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.
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.
Craving something more Chicago-y? Pequod’s is arguably one of Chicago’s best dish deep pizza restaurants while Al’s #1 has some of the best Italian beef sandwiches in the city.
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.
Outstanding food in a stylish setting, Naha is a terrific choice for an upscale lunch. The entree list reads like it's pulled directly from a who's who of award-winning dishes, including wild halibut with mushrooms and squash, herb-roasted wild striped bass, glazed Scottish salmon served atop French lentils, and filet of beef tenderloin served with foie gras and mushrooms. The list goes on and on, but it does change seasonally so that each visit brings new surprises. A large wine list features wines from across the world with a limited number available by the glass. A lovely, modern setting and great service add to the delightful dining experience. (312-321-6242)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen
This cafeteria-styled Chicago institution offers some of the Windy City's best lunches. Expect to find the deli crowded with everybody from politicians (Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have been known to pop in), to stray traders and blue collar workers. The ambience is definitely old school with its bare bones, linoleum, school cafeteria atmosphere and gruff elderly staff. But they serve massive heaps of Jewish deli food that people travel for miles to eat. The menu includes corned beef sandwiches, pastrami sandwich on rye and a matzo ball soup. Knowing how to order will help you not feel out of place: grab a tray by the door as you enter, then grab utensils (even if you're just ordering a sandwich, grab a fork, spoon and knife because you may need them) and get in line. ((312) 939-2855)
This is a longtime favorite in the north side Andersonville neighborhood. Located on a stretch with lots of bars, restaurants and shopping, this restaurant is beloved for its fresh food and creative twists on American food. They use locally sourced and organic food to make dishes like the Tango Tilapia Wrap, a cajun spiced grilled piece of fish in a flour tortilla with tomato, lettuce, sweet pea sprouts, chinese mustard and mango ketchup. Don't leave without stopping at the bakery, which sells to-go pies, cookies, muffins and their famous bread pudding. That atmosphere is comfy and homey, with a small patio, wooden chairs and empty hanging frames decorating the interior. (773-561-1600)
Little Goat Diner
Celebrity chef Stephanie Izard's adorable modern diner features all sorts of creative and delicious menu items, including Fat Elvis waffles, and a fun dish named "Kimchee & Bacon & Eggs & Pancakes Asian Style Breakfast Tasty Thing." The long list of lunch "Sammiches" includes Los Drowned, a hoagie made with braised beef, havarti cheese, avocado, pickled peppers and onions and spicy mayo. Don't miss Little Goat's on-site bakery, which is brimming with drool-worthy fresh muffins, breads and cookies. The menu's always changing, but the peanut butter bread was a fun and tasty choice. If weather permits, sit on their couch-lined rooftop patio. (312-888-3455)
Chicago French Market
This market consists of dozens of different restaurants and bakeries that aren't exclusively French, but almost all of them are delicious. You don't feel like you're in a Parisian market in this concrete-floored, below-the-train station location. But it's an indoor, European-styled market where you can get a rich and delicious croquet madam or strawberry crepe at FliP Crepes, a box full of colorful and sweet macaroons at Vanilla Patisserie, or a Smoked Salmon Nicoise and cup of French onion soup from Le Caf� du Marche. Raw meats, wines and other delicacies are also available. There is a large but sparse dine-in area. Or you can take your purchases, walk up the stairs and board a Metra train for the suburbs and eat during your ride. ((312) 575-0306)
Gayle's Best Ever Grilled Cheese
The restaurant's name says it all. After massive popularity at local farmers markets, owner Gayle Voss opened a permanent home for her famous sandwiches in February 2016. Located in the new Block Thirty Seven mall, right off the Red Line and near many major theaters, lunchtime lines snake around the building for her grilled cheese sandwiches - all made with local, farm-fresh ingredients. While many people go basic - a sandwich with Prairie Pure Butterkase cheese, fresh baked white sourdough bread and fresh butter from Nordic Creamery, others like the different varieties. A popular choice is the Abreo, made with Prairie Pure White Cheddar cheese, honey crisp apples form Mick Klug Farm in Michigan, and Bacon Onion Jam from Abreo Restaurant in Rockford, Illinois. ((312) 285-2202)
About Jamie Bartosch
Jamie Bartosch is a lifelong Chicagoan who thinks her hometown is the greatest city in the world. She is an award-winning newspaper reporter, a freelance travel writer, and the mother of two great kids.
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