Lunch is perhaps the best motivator for getting through a long morning so don't settle for leftovers or a sad PB&J when there are much better options available. From customizable salads and poke bowls to grilled cheeses and lobster rolls, these 20 great spots in the downtown area will make the a.m. slog a little more bearable. New additions to the list include U.B. Dogs, 5411 Empanadas, and Doc B’s Restaurant + Bar. Be forewarned: An afternoon siesta may be necessary after lunch.Read More
20 Excellent Lunch Options in Downtown Chicago
Improve the workday with gyros, barbecue, Asian fusion, and more
1. Seoul Taco
Tacos are popular at any hour but even more so during lunchtime. This fast-casual spot, originally hailing from St. Louis, does things a bit differently by blending Mexican and Korean flavors. The results are tacos, burritos, nachos, and waffle fries sporting sweet-and-savory bulgogi beef, spicy pork, soy-marinated chicken, and tofu.
Salads are a reliable, albeit maligned, lunch choice. This D.C.-based chain livens things up with a large bounty of locally-sourced ingredients. Skip the typical Caesar salad and build a healthy and tasty bowl packed with items like roasted sweet potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, hot chickpeas, roasted steelhead, herbed falafel, and much more.
3. Ramen Misoya
A bowl of ramen in the middle of the day can help fend off the forthcoming Chicago weather. This Japanese shop’s signature Hokkaido miso is a full-bodied pork broth with noodles, bean sprouts, ground pork, marinated egg, char siu, and more.
4. Doc B's Restaurant + Bar
A healthy lunch doesn’t have to be limited to just salads. Head to Doc B’s for fresh and delicious dishes made with healthy ingredients. Start with baked polenta fries or grilled artichokes before moving onto choices like a seared ahi tuna sandwich, pan roasted chicken, and customizable stir fry wok bowls.
5. Rotisserie Ema
Chef CJ Jacobson showcases a California-inspired take on Mediterranean cuisine at his River North eatery. During lunchtime, Ēma switches to a self-serve experience to accommodate those short on time. The hot and cold bars — priced by the pound — are brimming with greens, grains, meats, and hummus spreads. Customers can eat their meals in the dining room or take them to go.
It’s impossible to make a wrong decision at Rick Bayless’s sandwich shop. The signature tortas are packed with meats like Baja chicken, pork carnitas, and braised short rib. They’re paired with meal-in-a-bowl soups, crispy churros, and some of the finest hot chocolate in the city.
7. 3 Greens Market
Hogsalt Hospitality’s marketplace features a collection of the company’s greatest hits. Munch on a Doughnut Vault old fashioned, pastrami from Dillman’s, or Small Cheval’s vaunted cheeseburger. In addition, there are hot and cold bars stocked with dozens of items.
8. Naf Naf Grill
The local Middle Eastern chain makes things simple. Choose a pita or bowl; add meats, salads, and garnishes; and finish it off with sauces. What separates it from the competition is the quality — the fluffy bread is baked on site, juicy chicken shawarma comes straight off the spit, and the falafel bear a perfectly crisp exterior.
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9. Wells Street Market
Chicago’s food hall scene has reached its apex, which is good news for the city’s hungry workers. Located in the Loop, Wells Street Market is home to a tantalizing roster of vendors. Diners can chow on sandwiches from Tempesta Market; nigiri, sashimi, and maki rolls from Takashi Yagihashi’s Tabo Sushi; and mouthwatering gyros courtesy of Piggie Smalls, a restaurant from Jimmy Bannos Jr. and the team behind the Purple Pig.
10. Blackwood BBQ
Good barbecue in the downtown area is scarce but Blackwood’s multiple locations help make up for it. The meats are slowly smoked for hours and include brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, and spicy pork sausages. Slather them in regional-style sauces and order some homemade sides for a real Southern feast.
11. U.B. Dogs
Beloved hot dog stand U.B. Dogs briefly shuttered at the end of 2018 but has returned to the delight of many. Everything on the straightforward menu is freshly made — from the stellar Chicago-style dogs to the burgers and fries — and that commitment to quality is the reason why the lines during lunchtime are frequently out the door. The house specialty “Joey dog” is a fan favorite; it’s topped with fries, garlic-wasabi aioli, and Tabasco sauce.
12. 5411 Empanadas
Small, portable, and easy to eat, empanadas make for a great midday meal. This local chain offer some of the best in town, filled with a variety of ingredients. The soft, flaky pastries come in options like barbecue chicken, beef braised in Malbec, and bacon with dates and goat cheese. Don’t forget the chimichurri or red hot sauce, either, for a bit of spice.
13. Brown Bag Seafood Co.
Fresh seafood at an affordable price point doesn’t have to be a rare catch. Brown Bag Seafood Co. reels in diners with sustainable fish, shrimp, and lobster, available in a number of styles. The restaurant delivers, as well, for those who can’t escape the office.
14. Luke's Lobster
Chicagoans don’t have to travel to the coasts to get luscious lobster rolls. This Northeast chain brings the Atlantic to town with lobster, crab, and shrimp sandwiches alongside chowders and bisques.
15. Gayle V's Best Ever Grilled Cheese
Proclaiming her product to be the “best ever grilled cheese” is a bold move but Gayle Voss backs it up. The sandwich maker was a longtime fixture at local farmers markets before turning her business into a full-scale operation inside Block 37 a few years ago. The menu always features the “Classic” (Prairie Pure butterkase, Bennison’s Bakery sourdough, Nordic Creamery butter), as well as seasonal creations like “Abreo” (cheddar, Honeycrisp apple, bacon-onion jam) and “Sebastian,” a lobster grilled cheese that’s only sold on Fridays.
With one in seemingly every neighborhood of the city, poke restaurants are in large supply these days. But this California chain might just be the best of the bunch thanks to its depth of unique ingredients, such as scallops, albacore tuna, seaweed, wasabi tobiko, lotus chips, and more. The possible combinations are immeasurable so patrons can prevent lunch from getting stale by enjoying a different poke bowl, salad, or burrito each visit.
17. Revival Food Hall
Looking for lots of options? The Loop’s bustling dining hall has nearly all the bases covered. Several of the city’s most popular bites are found here, such as the Budlong’s Nashville hot chicken, Smoque’s barbecue, tacos from Antique Taco, and more.
18. The Roost Carolina Kitchen
Fried chicken is always a good idea, especially when it comes from one of Chicago’s most essential purveyors. Get it in traditional dark and white pieces, as jumbo tenders, or between a biscuit or brioche bun with additional toppings. The chicken comes in four levels of heat, and the Nashville hot — a fiery cayenne-based glaze — is among the spiciest versions around. Throw in some sides, such as creamy mac and cheese and peach cobbler, to complete the Southern-style spread.
19. Saucy Porka
The creative mash-ups at this Asian-Latin spot won’t be replicated anywhere else. Chef Rafael Lopez crafts fusion bites like chorizo egg rolls, “bacos” (bao tacos), Cuban banh mi, and Asian-style paella.
Cafecito’s Cuban sandwiches have been winning over the South Loop for many years now. Its Cubanos are highly regarded but other selections, such as the ropa vieja (skirt steak, plantains, black beans, tomato creole sauce) and chivito (steak, ham, bacon, fried egg, mozzarella), are equally noteworthy. And if an afternoon spark is needed, try the café con leche, a Cuban espresso sweetened with sugar and mixed with steamed milk.