Lunch in Chicago: More than Deep-Dish Pizzas and Italian Beef Sandwiches
By Megy Karydes
Lunch in Chicago is a great way to experience the local flavor. Whether you’re looking for one of Chicago’s famous deep dish pizzas, an Italian beef sandwich or to dine at one of its many ethnic restaurants, Chicago’s dining scene offers many options.
Near the Magnificent Mile and the Loop, check out Chef Jimmy Banos’ Heaven on Seven. At first you’ll wonder if you’re in the right building since it looks more like an office building than a restaurant (which is true, it is an office building). Take the elevators up to the seventh floor where Cajun and creole scents greet you as soon as you walk in the door.
Also a bit off the beaten path but not exactly in a quiet neighborhood is Twisted Spoke. You’ll know you found the right place if you see the skeleton on the motorcycle above the joint. Once inside, consider the shrimp po-boys or FatBoy burger and if you’re not in a hurry, the place has more than 400 whiskeys in stock to enjoy.
Chicago is also home to many ethnic groups that have lovingly brought along their unique tastes. It’s worth heading into Chicago’s ethnically diverse neighborhoods for some authentic flavors and lunch is often the best time to check them out.
10 Greek Islands
Greek Islands separates itself from the pack with festive atmosphere and a professional waitstaff. Start with Avgolemono soup and saganaki, also known as cheese on fire, and then dig in to some traditional dishes like dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), moussaka (baked eggplant, ground meat and potato casserole topped with b�chamel sauce which can also be prepared vegetarian) and lamb kokkinisto (Lamb braised in their special tomato sauce), which are among local favorites. If seafood is more your style, fresh lavraki is flown in daily and broiled octopus is ideal for adventurous palates. The d�cor is cheery, in the traditional white and blue colors of many Greek restaurants. Greek Islands is conveniently located in Greektown and offers free valet parking. (312-782-9855)
For Northern Italian cuisine, Tuscany offers an upscale option in the Little Italy section of town. This cozy eatery, which tends to get a little cramped at times, is as popular with youthful hipsters as it is with downtown suits. During those "brisk" Chicago winters, their wood-burned gourmet pizzas are positively heaven-sent. Not just for locals, Tuscany has treated such "tourists" as former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. Traditional pasta dishes are also available. Be careful with the warm garlic clove brought out with the bread - it's delicious and potent. Valet parking is available. Dinner is available every night but the restaurant not open for lunch on weekends. (312-829-1990)
8 Al's #1
Spots to sample a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich abound, but no place holds a candle to the Little Italy original, which has been around since the late 30s. Steak spiced with garlic and oregano, grilled onions and peppers and a soggy loaf of white bread roll; this is what a sandwich is supposed to be! And it's also probably why napkins were invented. In addition to the signature sandwich, they also offer hotdogs and burgers. Nobody comes here for the decor, or if they're counting calories. But they'll leave with a happy full feeling, and the quintesential Chicago dining experience. (312-226-4017)
7 Chicago Cut Steakhouse
Chicago Cut Steakhouse redefines Chicago's steak-centric dining scene with signature USDA-certified prime beef, which is hand cut and dry aged on site. A variety of made-to-order cuts are joined by eight different fish options, shellfish, chops, an array of hearty side dishes and more on the extensive dinner menu. Chicago Cut's expansive surroundings feature a lively bar area framed by dramatic wine display cases; vibrant red velvet banquettes and spacious dining tables; and sweeping views of the Chicago River. A sprawling outdoor patio lining the riverside attracts diners throughout the day and well into the evening. Special touches abound, such as the restaurant's global wine list, which is presented to the guest via an interactive iPad program. (312-329-1800)
6 Berghoff Restaurant
The Berghoff is one of Chicago's oldest restaurants (if you don't count when it closed briefly and then re-opened) and once you step into this German place, it'll feel like you've stepped into the past with the dark wood, stained glass and gold lamps. It's no-frills atmosphere and service will appeal to those who are more interested in what's in front of them than surrounding them. Gluten-free items are clearly marked on the menu and include many German favorites including kartoffelsuppe mit thuringer ( a Munich-style potato soup with smoked thuringer) and sauerkraut. Diners won't have to skip desserts since the Salty Caramel Cheesecake and flourless chocolate cake are gluten-free, too. (3124273170)
Outstanding Mediterranean and Lebanese food consistently comes from the kitchen of this longtime Andersonville favorite. The large menu includes a mix of meat and vegetarian options (vegan options too). Roast lamb with couscous, Moroccan chicken with apricots, and Mediterranean eggplant are just a few of the goodies that await. The dining room's fireplace, high ceilings and large windows put diners at ease and provide a welcoming ambiance. It's more upscale than most Medterranean restaurants, yet doesn't boost the prices. Try the lunch buffet, which includes soups and endless thin-and-crispy pita bread, and allows you to sample a lot of different dishes. (773-784-8616)
4 Emilio's Tapas Sol y Nieve
Like many city downtown areas, finding an indie restaurant that's good, relatively inexpensive and accessible isn't easy. Nestled on bustling Ohio Street, Emilio's (as everyone here calls it) has a colorful interior (murals line the walls) and plenty of tables large enough for families and groups or small enough for an intimate dinner date. An outdoor patio is especially attractive during warmer days and since the sidewalk is wide enough, you won't feel as if you might get run over by drivers. Enjoy traditional tapas including baked goat cheese served with crispy garlic bread, cannelloni stuffed with tuna, asparagus, and olives, and the tomato bread topped with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese. (312-467-7177)
3 Twisted Spoke
A skeleton on a giant spinning motorcycle on the roof of the building greets hungry diners morning, noon and night. It's biker-friendly (Think bikes from the '40s.), but the diverse crowd doesn't make anyone feel excluded. Motorcycle parts are strewn throughout the joint as décor. Best known for its whiskey offerings (it stocks more than 400 whiskeys alone.), it's also great for brunch. Its separate brunch menu features shrimp po-boys and burgers loaded with toppings including an egg if you want to add some traditional breakfast staples to the dish. Or, try the Mexican eggs with spicy chorizo, eggs, vegetables and cilantro served with breakfast potatoes and bread and jam. If you have room for anything else, order the fried cheese curds for the table. ((312) 666-1500)
2 Heaven on Seven
Open for breakfast and lunch only, people who love spicy Cajun and Creole dishes take a shopping break to feast on some of the zestiest gumbo this side of the Mason-Dixon. Or, try red beans and rice, jambalaya, or a catfish po' boy. All the Louisiana-style classics are boldly flavored and expertly prepared. Choose your poison from the wall of fiery hot sauces if you're feeling brave. The huge menu also offers basic lunchtime fare like deli sandwiches and burgers if you aren't in the mood for spice. Either way, the place is full of color and bustling with activity. Cash only. There are three locations, one of which is in Naperville. (312-263-6443)
There is some debate among diners on whether the pizza here is considered deep dish or pan pizza. Pequod's uses the terms interchangeably but once you get past the debate, few will argue that its caramelized crust is stuff of pizza dreams. Their deep dish pizzas are baked in cast iron pans blackened by decades of seasoning. The overflowing cheese emerges from the oven as a halo of caramelized crust. The sausage is particularly tasty since it's seasoned with spices. It has two locations. The Lincoln Park location, which is near the DePaul University campus, is open until 2am on the weekends but the Morton Grove location closes at 10pm. ((773) 327-1512)
About Megy Karydes
Megy Karydes has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and most of her life in Chicago. While she’s traveled extensively internationally, visiting each of the 50 states is on her bucket list. An adventure seeker, she’s game for anything from mixed martial arts training to competing in obstacle course races. A self-proclaimed coffee snob and “greenie” who loves farmer-grown food and locally-grown craft beers & wine. She’s yet to find an outdoor beer garden she doesn’t like. Mixing writing and food/drink is her specialty, especially when it involves travel. Visit her musings on her insatiable appetite for life at www.WanderingTastes.com or www.KarydesConsulting.com.
Read more about Megy Karydes here.