It's 11 a.m. and the stomach's growling. The only thought racing through the mind is “what’s for lunch?” Sure, one could finish last night’s leftovers or head to a nearby fast food chain, but there’s really no need to settle. The following spots excel at lunch service and offer everything from hand-pulled noodles to flavorful jerk chicken. The latest additions to the list include barbecue sensation Soul & Smoke, Hawaiian specialist Aloha Wagon, and gourmet sausage joint the Hot Dog Box.Read More
20 Standout Lunch Destinations in Chicago
Don’t settle for sad leftovers
Soul & Smoke
Pitmaster D’Andre Carter and his wife Heather Bublick have devoted themselves to the art of barbecue, and the results are quite impressive. Using a Cookshack smoker, the couple turns out juicy Texas-style brisket and tender baby back ribs that rank among the best of the best. Carter complements the smoked meats with a special dry rub and a Kansas City barbecue sauce that has nice fruity acidity to it. The sides are no afterthoughts either and include classic comforts like mac and cheese and cornbread muffins. Soul & Smoke also has a ghost kitchen location in Avondale, a stall in Time Out Market Chicago, and a food truck. Online ordering is available here.
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Grilled meat skewers shine at Albany Park Persian restaurant Kabobi. Come for juicy pieces of chicken, ground lamb, seasoned filet, shrimp, and salmon along with Mediterranean staples like tabbouleh and baba ghanoush. All entrees are served with hummus, salad, and choice of basmati or dill rice. The lunch menu offers smaller portions than its dinner counterpart, leaving diners satiated but not too full. Online ordering is available here.
The Hot Dog Box
Father-daughter duo Bobby and Brooklyn Morelli reignited Chicago’s love for gourmet sausages last year when they opened a hot dog stand housed inside a 400-square-foot shipping container in the Boxville complex in Bronzeville. The restaurant recently expanded to a second 30-seat second location in Portage Park, where North Siders will find hot dogs covered with unique toppings. The menu features creations such as Bronzeville Bourbon (filet mignon steak dog, bourbon barbecue sauce, cabbage-carrot medley, smoked bacon), Pickle Minion (filet mignon steak dog, spicy truffle peanut butter sauce, sweet pickles, crispy onions), and Cajun salmon (salmon dog, buttermilk remoulade sauce, lettuce, bell pepper medley), as well as limited-run offerings. Online orders can be placed here. The original Bronzeville outpost is currently closed until spring.
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Chiya Chai Cafe
One of the preeminent places in Chicago to sip on a chai beverage, Chiya Chai also offers an excellent food menu. Enjoy South Asian specialties such as samosas, momo dumplings, curry bowls, savory pies, and more. A second location is in the Loop. Online ordering is available here.
Mr D's Shish-Kabobs
Arguably the city’s finest shish kabobs are found on the Northwest Side at this mom-and-pop joint. Owners Mike and Ann Antonopoulos set up shop in Montclare back in the ’60s and have gained a cult following over the decades for their sandwiches. The shish kabobs are marinated in a special sauce, charred on the grill, and served on a French roll with onions, tomatoes, and jus. A similarly superb steak sandwich features juicy rib eye and gravy. Every sandwich also comes with impeccably crisp fries.
Chefs Mitchell Abou Jamra and Rafa Esparza deliver Mexican-Lebanese fusion flavors through a Midwestern lens out of this small storefront in Lincoln Park. Exploring Lebanon’s influence on Mexican culinary traditions, the food lineup offers eclectic items like pita nachos, shawarma fries, halloumi pita wraps, gyro and lamb belly tacos, and more. Online ordering is available here.
A warm and comforting bowl of pho can make for the perfect lunch. At restaurant-shop hybrid Phodega, owners Nathan Hoops and Anthony Ngo simmer up three exceptional versions: A beefy pho bo teeming with brisket, meatballs, and rib eye; a lighter pho ga consisting of chicken broth and poached chicken thighs; and a vegan pho full of veggies. They’re joined by other remarkable bites like Hainanese chicken rice and a Viet dip sandwich. Customers can also purchase a handful of Asian snacks to go. Online ordering is available here.
The stylish and lively sushi restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises provides plenty of hip hop beats and an express lunch menu that accommodates those in a rush. For $17, diners get miso soup, salad, choice of san-specialty (tako taco, tuna trio, roasted cauliflower, or spicy salmon maki), and choice of rice bowl. There’s also a $23 sushi and sashimi set featuring 12 pieces of sashimi, nigiri, and maki crafted by chef Kaze Chan. A grab-and-go Sushi-san outpost is located at Catalog in Willis Tower.
Craving an epic sandwich? Then head to this West Town deli run by father-and-son Agostino and Antonio Fiasche. The creative offerings constantly rotate but one menu mainstay is the Dante, an Italian sub packed with six layers of house-cured meats and ’nduja. Online orders can be placed here.
Rick Bayless’s Mexican sandwich shop is a popular lunchtime destination for downtown workers. The menu highlights tortas, cooked in a wood-burning oven, that are filled with proteins like braised short rib, carnitas, and chorizo. End the meal on a sweet note by ordering churros or a cup of housemade hot chocolate. Online ordering is available here.
Regarded as one of Chicago’s top dumpling makers, Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings expanded a few years back with the opening of a fast-casual spinoff in the Loop. The steamed and pan-fried dumplings are based on a secret family recipe and include eight varieties such as lamb and coriander, truffle and beef, and pork and cabbage. Folks can save valuable time by ordering ahead through the restaurant’s app.
Dr. Murphy's Food Hall
Located inside Cook County Hospital, this new food court debuted in the middle of the pandemic to help feed hungry hospital workers and the general public. During lunchtime, feast on breakfast sandwiches, bowls, and baked goods from Brekkie & Bake Shop; Nepalese dumplings made by Kathmandu Momo Station; tacos courtesy of Taqueria Jarabe; and thin crust slices via local pizzeria Dimo’s. There’s even a full-service bar for those who’d like to kick back and relax with a stiff drink or glass of wine. Online ordering is available here.
Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen
The city’s most prominent Jewish deli is coming up on its 80th birthday but little about the experience has changed. Stroll in during lunch hours for massive corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, potato pancakes, knishes, matzo ball soup, and more. Cafeteria-style service keeps things moving along quickly — a big plus for diners short on time. Online orders can be placed here.
Pork reigns supreme at this essential taqueria. Due to its small dining room, there are often lines out the door so weekdays are the best bet for a quick lunch. The short menu stars crispy, tender carnitas that have been slow-cooked in fat for hours. Order it by the pound or get the lunch special and enjoy a half-pound of meat, tortillas, chicharrones, refried beans, a taco dorado, and a drink for $10.50. A second location is in Gage Park. Online ordering is available here.
Hawaiian-inspired specialties have made their way to Pilsen thanks to food-truck-turned-restaurant Aloha Wagon. Diners can order hearty, traditional plate lunches served with choice of protein plus white rice, potato mac salad, and mixed greens salad. Protein options include Kalua pork, chicken katsu, grilled tofu, chicken adobo, grilled fish, beef patties topped with eggs and gravy, and more. The menu also boasts burgers, tacos, and Spam musubi, a classic island snack.
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Slurp Slurp Noodles
Chicagoans will find noodles on almost any menu in Chinatown but very few places make them like this specialist. The kitchen hand pulls and shaves wheat-based dough to produce fresh noodles, which are then stir-fried or served in broth. They’re finished off with proteins such as beef spare ribs, brisket, pork belly, lamb, chicken, fish fillets, roast duck, and more. Online orders can be placed here.
Loyal locals have been going to Ricobene’s for old school Italian-American fare since 1946. The restaurant’s signature item is the breaded steak sandwich, a sandwich that some proclaim is the best in the world. It’s a messy and satisfying combination of breaded steak, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and giardiniera on a French roll. Get this Chicago original plus Italian beef, wings, pizza, and other eats by ordering here.
Taqueria El Milagro
Best known for its fresh tortillas and tortilla chips, El Milagro also operates restaurants alongside its stores. Guests line up in the cafeteria-style dining room for traditional Mexican fare like tamales, stews, and tacos. The grilled steak tacos are a favorite in particular, loaded with big chunks of beef, rice, refried beans, and cabbage. They’re larger than the average tacos and just two should be enough to fill most stomachs. Online orders can be placed here.
The underrepresented flavors of a small Senegalese island take center stage at Gorée Cuisine. Though many diners may be unfamiliar with what’s on the menu, it’s easy to appreciate the comforting plates coming out of the kitchen. Owner Adama Ba pays homage to his family’s restaurant back home in Senegal through dishes like tiebu dejun — fried fish stuffed with parsley and herbs in a tomato sauce over rice — and yassa, meat or seafood that’s marinated overnight and cooked in onions and mustard.
St Bess Jerk
Jerk chicken shops are prevalent on the South Side but this relative newcomer over in suburban Burbank is making a strong case for being the best. The X factor is an addictive jerk sauce, which takes the chicken to another level. It’s made from fiery peppers, onions, celery, garlic, ginger, and a blend of spices and also serves as an overnight marinade for the dish. When the birds are ready to go, they’re roasted in a barrel smoker over coals in order to impart a smoky flavor. During the day, diners can order white or dark meat plus two sides for $10. A second outpost of St Bess Jerk is located in Norwood Park. Online ordering is available here.
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