Grocery deals: The Tribune food team’s favorite money-saving markdowns at Chicagoland stores

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin area rose 2.9% over the year. This is part of a longer trend of food prices increasing since 2009. In 2022, the USDA reported national food prices increased by 9.9%, the highest on record since 1979.

In other words, a box of Cheerios can run you $6 and it’s time to cut back. Your wallet will thank you for finding deals and readjusting your shopping, even as inflation is expected to level out.

The name of the game? Comparing price per unit as well as between stores and brands. Getting deals also involves a good amount of planning. Chicago neighborhoods are home to various specialty grocers worth traveling to: If you can wait, you can get a good price on staples while you’re making a trip for specialty items from your local market.

Costco, Aldi and Trader Joe’s sometimes offer good prices, but typically, when you compare by price-per-ounce, freshness or quality, they fail to beat a local Chicago business or specialty market by some other measure. So rather than buying blindly at the big boxes, I note where I can find cheaper prices on some of my staples and wait until I’m making the trip anyway.

Note: I do go to Costco to pick up Bachan’s barbecue sauce and Kewpie mayo, which have a competitive price per ounce (and a larger size!). I also think their milk and egg prices are more stable. But buying in bulk also means things going bad and wasted money!

Here are a few items that Tribune writers and editors return to that are good deals.

— Ahmed Ali Akbar

Chicken “saddle legs” from Farm City Meat ($1.19 a pound, purchased March 31)

I spent almost a year and a half without a solid halal butcher, which was a shame because I frequently host guests who only eat zabiha halal meat and I also like to cook goat pulao.

There are plenty of butchers on Devon Street and in other Muslim neighborhoods like Bridgeview, but it was difficult to choose one.

A tip led me to Farm City Meat and their ludicrously huge butcher counter. The manager said they get pretty good deals because they buy in bulk. They’re a bit of a hidden gem.

It’s quickly become my go-to place. I haven’t bought enough to comment on the quality, but the prices and range of specialty cuts of meat are astounding. I’m excited to try their goat ribs for $5 a pound. My aunt in Pakistan suggested it was one of the best cuts for pulao, but I could never find it. None of the goat options were above $7 a pound the last time I visited, which seems pretty competitive.

But the really surprising thing is that you can get chicken for $1.19 a pound if you buy unseparated dark meat. I haven’t seen prices like that since college. I’d recommend getting the skin taken off. More standard cuts like boneless thighs are more expensive per pound.

Local Muslims seem to know the deal is good here because I’ve seen people leave with 10, 20, 30 pounds of meat. They may even be supplying their restaurants or stocking up their freezers. I started to order extra meat to throw in my freezer for when halal-observant family visits.

There are other specialist options worth noting: You can get paya (trotters), beef shank and more varieties of halal steaks than I’ve seen. Lines can get very intense, so call ahead to prep your orders. While you’re there, you can also pick up some bread from all over the world: naan, injera, pita and more.

2255 W. Devon Ave., 773-274-2255

— A. A.

Publican Quality Bread’s sourdough sliced loaf from wholesale buyers, including Gracias Maria ($7 a loaf, purchased April 5)

Tribune photo editor Marianne Mather was the first to inform me that Publican Quality Bread can be cheaper when not bought directly from the source. She had been picking it up from the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, starting at $8. I looked it up on their website and purchasing sourdough from PQB directly starts at $9 and some breads are nearly $12. A representative for Publican confirmed that they don’t set prices for their clients and they were aware it could be cheaper outside of their own bakery. Of course, bread at other stores could also be less fresh or a day old, compared with buying directly from the source.

When I first moved to Chicago, I was on the hunt for a wheaty daily driver. The prices for preservative-laden, plastic-bag bread were way too high to justify. Turano was one option and I still pick that up occasionally.

But when I’m spending more than $5 on a loaf, it better be versatile and fun to eat. Eventually, I settled on Publican’s sliced Spence Sourdough Pullman loaf picked up from Belli’s on Blue Island Avenue. Publican’s Greg Wade won the 2018 Outstanding Baker James Beard Award and it showed; the bread held up well in my fridge for longer than you’d think. Also, it’s very hefty and filling as a sandwich bread, griddled up on a pan and filled with toppings.

Since then, bread prices have skyrocketed. Belli’s is now Gracias Maria and they still stock it; I picked up a loaf of Publican bread there recently for $7. Dill Pickle Food Co-op still has their bread listed for $8-$9. At least in my experience, the sliced Publican sourdough lasts much longer than you’d think and takes well to being heated with oil and butter. I don’t have a toaster, but I bet that would be good too.

Dill Pickle Food Co-op, 2746 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-252-2667,
Gracias Maria, 1850 S. Blue Island Ave.,

— A. A.

Pulmuone kimchi stew ramen from Joong Boo Market Warehouse ($5.95 for a 4-pack purchased April 5)

You probably know by now about the sashimi special at Joong Boo Market on Wednesdays and Fridays. The platters are available in Avondale, Glenview and the new store in Schaumburg. The price has gone up a bit, from $25 to $30, but it’s still a deal.

They’re not available at the Joong Boo Market Warehouse location in North Park, which celebrates its fourth anniversary in June. They don’t have a Snack Corner inside, or a Wang Mandoo stand outside either.

What they do have is a towering wall of Korean ramen.

That includes Pulmuone kimchi stew ramen, which just dropped about a month ago. The South Korean brand specializes in plant-based foods. Plus the new ramen flavor 4-pack is on sale for $5.95, normally $7.49, and nearly $17 on Amazon.

Look for the sale signs, not just on ramen, but throughout the store.

And at around 6 p.m. on weeknights, they mark down the prices on prepared food. It’s not buy one get one free anymore, but it’s still a good deal, even at full price. For example, if there are any kimchi-jeon, the kimchi pancakes labeled kimchi pizza, they go from $4.99 to $2.99 for a 10-pack of minis.

5800 N. Pulaski Road, 773-478-2550,

— Louisa Kung Liu Chu

Potatoes, oranges or apples from Jerry’s Fruit and Garden (49 cents a pound through April 24 )

Fruit is one of the hardest things to reliably find on sale and still in fresh, edible condition. Some staff members at the Tribune lamented the loss of Stanley’s, which closed in 2019. But one option, up in Niles, is Jerry’s, which has absolutely drool-worthy prices listed for fresh fruit: 49 cents a pound for anything seems wonderful these days.

Locally, I typically find good fruit prices at the Cermak Fresh Market on Cermak Road. Some highlights from last August (the last time I intentionally documented this) include 99 cents for a pound of strawberries, $1.29 for a pound of plum tomatoes and $1.49 for Michigan peaches.

Costco fruit prices are seemingly not competitive if you compare per ounce, but of course, they are reliably fresh. You get what you pay for!

7901 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles, 847-967-1440,

— A. A.

Dark Matter Coffee from La Casa del Pueblo ($12 for a 12-ounce bag purchased April 17)

Specialty coffee is a luxury, sure, and it is pricey. You can buy Dark Matter Coffee starting at $19 for 12 ounces at Sleep Walk Chocolateria, the Pilsen location of the coffee brand near La Casa del Pueblo. Or strangely, you can go to La Casa del Pueblo and buy it starting at $12. At first, I thought I was getting ripped off; but when I asked Dark Matter how La Casa sells it for less, the barista was as confused as me.

A manager later told me something similar to Publican’s story: Dark Matter sells the beans wholesale to markets and they don’t set the price. The difference is the roast date: Typically at Dark Matter locations, you’re looking at a product that is at most two weeks from the roast date. At La Casa, it may be more like a month old, which for someone like me, who likes specialty coffee AND a deal, is perfectly fine.

The single-origin options are wonderful, but usually the priciest: $15 at La Casa del Pueblo (down from $22 direct from Dark Matter). The house blend, A Love Supreme, is $12 at Casa (down from $19), a price of only $1 an ounce. At any rate, that’s quite good for specialty coffee.

1810 S. Blue Island Ave., 312-421-4640
— A. A.

Where do you find grocery deals? Email with your tips. Be sure to tell us the date purchased, the price of the item and the price per ounce when applicable.