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Feed Near the Fests

Affordable spots to calm your appetite before, during or after this summer's festivals.
Monday Jun 05, 2006.     By Jessica Herman
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

That's one hot tamale from Frontera's cafeteria-like outpost.
photo: Courtesy of Frontera
This summer's full roster of music fests at Grant and Millennium Parks almost guarantees that you and your beach blanket will spend a lot of time on the grassy knolls. At some point your tummy will cry for attention, so you'll want to be in-the-Loop when it comes to nearby dining spots. We scouted out these favorite, affordable eats located within walking distance; all serve their goods-to-go, should you want to spend a few extra minutes on the green.

Find crowd-pleasing Thai, Japanese and Chinese at Tamarind
While My Thai, across the street from Millennium Park, is king of convenience, Tamarind's tasty Thai, Chinese and Japanese eats are worth the walk. The overwhelming range of Asian options include a make-your-own stir-fry menu (pick your protein, vegetables, sauce and rice or noodles), moo shu, tempura and specialty maki rolls, almost all for less than $15. Leaving room for dessert is a must: You'll find banana and chocolate egg rolls (yup!) on the menu.

Load up on quality Mexican at Frontera Fresco
Drop by this State Street hot-spot, located in Marshall Field's food court, and you'll skip the wait of Topolobampo and dine for a fraction the cost. The cafeteria-style eatery dishes out tortas (grilled Mexican sandwiches), huaraches (corn flatbread layered with black beans, chipotle sauce and your choice of filling), basic quesadillas and tamales. Better yet, everything costs less than $8. Make this a lunch stop, as doors close at 4 p.m.

Get gourmet-to-go at Trotter's To Go Express
Few names demand the kind of respect that Charlie Trotter's does, so we were thrilled to find the latest Trotter creation located within walking distance of summer's top picnicking destination. Perfectly pre-packaged goods include: containers of Israeli couscous with apricot curry ($3.95); entree-size spicy chicken and black bean salad ($8.50); and artisan sandwiches like the elegant Darjeeling tea-cured smoke salmon with English cucumber and creme fraiche ($7.95).

Cool down with bubble tea at Osaka Express
After hours in the scorching sun, the sight of Osaka's icy, fruity bubble teas, chock-full of marble-size tapioca balls, will have your knees quivering in delight. Tucked into a pea-size corner store just large enough to fit a dazzling selection of fresh fruit on its wooden shelves, Osaka is a good match Joy Yee's, queen of bubble tea. Choose from flavors like lychee, mango, watermelon and cantaloupe, add tapioca balls or mint jelly to the mix, and slurp these 24-ounce concoctions through a wide straw for a mere $3.25-$4.15.

Munch on healthy Mediterranean eats at Haifa Cafe
The joy of a place like Haifa is its bounty of side dishes and spreads. Cheap and healthy, this lunch counter offers a dozen specials for vegetarians and omnivores alike. From chicken kabob, shawirma, gyros and curry shrimp to falafel and eggplant sandwiches, the average meal costs about $5, with an $8.95 seafood combo being the most expensive item on the menu. Upgrade to "healthy choice" by adding buck and a half and walk away with a fresh smoothie or juice in your other hand.

More nearby spots for noshing:

Spa Cafe Carb-conscious eaters enjoy lentil Portobello salads and lettuce-wrap sandwiches at this Loop lunch spot.

Gallery 37 Cafe Give your money to a good cause, and enjoy organic treats, croissant sandwiches, baked goods, coffee and tea.

Park Grill Pricier than a burger joint and cheaper than the Capital Grille, Park Grill features fancy salads, pizzas, crab cakes, steak sandwiches and fish entrees.

Capra's Coffee & Sushi Express Proving maki and mochas do make fine match, Capra's serves your choice of California roll or cappuccino.

My Thai Located a hop away from the park, My Thai tempts park-goers with affordable prices and a bevy of options, from crab Rangoon to mussaman curry.


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