The Chicago Loop has a certain reputation. ‘Buttoned up,’ ‘fast-paced’ – even ‘post-5 PM ghost town’ – are all ways you might describe it. And things do move quickly; restaurants efficiently take your order in line or better yet, let you order ahead so you can power walk your way to a lunch that is a step above a sad desk salad and still make it back for your conference call or meeting.
What if lunch could be a little more interesting? An excuse to be transported somewhere away from the concrete jungle? We’ve rounded up a list of some of our favorite hidden lunch spots around the Loop to help you add a little variety to your midday meal.
*Disclaimer: hours may vary from what is posted here, so be sure to call ahead if you have any doubts.
Artopolis Bakery – 306 S. Halsted Street
Greektown may be more of a “Greek street” nowadays, but there are still a few gems that are a quick walk from the Loop. The Artopolis Bakery offers all kinds of soups, sandwiches and salads as well as some breakfast items, specialty coffee and amazing pastries. Don’t miss the baklava if you can help it! Oh – they also offer gourmet gift items, too, if you need something unique in a pinch. The Artopolis Bakery opens every day at 8:30 AM; closing times vary by day but are usually around 9 – 11 PM.
Berghoff Café – 17 W. Adams Street
Take a quick trip to Bavaria on your lunch break and head over to the Berghoff Café any time Monday – Friday between 11 AM and 2 PM, or 11:30 AM – 9 PM on Saturday (it’s closed Sunday). The café is downstairs, underneath the original Berghoff restaurant. Not only does the menu offer just as many German options (bratwurst, schnitzel) as upstairs, but you can also find soups, salads, sandwiches and other lunch-focused items if you’re not quite in the mood for Bavarian food.
Bienmesabe offers a taste of Venezuela just a hop, skip and jump away from the main area of the Loop. Categorizing itself as an arepa bar (an arepa is a fluffy tortilla-like vehicle for delicious toppings), you can pick your proteins, sauces and fillings and make as many different combinations as your heart desires. Bienmesabe is open every day at 11 AM (closed on Sundays).
Bombacigno’s – 558 W. Van Buren Street
This cash-only Italian joint is as authentic as they come. When you walk through the door you might think you’ve traveled back in time, with the regulars wearing neckties and discussing Da Bears over a juicy chicken parmesan sandwich. Grab a seat on one of the vinyl swivel barstools at the counter (which I’m pretty sure at one point or another was a legitimate bar).
Blink and you might miss your window of opportunity because this spot is only open from 11 AM – 2 PM Monday – Friday, but it is absolutely worth planning ahead for. One of the favorites? The caprese salad with chicken. They even put delectable pesto angel hair pasta on top!
Boxcar Betty’s – 500 W. Madison Street
Boxcar Betty’s is a chicken sandwich spot that landed in Chicago at Ogilvy after starting in Charleston, SC and will definitely transport you to the south. BBs proudly uses cage and antibiotic-free chickens for all of their sandwiches as well as a Pimiento cheese-stuffed Portobello mushroom cap for those who are looking for a meat-free option (tip: you can ask for your chicken fried or grilled).
Choose from one of their predetermined sandwiches (I particularly love the Not So Waffle with bacon jam, maple syrup and Pimiento cheese), build your own or opt for a salad instead. Boxcar Betty’s opens at 10 AM Monday through Wednesday, 7 AM on Thursday and Friday, and is closed Saturday and Sunday.
HMart – 711 W. Jackson Boulevard
Previously, you could only find Asian-centric HMart grocery stores in the suburbs, so it was headlining news when the first HMart came to Chicago. Yes, it’s a grocery store, but HMart also houses a café for coffee, teas and pastries, as well as a ‘food court’ of sorts. Options can vary from store to store – the city HMart features SDG Dubu Tofu & Korean BBQ, Izakaya Yume Sushi and a few others. Stop by SDG for hot pot dishes perfect for colder weather, and Izakaya for maki rolls, poke bowls and other items. Regardless of which stall you visit, try to go outside of the peak 12 – 1 PM hour, when it can get REALLY busy!
· SDG Dubu Tofu & Korean BBQ is open from 11 AM – 10 PM, Monday – Friday
· Izakaya Yume Sushi is open from 10:30 AM – 8:30 PM, Monday – Friday
Lou Mitchell’s – 565 W. Jackson Boulevard
Got a hankerin’ for breakfast? You’re in luck at Lou Mitchell’s because you can get breakfast all day long! This cash-only spot should be a go-to – and not just for the beloved greasy spoon options like omelets, short stacks and black coffee refills. If you watch any show like Chicago PD or Chicago Fire, you’re bound to recognize the interior.
Aside from the food and the quirky retro décor, great additional touches include donut holes while you’re waiting, a cup of ice cream and orange slice/prunes with each meal and Milk Duds as a parting gift for kids. Be sure to plan ahead for your visit to this landmark at the start of historic Route 66. Lou Mitchell’s is open 6 AM – 3 PM Monday – Friday, 7 AM – 4 PM Saturday and 7 AM – 3 PM Sunday.
Oasis Café – 21 N. Wabash Avenue
Take a quick trip to the Middle East and Eastern Africa without ever leaving the Loop. Oasis Café is quite literally a hidden gem – nestled within the famous Jeweler’s Mall on Wabash, you have to walk through rows of working jewelers to reach the café in the back – which is a little thrilling and adventurous in itself. Cash is preferred and specials change daily.
A crowd favorite is the Wabash Mix – available on Mondays and *we think* Wednesdays – which is basically a burrito made of philo dough stuffed with Moroccan chicken, carrots, green peppers and onions, served with hummus, falafel and foul (an Egyptian bean dish). It sounds weird, but trust us, it’s definitely worth a trip! The café is open Monday through Friday, 10 AM – 5:30 PM, and 11 AM – 4 PM on Saturday. Like most other places, it’s closed Sunday.
Fun fact: you’ll find this sandwich joint on Van Buren (near Jefferson) and supposedly, the name Ruin Daily comes from President Martin Van Buren’s nickname, ‘Marty Van Ruin,’ for his alleged fault in the Panic of 1837 and following economic depression. Despite this rather bleak outlook, the food is anything but depressing.
Classic sandwiches take on unique attributes with picks such as the Buffalo Cauliflower (which is basically exactly what it sounds like) and the Gym Shoe, landing somewhere in between a Greek gyro and a Chicago staple beef sandwich. One of the best parts about it, though, is the indoor/outdoor seating for warmer weather. It can be tough to find an oasis in the Loop, but Ruin Daily’s got you covered! Hours are 8 AM – 9 PM Monday through Friday – it’s closed Saturday and Sunday.
Venice Café – 500 W. Monroe Street
Another ‘blink and you might miss it’ hidden gem, Venice Café is a lunch spot you better hustle to, because it closes every day at 3 PM (it opens at 7 AM, Monday through Friday; it’s closed Saturday and Sunday).
Soups, salads and sandwiches are all standard fare here, but if you’ve gathered any clues from the name, they’re known for their Italian dishes. Pizza, pasta and calzones, oh my! Specials are constantly rotating, and there is a daily calzone special as well.
Post written by FFC Contributor Megan Zink.