As a commuter with a fancy job on State Street, just a few blocks from Millennium Park, I’m surrounded by fantastic lunch options. A vast collection of discount shopping opportunities, and more happy-hour bars than I can count. It’s a magical city. When it comes to eating out, I’m a huge proponent, planning my lunch options out each week with delight. Lunch in the Loop is phenomenal, but if you’re a visitor to my fair city, you may not even realize all the hidden treasures you’ll find in Chicago.
When you visit Chicago, there are hundreds of fine dining establishments waiting to serve you decadent fare and extraordinary drinks. But what about an afternoon lunch as you wander the streets of downtown Chicago, lovingly referred to as “da Loop”? There’s no need to get dressed up for a casual lunch of some of your favorite lunch options. I’ve chosen my favorite versions of five classic lunch options for your next daytime snack in the Windy City. Some thrive on tradition while others are created with a twist, but they’re all delicious choices. With these delicious treats, you can enjoy a relaxing meal before you head out for the next adventure in Chicago.
Chicken Caesar Salad – Seven on State
On the Seventh Floor of the State Street Macy’s, just north of the world-renowned restaurant, The Walnut Room, an unassuming cafeteria serves a variety of quick-serve items to shoppers and Loop locals. While you can choose from Asian, Mexican, burgers and more, my personal favorite is the grilled salad station. With freshly tossed greens made to order, you can choose from a variety of delicious entree salads. If you’re jonesin’ for a crazy-good salad, this is the place to find it.
While the Southwest Caesar Salad is not for purists, the unique twist to this amazing salad enhances the flavors of a traditional Caesar. It starts with fresh romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, and crisp croutons tossed with a creamy garlic dressing. The salad is then topped with a sliced grilled chicken breast, grilled poblano peppers, and ripe tomatoes. It’s served with a pretzel roll.
Pro-tip: Ask for the Caesar on a grilled flat bread. For a dollar more, you won’t be disappointed.
BLT – Fat Shallot
If you catch the Fat Shallot at a food truck spot near you, stop whatever you’re doing and get in line for the most amazing BLT you’ve ever had. Serving up killer sandwiches, this truckin’ company has been around the block a time or two. When you’re craving a BLT, they serve it up hot and fresh with what looks like a pound of bacon, fresh Roma tomatoes, arugula, avocado (yes!), and truffle aioli all on lightly browned Texas toast. Now I’m a huge truffle fiend, so this delicious menu item really speaks to me in more ways than just bacon.
Pro-tip: Order a side of fries with Sriracha aioli or truffle aioli. They’re totally worth it.
Hot Dog – Max’s Take Out
You can’t visit the Windy City without a Vienna Beef Chicago-style hot dog. Max’s hits it out of the park with simplicity. This counter-service dive on Jackson Street between Wabash and State Street holds Chicago tradition in its pocket. A Vienna Beef dog (100% beef, for hot dog skeptics – I’ve been to the factory!) on a steamed bun with mustard, green relish, diced onions, tomatoes, a pickle spear, sport peppers and celery salt has been a Chicago favorite for years. If you’re not feelin’ the hot dog, Max’s also has a pretty tasty beef sandwich or another Chicago darling, the combo (beef and Italian sausage on one delicious sandwich). Cheese and hot peppers make both of these sandwiches outstanding.
Pro-tip: Get a side of cheese sauce with your fries. Everything is better with cheese. And the cheese cups are huge.
Fish and Chips – Elephant & Castle
If you’re looking for a sit-down restaurant where you can nosh on a crisp piece of fish with an order of fries, consider the English-style pub, Elephant & Castle. As I’m not a huge fan of fries unless I have something amazing to dip them in, I usually end up asking for the chips instead of fries. At Elephant & Castle, they’re crisp, delicious and dusted with a parmesan truffle topping. And as I mentioned earlier, I have a thing for truffles. The biggest reason to head to this particular pub for fish and chips, though? The homemade tartar sauce. I don’t know what ingredients they use, but it is the most flavorful, complementary tartar sauce I’ve ever had.
Pro-tip: Hit up the Elephant & Castle on Lake and Wabash, as it’s got the best service and is often less crowded than the Club Quarters location on Adams Street.
Pizza – Pizano’s
Chicago is known for its pizza so it wouldn’t be surprising if you wanted to hit up a proper pizza joint during your time in the Loop. Just a block away from Millennium Park, you’ll find Pizano’s for counter service or sit down pizza. I’ve enjoyed both, but on a time crunch, I visit their personal pizza counter for a small deep-dish or thin-crust sausage pizza with more frequency. The deep-dish is incredible, however, I, like Oprah Winfrey, consider the thin crust from Pizano’s to be my favorite. The butter crust is a slice of heaven. If you want more options than cheese, sausage, or pepperoni, sit down and enjoy a whole pie with your favorite toppings.
Pro-tip: Bring cash. If your bill is under $20, the restaurant does not accept credit or debit cards. There is an ATM, but with a $3 surcharge, you’re better off being prepared.
What are some of your favorite lunchtime meals? Where are your go-to lunch spots in Chicago?