Lunch in Chicago: So Many Options From Healthy to Indulgent

Lunch is a great way to experience Chicago's local flavor. In a full service restaurant, like the Loop's lively Dearborn Tavern  or the contemporary Robata outpost of Roka Akor, you're likely to spend less money than at dinner while savoring the same deep flavors. Sit down or carry out healthy, delicious menu specials, sandwiches and salads, fresh-squeezed juices, robust coffee and beautiful pastries at any of the four Beatrix  eateries. 

If you want deep dish (or thin crust) pizza but can't wear elastic for the rest of the day, the Art of Pizza on State Street  is your ticket to excellent slices. If there a Portillo's in the neighborhood, you're on your way to satisfying and authentic Chicago style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. Look for The Fat Shallot  rolling by in truck, at Revival Food Hall or the new brick and mortar restaurant - the sandwiches are outstanding. Wow Bao offers comforting noodles, dumplings, rice dishes and the titular baos in just a couple of minutes. IAnd, it's right there in the name - Dove's Luncheonette. 

If you have some time, explore Chinatown, Argyle Street, Pilsen, Greektown or the Polish "downtown" of West Town for authentic flavors, friendly people and low prices. 


Irish owned but utterly American, The Dearborn Tavern can be found at the intersection the Theater District in the heart of downtown), satisfying food and lively ambience. Executive Chef, Aaron Cuschieri (Season 11 of Bravo's Top Chef) offers a lunch menu as alluring as the dinner bill of fare. Portions are certainly shareable but you may want to hog the deeply flavored shrimp 'n' grits or the Midwest fried chicken all to yourself. New items include beef bulgogi fajitas; earthy carrot salad and soup made with slow cooked onions, brandy and thyme scented bone broth, crispy bread, molten Gruyere cheese. Sandwiches, served with fries or house salad, are substantial. Regulars can't get enough of the the Dearborn Burger made with pasture raised beef; pastrami Rueben; two-fisted Cuban; veggie Dagwood. Entrees include exceptional fish 'n' chips, and ethereal housemade Parmesan gnocchi. Sip a creative non-alcoholic soda like a mango ginger brew.

Recommended for Lunch because: The downtown spot is a find for any meal but lunch brings two-fisted sandwiches and lovely soups.

Jacky's expert tip: The urban American tavern is located in Block 37, a shopping center in the heart of the Loop bordered by State, Randolph, Dearborn and Washington streets.

Read more about The Dearborn Tavern →

Open weekdays, The Ruin Daily is a sandwich shop and day bar that touts, "life is too short for sh*tty sandwiches." If you're taking a train or find yourself in this part of the western edge of the Loop, make a point to stop in the boozy deli for breakfast available all day, coffee, sandwiches, cocktails and snacks from dawn until dusk. A sandwich shop with a chef (Mario Manzini ) means house-made deli meats and interesting renditions of familiar favorites. Consider a Banh Meatball - beef n' basil meatballs, eanut hoisin sauce, pickled jalapeno, cilantro chutney, shredded sarrot on Italian baguette; steamy pastrami on rye; or an exceptional grilled cheese with Fontina, Swiss, Cheddar on Parmesan-crusted sourdough. Veg heads will go for a mushroom melt or Buffalo cauliflower sandwiches. There are house made seasonal sides, soup and salads plus great Happy Hour snacks in case you missed lunch completely.

Recommended for Lunch because: Sizeable sandwiches with housemade deli meats, a day bar, breakfast for lunch, grab-and-go options and great coffee make for a perfect lunch hideout. .

Jacky's expert tip: There's a rotating roster of boozy drinks served all day, including grab-and-go options for when you just can't face other human beings.

Read more about The Ruin Daily →

Older Chicagoans fondly recall "luncheonettes" and diners where you could get a cup of joe and a platter full of well greased food for very little dough. No doubt, Wicker Park had its share in the 40's to 60's but now we have Dove's Luncheonette, an homage to the bygone diners with a lot better food and beverage. The the 41-stool luncheonette offers counter service morning through night and comfort food like pozole, burnt ends hash and eggs, salmon toast, chicken fried chicken and cemita sandwiches. Chef de Cuisine Tom Carlin just launched some fall dishes, including tofu toast with marinated butternut squash, avocado and pepitas, "masa ball soup," with ham broth, and an amaranth salad with wheat berries, baby kale, apples, pasilla vinaigrette and beet yogurt.

Recommended for Lunch because: Across the street from Chicago's Blue Line, Dove's Luncheonette is an all-day eatery, featuring comfort food inspired by flavors of the Southern US and Mexico.

Jacky's expert tip: Serving breakfast and lunch until 5 pm, you can have breakfast for lunch, too!

Read more about Dove's Luncheonette →

Furious Spoon
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Furious Spoon

The ramen noodle obsession in Chicago hasn't waned and Furious Spoon seems to be furiously multiplying every year - it's now checking in at eight locations across Chicagoland. The Tokyo-style ramen shop boasts daily handmade noodles and if you can't decide, go for the signature Furious Ramen made with homemade noodles, tonkotsu broth (pork base) and flavored with a miso tare. Toppings include chashu (pork belly), white pepper chicken, marinated mushrooms, scallions, fury sauce, garlic relish, sesame seeds and a poached egg. Menus at the food hall locations are more limited so if you want more of selection (like small bites and rice bowls in addition to ramen), head to Wicker Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Evanston, Lakeview or Andersonville. Count on getting filled up no matter which location you hit. There's a nice roster of Japanese beer, too.

Recommended for Lunch because: Executive Chef Shin Thompson has recreated the flavors and aromas he recalls at his grandfather's ramen shop in Japan.

Jacky's expert tip: Furious Spoon offers a Vegetable Ramen Bowl that is completely vegan.

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Lincoln Park

Co-owned by husband and wife, Sam Barron and Sarah Weitz, The Fat Shallot began as a food truck, expanded to a spot in Revival Food Hall and now there's a stand alone brick and mortar eatery in Lincoln Park. Barron focuses on sandwiches - and they are doozies. When your mom starts waxing poetic about the PB & J she made for you, take her to any of the Fat Shallot outposts for signature items like a truffle BLT served on thick toasted challah with truffle aioli, avocado, tomato, arugula and crispy bacon or a Buffalo chicken sandwich with crispy chicken tenders in house Buffalo sauce with blue cheese sauce and shaved celery piled on a brioche bun. Wash it down with housemade ginger lemonade, beer or a lemonade spiked with Tito's. Sides include various fries, bacon dill potato salad and a nice hot soup of the day.

Recommended for Lunch because: The Fat Shallot is a good bet for lunch because it concentrates on a half-dozen sandwiches that are hearty, flavorful and very satisfying.

Jacky's expert tip: The Rueben, one of the most pop sandwiches at Revival Food Hall, is now available only at the Lincoln Park location

Read more about The Fat Shallot →

Surely you can get some of the finest sushi in the city at Roka Akor, but who knows? On a chilly day you may feel like ingesting something warm and wonderful prepared on a twelve-foot robata grill that uses mesquite charcoal for a fabulous smoke. Roka's menu changes seasonally, including steaks, seafood, vegetables, sushi and sashimi. Exceptional starters include robata grilled scallops or Japanese Shishito peppers (watch the bonito flakes shimmy atop the hot peppers); lovely Wagyu beef and kimchi dumplings; and elegant Yellowtail sashimi. The Bento style lunch is a satisfying option offering hot or cold items from a maki set to not-to-be-missed lamb cutlets you hold via the bone and dip into a perky Korean sauce. The Bento lunch comes with with Mizuna Salad, Crispy Butterfish Maki and Wagyu Dumplings, so it's simultaneously filling and light. Enjoy lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30am to 2:30pm.

Recommended for Lunch because: A Bento style lunch is quick, filling, flavorful and heathy and Roka Akor offers some of the best grilled and raw dishes in Chicago.

Jacky's expert tip: The sake menu is encyclopedic with options ranging from light to full bodied. Try Yamayuza/Mountain Citrus (like a Japanese limoncello).

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A slice for lunch contains protein, carbs, fats and comfort all in one handheld delivery system. Downtown shoppers, students and visitors won the pizza jackpot when much lauded, The Art of Pizza (in Lakeview), opened a second location on State St. offering pizza by the slice: thin crust pan or stuffed crust. Count on up to 16 different varieties of fresh, hot pizza. Locals like The Art of Pizza's golden brown crust and herbaceous sauce and bountiful cheese. There are versions to satisfy meat eaters and vegetarians plus foot-long subs and sizable salads that go beyond the typical pizza joint's insipid Iceberg and carrots.

Read more about The Art of Pizza State Street →

Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Portillo's

The Chicago born and based chain is a smart choice for a snappy Chicago style hot dog, a spiced-just-right Italian beef or combo, better than decent char burgers and really good shakes, malts and chocolate cake. Service is fast, staff gets your order right, prices are low and everything is authentically flavored. Even dieters can find a tasty option at Portillo's - char-broiled chicken or grilled tuna sandwiches and big salads. The locations with a Barnelli's adjunct also offer award-winning ribs and rustic pasta dishes like Chicken al Diavolo and oven baked spaghetti. Portillo's lures in locals with seasonal specials like an Usinger's Brat Sandwich and Apple Walnut Harvest Salad in autumn.

Recommended for Lunch because: This is one of the best places in the city and suburbs for Chicago's famous hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.

Jacky's expert tip: Save room for chocolate cake! The moist cake is sold by the slice, or mixed into a chocolate cake milkshake.

Read more about Portillo's →

The coffeehouse-meets-restaurant concept, Beatrix, is known for healthy meets delicious menu specials, fresh-squeezed juices and an appealing coffee and pastry counter. Launch lunch with a freshly squeezed juice (Power Greens or a Blueberry Basil Smash sound good); and if you're going light, try a snack of hummus, tuna crudo, Kung Pao Brussels sprout; or go all out with luscious chile and chocolate glazed salmon; warm pot roast sandwich; giant chopped salad; poke bowl; or a burger. There are gluten-free items, cocktails and an incredible coffee and dessert menu, too. Basically, it's everything good. In a hurry? Beatrix Market is a quick, grab and go market experience with self-serve salad, soup and hot food bars, rotating chef-prepared salads, sandwiches and snacks.

Recommended for Lunch because: Beatrix stocks everything good for lunch: healthy, delicious menu specials, fresh-squeezed juices and an appealing coffee and pastry counter.

Jacky's expert tip: Located in River North, Streeterville, Fulton Market and soon in Oakbrook, Beatrix offers convenient extended lunch hours weekdays (11:30am-4pm).

Read more about Beatrix →


Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky