My dad graduated from UC’s engineering college in the early 1960s. A poor kid from the South, he lived at the YMCA and regularly found himself at the dinner table of his soon-to-be in-laws so he could get a square meal. Today’s students face many of the same problems — high costs and low wages — but these days they have an embarrassment of cheap, good food choices within a short walking distance of UC’s campus. So, if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten culinary path, so to speak, here are a few of my favorites.
UNDER $5: Chicago Gyros has been a neighborhood staple for years, sitting at the corner of McMillan and Clifton. You can’t go wrong with their traditional gyro sandwich ($4.95) or Falafel Pita ($4.50). Next year, when they move their digs to the other side of the street, they’ll be serving hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches as well. For a snack check out Yogurt Vi, a self-service soft yogurt store. (Prices vary by weight.) They always have a sugar-free option and last time I stopped in they had a maple bacon doughnut flavor, of all things! If it’s breakfast you’re after you might stop by Baba Budans for a breakfast panini ($4.99) or quiche ($3.99). If you decide to blow off class after that you could hang around for lunch (maybe a Chicken Salad Wrap for $5.99 or a Hamburger Special for $7.99). Then why not just call it a day and stay for a glass of wine or beer?
UNDER $10: There are lots of options in this price range.
Longtime resident Myra’s Dionysus covers the cheap and healthy categories with options such as Spicy Black Beans and Rice and Gado Gado, a spicy Indonesian sauce of peanuts and ginger served over brown (both are $8). And be sure to check out the soup menu board — they make over 20 varieties. At Floyd’s Restaurant you can get a succulent half spit-roasted chicken with two sides for $6.99. (I recommend the lima beans as one of the sides — these are not your mother’s lima beans!) and a terrific falafel sandwich will run you a mere $5.50. Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro is an unassuming gem. They offer filling meal-sized soups such as Pho ($6.30), stir fries ($6.85) and they have just started serving banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) on the weekends for $5.50. I wouldn’t have made it through my own UC student experience without Thai Express, which offers good, cheap curry dishes from $7 to $9.50. Currito: Burritos without Borders gives burritos an international twist with selections such as the Mediterranean and the Bangkok (a small is $5.79, a large is $6.79 and a bowl is $6.99).
PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA!: Pizza Hill, so named by Mac Ryan, owner of Mac’s Pizza Pub, has plenty of options for the hungry college student. One of my personal favorites is Mac’s. I’m a fan of the award-winning vegan pizza ($12.75/$19.99/$22.99), but you should try the meatball sandwich ($6.39) if you’re in the mood for a sub, the homemade meatballs are something else. The newest kid on the block, Adriatico’s, moves onto the Hill in December. According to Tom Erbeck, Adriatico’s owner, their new location will have a large dining room and a 14-seat bar with 40 beers on tap. And if that’s not enough, they’ll be serving pizza by the slice and adding wings and other appetizers to the menu.
GET YOUR COFFEE ON: And when it’s time to gear back up and find something to help you keep your eyes open in class, you can stop by Starbucks, Baba Budans, Rohs Street Café or Cliqq & Sip, a new coffee shop slash Internet café. Heck, if it’s exam week you might just want to just work you’re way through all of them!
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