Cheap Eats from the 1970s | Bleader

Cheap Eats from the 1970s

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With our Best of Chicago voting now in session, I started looking through old Reader guides to the city, which included our long-running Cheap Eats roundups. Here's what we were recommending over 30 years ago:

Ratso's 2464 N. Lincoln: Beyond criticism. Ratso's is becoming the city's hottest night spot, and it must be because of the entertainment, because the food is outrageously inconsistent, with even the ingredients in one dish varying from night to night. You can get a very good meal here . . . and you can find a cigarette butt in your salad (I did just a couple of weeks ago--honest). (1975)

Harold's Chicken Shack No. 14 1364 E. 53rd St.: Best fried chicken south of the Loop. $1.85 gets you half a chicken and some greasy french fries. Carryout only; you can phone your order in. Livers and gizzards are also available, but you have to acquire a taste for them. Go easy on the hot sauce. (1975)

Nuevo Leon 1515 W. 18th: Garish sweet-shop decor and delicious Mexican food. Tacos, burritos and frijoles refritos better than any I've had elsewhere, but most of the dishes are Mexican specialties unheard of at El Taco Loco. (1975)

Bucket O'Suds 3123 N. Cicero: Still over 600 bottles of booze behind the bar (and plenty more down in the cellar), still the homemade meals and sauces, still the quintessential neighborhood bar. Try a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich, any of thirteen cheeses (including hot pepper) all for $1 or less, or Brunch a la Skandia (herring, cheese, and crackers) for $1. Top it off with one of 30 homemade alcoholic concoctions like El Caribiano Royale, and you're ready to trade anecdotes and discuss the fine points of sour mash with owner Joe Danno. (Notice, I didn't even mention Joe's exclusive store of pre-Prohibition Old Oscar Pepper sippin' whiskey; that's because there wouldn't be any left for me.) (1977)

Wing Wah 208 W. Cermak: It's been almost a year since we started touting this place as the best Chinese-Cantonese restaurant in Chicago, and thankfully it manages to remain unspoiled and obscure. Part of this, perhaps, is the hours: 5 pm-5 am. Strange, we grant you, but actually quite practical--Wing Wah, you see, is the place where all the other restauranteurs in Chinatown go to eat after closing their joints for the night. The rest of the clientele is made up of half the Chicago police force, a large following from the immediate area, and a mere handful of Occidentals. The secret is to ignore the first menu they give you (it's only four pages, printed on the inside of a red or yellow cardboard sheet) and hold out for the real menu--a small red notebook with typewritten pages and about 60 items listed in English and Chinese. This is where you will find the city's most garlicy garlic shrimp; its best lightly cooked squid; its only conch; plus snails, fish stomach soup, clams in hot sauce, whole crab prepared Chinese-style,  and much, much more, each item on par with the next. The truly courageous will ignore even these listings and badger their only barely bilingual waiter into translating the daily specials written in Chinese on the wall. There they will discover such delicacies as whole red snapper and quick-fried pigeon. We haven't tried the live frog yet--it's killed at your table and eaten raw--but we have checked out the duck's feet, and might we suggest you don't bother. (1977)

John Barleycorn Memorial Pub 658 W. Belden: The quietest of the Northside beer-and-hamburger spots. Classical music, old silent films, and art-classic slides are there to distract you if conversation flags. (1975)

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