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life is good here - lunch in the Loop

life is good here - lunch in the Loop
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  • life is good here - lunch in the Loop

    Post #1 - January 14th, 2015, 1:24 pm
    Post #1 - January 14th, 2015, 1:24 pm Post #1 - January 14th, 2015, 1:24 pm
    How things have changed! I haven't worked in the Loop in a decade. I'm here for a short term project, having chosen Chicago's finest and most comfortable season for my first sojourn out of New York for professional reasons in a long time.

    But the amazing weather notwithstanding - do you know how great you have it here? Banh Mi (Ba Le), Caribeño sandwiches (Cafecito), excellent Falafel and Sha-Werm (Naf Naf, Oasis). A godamn Montreal smoked meat sandwich that puts anything I've had at Katz to shame (but I don't like Katz). Coming from a city where lunch options are literally Pret a Manger (canned sandwiches) or Hale and Hearty (canned soups), this is a bloody revelation. Seriously, do you know how good you have it?

    Sure, I miss being able to walk from Downtown Manhattan to East Chinatown for a quick hand pulled noodle and dumpling lunch (way less than $10, natch), but what Chicago lacks in hyper focused Chinese cornucopia, we make up in diversity. No more cold sandwiches from Pret for me!

    So now you know how good you have it. Seriously! And where the hell else should I be eating? Any good Mexican? Indo-Pak?

    Good day,

    H
    "By the fig, the olive..." Surat Al-Teen, Mecca 95:1"
  • Post #2 - January 14th, 2015, 1:48 pm
    Post #2 - January 14th, 2015, 1:48 pm Post #2 - January 14th, 2015, 1:48 pm
    When the truck rolls around, Tamale Spaceship's offerings are good; ditto 5411 Empanadas (very good). As blasphemous as it may sound the food court in the Chase building has a Frontera Tortas outlet as well as made to order Neapolitan pizzas (much better than Sopraffina). Also, the offerings at Hannah's Bretzel are generally great but they're pricing themselves out of the market.
  • Post #3 - January 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
    Post #3 - January 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm Post #3 - January 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
    If you can make it to the French Market for Montreal smoked pastrami, surely you can make it to the West Loop branch of Cemitas Puebla? Blackwood BBQ is a close alternative when real Aquarium BBQ is too far, but it's more Smoque-like anyway. I also love Pierogi Heaven, and Toni Patisserie, and there's now a Lao Sze Chuan branch on Michigan Avenue north of the river. Also, much of Chinatown should deliver to you. No updates on the food truck culture from me, as I'm no longer around there for lunch :( I look forward to your reports!
  • Post #4 - January 14th, 2015, 3:08 pm
    Post #4 - January 14th, 2015, 3:08 pm Post #4 - January 14th, 2015, 3:08 pm
    Habibi wrote:where the hell else should I be eating? Any good Mexican?

    For Mexican, longtime favorites from Rick Bayless Frontera Grill and Topolobampo are a short walk from the Loop. For tapas, check out Mercat a la Planxa from Philadelphia-based restauranteur (and native Chicagoan) Jose Garces. Excellent small plates places in River North (walkable from the Loop) include GT Fish & Oyster, Sable, and Quartino.

    And there's our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza at Pizano's on Madison. If you're in the far northwest or southeast corners of the Loop, you may be closer to Lou Malnati's on Wells or at 8th and State, respectively.

    One difference between New York and Chicago at lunchtime is that many of New York's high-end temples of haute cuisine (e.g. Per Se, Le Bernardin, Marea) are open at lunchtime and you can eat less expensively than at dinner. Our very highest-end places aren't open for lunch, but several of our second-tier places are and offer three-course prix fixe menus for $25-26, including the previously-mentioned Topolobampo, Naha, and Blackbird, all of which are walkable from the Loop.

    There have been numerous prior discussions of Loop lunches but most haven't been updated in 3-4 years or more, and plenty of places have opened during that time. Also during that time, the West Loop (walkable from the Loop) has blossomed, so that lunch choices now include the French Market (you mentioned Fumare), Salero for cuisine from Northern Spain, La Sirena Clandestina for South American, Embeya for pan-Asian, Carnivale for Latin fusion, La Sardine for French bistro fare, etc.

    Most of these are nicer "white tablecloth" type places. They're not that expensive at lunchtime, and they know how to get lunch customers through quickly, but they're probably not going to be part of a regular rotation the way places geared towards quick, cheap eats are.
    Last edited by nsxtasy on January 15th, 2015, 5:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #5 - January 14th, 2015, 5:45 pm
    Post #5 - January 14th, 2015, 5:45 pm Post #5 - January 14th, 2015, 5:45 pm
    Shoyu Ramen at Noodles by Takashi on Seventh Floor food court at Field's.
  • Post #6 - January 14th, 2015, 6:08 pm
    Post #6 - January 14th, 2015, 6:08 pm Post #6 - January 14th, 2015, 6:08 pm
    I've been doing lunch in the Loop for the better part of 10 years and I think you nailed it on many of the better spots. I must second spinynorman's suggestion above on Tortas Frontera in the "Chasement"; actually that food court is way better than it has a right to be, and all of the food is extremely reasonably priced. When I don't have time to wait for a torta I'll get an enormous baked potato stuffed with decent pulled pork and other toppings, which comes with a free large drink for a total of 5 or 6 bucks.

    Speaking of food courts, while the lines are longer and the prices not as reasonable as those in the Chasement, there are some great options at Macy's Seven on State, which focuses on offerings from "star chefs". I haven't been there in a couple of years but the Frontera Fresco there is great (I've actually seen Rick Bayless working with the staff there). There's a Takashi Yagihashi noodle stand, and my go-to was always Govind Armstrong's famous short-rib, bel paese, and red onion grilled cheese at the soup/sandwich station. The view and ambience there are pretty nice, too. Probably better to go early or late to avoid the rush.

    One of my favorite Mediterranean/Falafel joints is Taza at 176 Franklin. While I love Naf Naf (which has gotten more of my business lately since it's a bit closer to my office), Taza has a different kind of "hole in the wall" vibe and the staff there treats you like long-lost family when you come in.

    For quick service Italian, Avanti Caffe on Jackson is another family-run joint that's worlds better than places like Sopraffina. I just ate there today -- 2 enormous, delicious arancini filled with ground beef, peas, and cheese with red sauce on the side -- $5 total (before tax). They have a few more authentic options than you'd find elsewhere, they play a lot of Italian pop music over the sound system, and I tend to hear patrons speaking in Italian accents (always a good sign).

    Finally, while it's not what you might find in Chinatown, there are some pretty tasty items available at Wow Bao, and it's a really bright and pleasant place to eat. Some solid (if unspectacular) bao offerings, along with salads, rice/noodle dishes, and a fantastic homemade ginger ale.
  • Post #7 - January 14th, 2015, 6:41 pm
    Post #7 - January 14th, 2015, 6:41 pm Post #7 - January 14th, 2015, 6:41 pm
    Habibi, good to hear you are back for a while. Long time Loop luncher here, obviously. Assuming you don't want to venture north or (too far) west of the river, and are not looking for white tablecloths, you have identified some good spots, as have others. I'll second Taza. Palestinian folks, IIRC. They offer a nice lentil rice not seen at the many, many other falafel places in the Loop. Across the street is UB Dogs, with excellent down the middle Chicago street food, and around the corner is Blackwood BBQ, better than it needs to be in the Loop. And almost next door on Franklin is a mom and pop Mexican, La Cocina, that some swear by (I don't waste taco space on Loop lunches; however, it might be worth a try coming from Manhattan). Monk's, the old dive under the El, has a few surprisingly decent options, including a good grilled chicken and avocado sandwich (and I hate grilled chicken sandwiches as a rule), plus a good, Belgian-focused beer list. The brick and mortar storefront of the Eastman Egg truck, on Wacker, is worth a look also. Also, don't sleep on Miller Pub, which I think is unmatched among the dying breed of Greek Diner-ish places in the Loop, and lunch at the bar is easy. Lake perch, a rare lamb burger, and a good beer list there, too.

    Sort of odd, but if you like coffee, the Loop is in some sort of unexpected golden age right now. I challenge anyone to show me a central business district that can match up with the Loop's multiple Intelligensias, Bow Truss, and Asado, with any number of slightly lesser spots filling in the gaps and La Colombe not too far. The new Asado in particular is a wonderful little nook that looks much more like something from the City of London than the dumpsters that used to sit in that little alley.
  • Post #8 - January 14th, 2015, 7:22 pm
    Post #8 - January 14th, 2015, 7:22 pm Post #8 - January 14th, 2015, 7:22 pm
    I'm in River North if I go to my office so no new Loop suggestions but I miss the Chase-ment Food Court. Do they still do their frequent diner card? If you preloaded it with cash, they discounted ... I think it was another 5% or something. Made for great deals on such an interesting mix of food.
  • Post #9 - January 14th, 2015, 8:28 pm
    Post #9 - January 14th, 2015, 8:28 pm Post #9 - January 14th, 2015, 8:28 pm
    Habibi,

    With the ride-share companies plentiful you can quickly get back from Chinatown at lunch without even taking public transportstion or a Divvy.
    Ava-"If you get down and out, just get in the kitchen and bake a cake."- Jean Strickland

    Horto In Urbs- Falling in love with Urban Vegetable Gardening
  • Post #10 - January 14th, 2015, 9:32 pm
    Post #10 - January 14th, 2015, 9:32 pm Post #10 - January 14th, 2015, 9:32 pm
    For Mediterranean, don't forget Oasis Café in the back of the jewelry mart at 21 N. Wabash, just south of Macy's. The Kefta plate is great, and cheap at $7.99, I think. I like it better than Naf Naf, though they scratch slightly different itches for me, so I eat at both.
  • Post #11 - January 14th, 2015, 10:21 pm
    Post #11 - January 14th, 2015, 10:21 pm Post #11 - January 14th, 2015, 10:21 pm
    Kid Charlemagne wrote:For Mediterranean, don't forget Oasis Café in the back of the jewelry mart at 21 N. Wabash, just south of Macy's. The Kefta plate is great, and cheap at $7.99, I think. I like it better than Naf Naf, though they scratch slightly different itches for me, so I eat at both.


    He mentioned it in his initial post above.
  • Post #12 - January 15th, 2015, 12:20 am
    Post #12 - January 15th, 2015, 12:20 am Post #12 - January 15th, 2015, 12:20 am
    An awesome spot is Saucy Porka which used to be a food truck. I love the miso-braised short rib rice bowl.

    I also like the breakfast bbq bowl from Blackwood which is cheesy scrambled eggs, potato hash, and your choice of brisket or pulled pork. It doubles as an awesome meal to save for lunch since it's pretty filling.
  • Post #13 - January 15th, 2015, 10:11 am
    Post #13 - January 15th, 2015, 10:11 am Post #13 - January 15th, 2015, 10:11 am
    peaceyall wrote:An awesome spot is Saucy Porka which used to be a food truck. I love the miso-braised short rib rice bowl.

    I also like the breakfast bbq bowl from Blackwood which is cheesy scrambled eggs, potato hash, and your choice of brisket or pulled pork. It doubles as an awesome meal to save for lunch since it's pretty filling.

    peaceyall -

    You made me look up Saucy Porka to see where in the Loop they are. Seems a little pricey for me, but I'll file it away when I want to venture out.

    Saucy Porka
    400 South Financial Place
    Chicago, IL 60605
    (312) 662-1351
    http://saucyporka.com/
    -Mary
  • Post #14 - January 15th, 2015, 10:33 am
    Post #14 - January 15th, 2015, 10:33 am Post #14 - January 15th, 2015, 10:33 am
    I went to Saucy Porka a couple of times when I was working nearby and thought it was fine, but it never made it into my rotation. The loop branch of Skrine Chops is right next door though, and they were a regular lunch spot for me - usually for the tenderloin sandwich.

    About a block away is the new loop branch of former GNR Zenwich. I don't believe there's been any drop off in quality at Zenwich since their start, just a lack of conversation in recent years leading to a loss of GNR status. I was able to make 2 visits to their new spot at 206 W. Van Buren before my work in the loop finished, and the sandwiches were as good as remembered. The selection is a bit smaller than at their original Elmhurst shop though.
  • Post #15 - January 15th, 2015, 11:49 am
    Post #15 - January 15th, 2015, 11:49 am Post #15 - January 15th, 2015, 11:49 am
    If you are going to the French Market (Fumare) I would also recommend Saigon Sisters (better than BaLe IMHO) and the Meatball Vault is worth a try as well.
  • Post #16 - January 15th, 2015, 1:20 pm
    Post #16 - January 15th, 2015, 1:20 pm Post #16 - January 15th, 2015, 1:20 pm
    While I agree with all of the above, you won't hear me celebrating the resurrection of lunch in the loop until somebody brings back Ups and Downs!
    "Living well is the best revenge"
  • Post #17 - January 15th, 2015, 2:23 pm
    Post #17 - January 15th, 2015, 2:23 pm Post #17 - January 15th, 2015, 2:23 pm
    I second JeffB's recommendation of UB Dogs and would add Max's on Adams to the list as well. Rock solid Chicago dog and the IB and burgers are pretty good too.

    Max's
    http://www.maxstakeoutchicago.com/
    20 E Adams
  • Post #18 - January 15th, 2015, 4:12 pm
    Post #18 - January 15th, 2015, 4:12 pm Post #18 - January 15th, 2015, 4:12 pm
    Altho some of their offerings can be a bit "iffy" (I think they bring in a lot of it from elsewhere, particularly the ribs), I liked the pulled pork the last time I had it at Porkchop, which kind of quietly opened up around 500 South Dearborn:
    http://chicagoporkchop.com/

    Also if you need a quiet cafe to hang out in, there's a spacious Dollop (they serve Metropolis and sometimes Hoosier Mama pies) that recently opened near the library and that's not nearly as frantic as the assorted Intelligentsia:
    http://www.dollopcoffee.com/
    "The fork with two prongs is in use in northern Europe. In England, they’re armed with a steel trident, a fork with three prongs. In France we have a fork with four prongs; it’s the height of civilization." Eugene Briffault (1846)
  • Post #19 - January 15th, 2015, 4:48 pm
    Post #19 - January 15th, 2015, 4:48 pm Post #19 - January 15th, 2015, 4:48 pm
    Good stuff all. Maybe we really did need an updated downtown lunch post. Any recommendations on good places to get soused post work (or on a long lunch)? I prefer dark and dank, or upscale and sleek. On top of his already (and always) great food recs here, JeffB did provide some info on a few places that double as lunch/dinner spots and bars. That's a good start. Any others?
    "By the fig, the olive..." Surat Al-Teen, Mecca 95:1"
  • Post #20 - January 15th, 2015, 4:51 pm
    Post #20 - January 15th, 2015, 4:51 pm Post #20 - January 15th, 2015, 4:51 pm
    Just over the bridge but Berkshire Room in the Acme Hotel (15 E. Ohio) is my current favorite for near loop sousing. Nice charcuterie plate as well. Dark AND upscale/sleek.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #21 - January 15th, 2015, 5:10 pm
    Post #21 - January 15th, 2015, 5:10 pm Post #21 - January 15th, 2015, 5:10 pm
    stoutisgoodfood wrote:If you are going to the French Market (Fumare) I would also recommend Saigon Sisters (better than BaLe IMHO) and the Meatball Vault is worth a try as well.

    In the FM, I also like Lillie's Q.

    For sandwiches and cheeses, Pastoral is always good. However, depending on where you are in the Loop, their location on Lake is probably closer than their location in the FM.
  • Post #22 - January 15th, 2015, 5:29 pm
    Post #22 - January 15th, 2015, 5:29 pm Post #22 - January 15th, 2015, 5:29 pm
    Habibi wrote:Good stuff all. Maybe we really did need an updated downtown lunch post. Any recommendations on good places to get soused post work (or on a long lunch)? I prefer dark and dank, or upscale and sleek. On top of his already (and always) great food recs here, JeffB did provide some info on a few places that double as lunch/dinner spots and bars. That's a good start. Any others?

    I'd give a shout-out for Poag Mahone's for this. Surprisingly good beer list plus one of the best bar food bites I've had in a long time in the Reuben's Balls, round nuggets of corned beef, kraut and swiss that have been deep-fried. Poag's isn't especially dark/dank or upscale/sleek though. On the darker and danker end of the spectrum is Stocks & Blondes. Also a good beer list. I have no qualified assessment of the food because we've usually hit S&B after another stop or two.

    Poag Mahone's
    333 S Wells
    http://www.poagmahone.com/

    Stocks & Blondes
    40 N Wells
    http://www.stocksandblondesbar.com/
    -Mary
  • Post #23 - January 15th, 2015, 7:00 pm
    Post #23 - January 15th, 2015, 7:00 pm Post #23 - January 15th, 2015, 7:00 pm
    If I wanted a good beer/cocktail paired with some good food in a fairly upscale/sleek (but still welcoming) environment in the Loop proper, I'd probably head to State & Lake at the Wit hotel. For a comfy place for a great craft beer I second the recommendation of Poag Mahone's.
  • Post #24 - January 15th, 2015, 7:06 pm
    Post #24 - January 15th, 2015, 7:06 pm Post #24 - January 15th, 2015, 7:06 pm
    Loop choices keep getting better.

    Cafecito
    UB Dogs
    soon to open: Chicago Bagel Authority
    Ba Le
    Benjyehuda
    Naf Naf
    Eastman Egg Co
  • Post #25 - January 16th, 2015, 9:03 am
    Post #25 - January 16th, 2015, 9:03 am Post #25 - January 16th, 2015, 9:03 am
    Zenwich is now open at Wells and Van Buren. I've been a couple of times. Unfortunately very limited high-top seating and there's nothing to shield diners from a cold blast when the door opens, so until it warms up some you might take it back to the office.

    Drinkwise, the bar at Cavanaugh's in the Monadnock Building (Dearborn/Jackson) tends to fill up at happy hour and usually carries a couple of Revolution offerings on tap. If you want dark and dank, try Brando's Speakeasy on Dearborn near Van Buren at early happy hour. Almost has a neighborhood tavern vibe, but they do start karaoke in the evenings.
  • Post #26 - January 16th, 2015, 11:44 am
    Post #26 - January 16th, 2015, 11:44 am Post #26 - January 16th, 2015, 11:44 am
    Pearl tavern on Wacker in the old Coogans is surprisingly good for the Loop. Oyster program is legit and they are 2 for one at happy hour. Stick to raw seafood preps. Decent beers and cocktails. Nice room.
  • Post #27 - January 16th, 2015, 2:17 pm
    Post #27 - January 16th, 2015, 2:17 pm Post #27 - January 16th, 2015, 2:17 pm
    Had a nice lunch at Ajida, a new-ish Japanese place at Wells and Lake. I was quite happy with my lunch special Unagi Don, which is broiled fresh water eel over rice. Other patrons' ramen and tempura udon lunches looked good as well. Nice to have a decent somewhat authentic Japanese lunch place nearby.
    "By the fig, the olive..." Surat Al-Teen, Mecca 95:1"
  • Post #28 - January 16th, 2015, 2:45 pm
    Post #28 - January 16th, 2015, 2:45 pm Post #28 - January 16th, 2015, 2:45 pm
    Good to hear. It was terrible when it opened. Japanese through a mainland Chinese lens, which could be good but it wasn't. Need to give it another shot. Randolph Tavern down the block is also an option. Good beer and decent house-smoked BBQ but spendy - like a $15 Cuban, which is silly, especially with Cafecito a few doors away.
  • Post #29 - January 16th, 2015, 3:01 pm
    Post #29 - January 16th, 2015, 3:01 pm Post #29 - January 16th, 2015, 3:01 pm
    Initial reports had scared me away from Ajida, I should give it a shot.
  • Post #30 - January 16th, 2015, 3:07 pm
    Post #30 - January 16th, 2015, 3:07 pm Post #30 - January 16th, 2015, 3:07 pm
    Yeah, I was worried that no Japanese people were involved in the restaurant, but was surprised by the well done Unagi. TBH, the rice was rather poorly done, more chinese takeout than proper, oval, moist Donburi rice. I'm a bit worried by the other offerings but they looked surprisingly ok. Who knows.
    "By the fig, the olive..." Surat Al-Teen, Mecca 95:1"

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