In the spirit of keeping you and your coworkers/funemployed friends from eating the same mediocre lunch every weekday of your lives, we’ve scoured the city to find the best places in 25 Chicago neighborhoods. We picked out restaurants that met our “know it when you see it” criteria for true lunch spots -- that it just feels like lunch, whether it’s sandwiches, tacos, or a special with soup and an egg roll for $6.95.
Blackwood BBQ (address and info) What you’re getting: Brisket or pulled pork sandwich Eating lunch in the Loop is so much better than it used to be, we could have picked anything from Cuban sandwiches to Israeli wraps. But if one thing proves how it’s changed, it’s that you can actually get real-deal, smoked-with-wood barbecue near your office.
Sumi Robata Bar (address and info) What you’re getting: Bento box A Japanese bento box gives you fresh food, usually something like grilled salmon or beef plus light, healthy veggies and noodles, in a neat little box that’s a cross between your Snoopy lunchbox from third grade and something out of an art museum. The prettiest one in town is at this serene little jewel box of a restaurant.
Near North Side
SideDoor (address and info) What you’re getting: Prime rib sandwich, spicy fried chicken With Lawry’s Prime Rib being about as old-folks as dining downtown gets, it’s a surprise to find a hip gastropub tucked into its side, mixing the prime rib with modern things like chicken ‘n’ waffles and skirt steak poutine.
Manny’s (address and info) What you’re getting: Corned beef sandwich, matzoh ball soup, short ribs This cafeteria-style Jewish deli is famous for pastrami and corned beef sandwiches and old-school comfort foods like beef brisket, meatloaf, and short ribs, and also for the crowd, from aldermen, to Streets & San guys, to tourists and retirees, that gathers here in a common love for the deli.
La Fournette (address and info) What you’re getting: Ham and cheese sandwich, crêpe with veggies, Niçoise salad This bakery makes the best French bread in the city, and here you can have it with a croque-monsieur, quiche lorraine, or other French classics -- and don’t forget a macaron for dessert.
Del Seoul (address and info) What you’re getting: Kalbi short rib tacos, shrimp tacos, chicken wings, kimchi fries Asian tacos seemed like a fusion fad, but this place has had several years of convincing us they’re a natural fit -- and that there’s something worth eating in Lincoln Park.
mfk. (address and info) What you’re getting: Tapas, mostly seafood, a glass of wine, mezcal Want to feel like one of those Europeans who doesn’t work and can spend all day hanging out in a chic little cafe? There's nowhere better for that in Chicago than this sunny tapas restaurant with great seafood small plates.
Tamale Spaceship (address and info) What you’re getting: Picturesque (roasted pork) or Complicate (steak and black mole) tamales, barbacoa and cochinita pibil tacos Tacos and an outdoor patio on Damen -- could only be one place, right? Sorry, there’s another star orbiting this street, the popular food truck now dishing up sit-down tacos and tamales with a side of Mexican wrestler kitsch.
En Hakkore (address and info) What to get: Bibimbap, paratha tacos Sunny Korean restaurant makes the prettiest, healthiest looking bowl of bibimbap (grilled beef with lots of crunchy vegetables) in town, as well as (three-way fusion!) Korean meats wrapped in Indian paratha bread tortillas.
Dusek’s (address and info) What you’re getting: Juicy Lucy, oyster po-boy Dusek’s, a hip bar in a 100-year-old Czech hall, is known as the place that’s turning Pilsen into a nighttime destination, but it also has a cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy burger and other dinner items at a much mellower lunchtime.
Cellar Door Provisions (address and info) What you’re getting: Smoked walleye tartine, tomato salad An open-faced sandwich here may strike you as expensive for quantity, but the quality of the farmers' market ingredients is impeccable, and the house-baked bread is a dark, crusty, mysterious wonder.
Ba Le Bakery (address and info) What you’re getting: Special bánh mì, grilled pork noodle salad Chicago’s original bánh mì spot on the edge of Argyle Street got a facelift a couple of years ago and turned into a snazzy techno-cafeteria with the same great sandwiches, plus noodle salads, drinks, sweets, and more.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken (address and info) What you’re getting: Fried chicken, shrimp and grits Delectable boneless (except the drumsticks) fried chicken with a host of sides displaying a modern take on country comfort food, including smashed potatoes with schmaltz gravy, creamed corn with Thai curry, and pimento mac & cheese.
Sauce and Bread Kitchen (address and info) What you’re getting: Maple breakfast sandwich, smoked turkey breast hoagie One side of this business makes Crumb bread, another makes Co-op Hot Sauce, and all together it makes this very natural cafe which doesn’t forget the flavor part of natural food.
Grandma J’s Local Kitchen (address and info) What you’re getting: Chicken and waffle fritters, BLT, The Works A homey, endearing brunch-lunch spot with farmers' market names on the menu of comfort foods, and board games to pass the time after you order.
La Choza Mexican Grill (address and info) What you’re getting: Tampiquena steak, steak tacos, gorditas A family restaurant that’s a little nicer in terms of decor and food quality than most on this taco-heavy strip; order whatever you like because the real stars come free with everything -- the terrific house-made salsas.
Cafe Orchid (address and info) What you’re getting: Chicken shawarma, Iskender kebab, imam bayildi A homey family-run Turkish cafe with flavorful versions of Turkish classics like Iskender kebab and beef & lamb shawarma swimming in tangy tomato and yogurt sauce.
Johnny Brown Bag (address and info) What you’re getting: Pizza, Italian sub panini I’m gonna go get the lunch, get the lunch... no, that was Johnny Two Times. Johnny Brown Bag is a friendly Italian sub and pizza shop with a long list of tasty sandwiches and a pretty good thin-crust pizza.
Salam Restaurant (address and info) What you’re getting: Chicken shawarma, falafel, kifta kabob The brightest and generally most consistent of the Middle Eastern spots along Kedzie, with excellent meats off the grill or spit and good veggie side dishes like ful and Jerusalem salad.
Rainbow Cuisine (address and info) What you’re getting: Nam khao tod, boat noodles, sticky rice with mango A bright, informal Thai restaurant with authentic dishes that are rich in perfumed spices and citrus tang.
Pleasant House Bakery (address and info) What you’re getting: Steak and ale pie, chicken balti pie, mushroom and kale pie This very pleasant bakery makes wonderful, hearty English meat (or vegetarian) pies, made with flaky, buttery crusts and vegetables from its own gardens.
Conte Di Savoia (address and info) What you’re getting: Italian sub, caprese sub, Italian panini One of the last of the old Italian shops along this onetime Little Italy strip, this tidy neighborhood grocer boasts great subs on impeccably fresh bread.
Tête Charcuterie (address and info) What you’re getting: Jambon beurre, “Chop Chop” salad The West Loop is suddenly full of great places to eat lunch, but here’s one that is great but does not yet have a line running out the door at 12:15: a French restaurant focused on meat, pates, and ham & butter sandwiches on crusty bread.
Three Chefs Restaurant (address and info) What you’re getting: Gumbo There aren’t many places to eat in this area, which makes stopping here for well-made soul food and a great bowl of gumbo an easy choice.
Yusho (address and info) What you’re getting: Mentaiko carbonara, ramen with chicken matzo ball, buns Hipster Japanese food in a funky bar setting, with interesting bao (aka “buns” on the menu) and noodle dishes like ramen and a Japanese take on spaghetti carbonara.
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