers are excellent, and frankly this place is the only bar and grill I hear about which serves burgers in this area (Blackie's, located a block away, may, but I have yet to eat there). Though certainly not the cheapest, a burger with a side of fries and a small drink running at $7.25 only with a student discount of 10%, it's not bad for what you get. The only other side I've gotten at this place have been the jalapeño poppers, which are $5.99 for one box of six. Harold's Chicken (see below) has the same amount of poppers but for $3.99.

This place isn't just a grill with an expansive menu (I hear their pizza's good) and includes a full bar and seating area right next to its takeout section. The bar includes TV after TV for sports viewing. But don't go there unless you're prepared to spend city prices. It's not the worst by any stretch, but there are cheaper places to visit. The building is currently selling single apartments as well above the bar, and for living in the city the rooms' price ranges are not bad. I've considered living there in the future; if you want good food or a few drinks, just take the elevator down.

Harold's Chicken Shack

With a name like that, it's hard to imagine this place serving quality food. As it happens, it's actually a popular place for the locals including myself, and the menu here is quite flexible as well. I usually get four chicken tenders when I come here, which comes with fries and a choice of mild (really just BBQ) or hot sauce (the hot sauce here is amazing). They also give you the choice of having your wings/tenders basked in the sauce or on the side. The price for all of this? $6.60 including tax. The portions are good for that amount and I usually have enough for two meals if I'm really trying to save money, so you don't have to worry about not filling up. Their wings are beautiful as well.

The only reason people may consider not coming to this place would be because almost everything here is deep fried. I've heard their catfish is good as well as their gizzards (not really my things). For a cheap place in the city, it's certainly not bad and the customer service here is also friendly enough, though not the most personable. This is one of the few restaurants in this area of the city that will be appearing at Taste of Chicago.

Lou Malnati's

Though technically a chain like Harold's, it is uniquely Chicagoan like Harold's. I have one in my hometown of Lake Zurich, an hour away from the city. I also happen to be lucky enough to have one across the street from where I live in the city. It's located right near the corner of State and Eighth, and it's got some of the best pizza you will ever have, provided you like Chicago-style. They include Chicago's signature deep dish pizza, but I've never been a fan of deep dish, though theirs is excellent if I must say so. Their thin crust is beautifully put together, with some of the crispiest, most unique crusts I've ever had. Their sauce is also remarkable.

They of course have a lot of other items on their menu, though a roommate of mine had tried their spaghetti and couldn't really recommend it, sadly. So I'd mostly consider it a pizza place for pizza first and foremost. Just be prepared for some of the more expensive prices for pizza in the city, with a medium pizza costing you around $14 dollars. But for the quality pizza you get, it's worth it.

Another place to go for pizza in Chicago, and not even far from the South Loop, would be Giordano's, the one nearest me not located a block away from the southeast end of the Willis (Sears) Tower.

The original Billy Goat Tavern located beneath the city streets.
The original Billy Goat Tavern located beneath the city streets.

Billy Goat Tavern

A Chicago staple, appearing in the famous Saturday Night Live skit featuring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd: “Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger! No fries, chips! No Pepsi, Coke!” The place is known for some of the best burgers Chicago has to offer, and may be even a bit cheaper than South Loop Club's if I recall correctly. It's been a couple months since I've been there.

The original owner of the first Billy Goat Tavern (there are several in the city now) is known for causing the original curse on the Chicago Cubs. He reportedly brought a pet billy goat to the World Series game in 1945 and caused a stir when the two went to take a seat in Wrigley Field. The stench of the goat bothered the fans, so the staff kicked him out, and as they did so, he supposedly put a curse on the Cubs so that they'd never win again. So far, they haven't won a World Series, no matter how close they come.

Their burgers are greasy, though, and thin. I like a thin burger sometimes, but it's best to get a double “cheezborger” if you want more meat. And as the SNL skit went, they don't have fries, only bags of chips, and no Pepsi products, only Coke. The place is principally Chicagoan and in most locals' opinions (I think so, at least) it's a crime not to go there when visiting at least once. This location will be appearing at the Taste of Chicago festival as well.

These are just a few of the good places to eat around here in Chicago's South Loop. I've got a couple others I've heard are good, Thai Spoon, Tamarind and Epic Burger, but I've only been to Thai Spoon twice, a nice Asian restaurant and bar on Wabash, and Epic Burger on State has ten-dollar burgers, which I still have yet to try. I've been to Tamarind twice as well, a good sushi place ($5 for 6 maki rolls). Pretty much all of these places are located on State Street, so they're easy to find, one right beside the other, except for Harold's Chicken, which is located on the corner of Wabash and Balbo.

All of these places are right near each other, and each serve a Chicago flavor to their food, right in the heart of it. So, if you happen to be here for Taste of Chicago, you may want to stop by a few of these places to check out Chicago's excellent hole-in-the-walls.


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