Here are a few of my favorite lunch spots downtown where you can get inexpensive high quality chow.
A bowl of Seafood Gumbo is $3.95 at Shaw's Blue Crab on Hubbard. It is a huge serving and comes with a quarter loaf of decent crusty sourdough bread. It is really dark and thick, seemingly built from scratch with a long cooked roux. It has a nice variety of fish like salmon, tuna, etc in large chunks. It is topped with some dirty rice and fresh parsley. They have those vermont common cracker-type things to put in the gumbo. When by myself, I sit at the bar and eat there. I really like the atmosphere at this place.
The Chum Botta at Sertano's on Lake, East of Wells, is also $3.95. It is basically a roasted hash of Italian sausage, potatoes, onions, red and green peppers. The sausage is quite good, lean and tasty. This is basicaly a comfort food dish like I would make at home. The atmosphere at Sertanos is not so great, there are a lot of smokers upstairs. Kind of an ugly, mirrored room as well.
Speaking of ugly rooms, the Mallers Building Coffee Shop, 30 S Wabash, has what I feel is the BEST corned beef hash in the city. Served with two perfectly poached eggs. I think it is about $4.50. I havent seen a thread on corned beef hash. I feel that good homemade CBH is ripe for discussion. Hardly any restaurants make it anymore. I have had it at Eli's on Chicago, it was passable...most everywhere else it is offered it is not homemade. They also have a big counter which is nice for lunching by yourself.
Earl's on Randolph east of Wabash is probably a little more than $5, but I feel that they have outstanding sandwiches. I really like the cajun turkey salad on seeded cibatta, the roasted vegetable and hummus on honey millet whole wheat and the classic chicken salad. They use field greens, not iceberg. The breads are first rate. The sandwiches are pre made and displayed in little boxes, like the old fashioned automats. I have a hunch that foodies are turned off by this presentation and avoid the place, since it is never crowded. I think it should be. I highly recommend it.
Well, there are a few of my faves... thanks for reading and hopefully following up with some of your own.