Best Lunch in Chicago

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, 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 Beatrix eateries. The Smith has it all, from snacks and salads to pasta and steaks, in a popular part of the city. Have some time? Indulge in a dreamy afternoon repose at Formento's all-day riposo lunch. In a rush? Sushi-san's Express Lunch makes it easy to get tasty food in a snap.

If you want pizza but can't wear elastic for the rest of the day, Bonci in the West Loop is your ticket to excellent Roman slices dressed with salmon and ricotta or spicy eggplant, among many others. 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. Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery, near Guaranteed Rate Field, does not disappoint with sandwiches, pizza, pasta and shakes. The sandwiches are outstanding at The Ruin Daily (chase it with the drink of the day, too)! For comfort food inspired by flavors of the Southern US and Mexico, it's right there in the name, Dove's Luncheonette. Take a lunchtime trip to the East coast with coastal-inspired food and bright cocktails at any of The Hampton Social locations.

If you have some time, explore Chinatown, Argyle Street, Pilsen, Avondale or Bridgeport for authentic flavors, friendly people and reasonable prices. 


The Smith is a NYC import that Chicagoans and visitors have welcomed to River North. Close to the Riverwalk and not a bad hike to/from Navy Pier, The Smith truly offers something for all appetites so there won't be any mid-day grumbling. The extensive menu features a raw bar, light snacks and salads as well as heftier options like sandwiches, entrees, pastas, and steaks. Winning snacks include potato chips with blue cheese fondue and spring pea arancini or start with spicy salmon tartare, a cool shrimp cocktail or a variety of salads to which you can add belly-filling protein (chicken, salmon, shrimp or steak). Sandwiches (doesn't the blt+e with applewood smoked bacon, sunny up egg and lemon aioli sound yummy?), pastas and steaks satisfy the ravenous and inventive main courses from a lovely omelette to a pot of fragrant mussels prove The Smith is an ace place for lunch. Plus "boozy lunch" has returned with a specially curated cocktail list from Sparkling Rosé Sangria to a Cosmo Spritz

Recommended for Lunch because: With a raw bar, snacks and salads, hearty sandwiches, pasta, entrees and steaks, The Smith has it all in a popular part of the city.

Jacky's expert tip: The Smith has a spacious dog-friendly patio along Clark Street so you can have lunch with well-behaved furry or human pals.

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Pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci chose Chicago as his first pizzeria location outside of Italy and the throngs are loving his Roman-style pizza cut with scissors and sold by weight. Bonci offers only fresh, natural ingredients primarily imported from Italy and considers "Agriculture as culinary art" so expect ever-changing toppings on the Roman-style crust. You probably won't experience the same pizza twice since options can change hourly and Bonci has more than 1,500 recipes that have emerged from the Italian ovens. Expect a mix of cured meats, cheeses and seasonal produce. Options could be hummus and mortadella; spinach, ricotta and anchovy; spicy eggplant; and mushroom, prosciutto crudo, mozzarella, arugula. The Wicker Park location has added salads to the menu, too. Moisten the pipes with single-serve beer, wine and canned cocktails. Bonci accepts plastic for payment so save the cash for your cabbie.

Recommended for Lunch because: Bonci, acclaimed for its rotating, al-taglio style pizza, is a an apt spot for a quick lunch where you can choose a variety of inspired selections.

Jacky's expert tip: The place is small and can get mobbed at lunchtime so allow a little extra time.

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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.

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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 '40s to '60s but now we have Dove's Luncheonette, an homage to the bygone diners with a lot better food and beverage. The 41-stool luncheonette offers counter service morning through night and comfort food like steamy bowls of pozole, cornmeal fried catfish, charred calamari, arugula salad, chicken fried chicken and a mighty burger. Chef de Cuisine Tom Carlin offers daily specials, too, like a breakfast burrito until 5 p.m on Tuesday or a ham and cheese torta on Friday. Have a late lunch and see what you can snag at Happy Hour weekdays from 3-6 p.m.

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!

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Open weekdays, The Ruin Daily is a sandwich shop and day bar that fills a void at lunch time: sandwiches are innovative and hearty; fresh and crispy salads are light and energizing; and there are rich coffee drinks, natural wines, beer and artisan cocktails. A sandwich shop with a chef means house-made deli meats and interesting renditions of familiar favorites. Consider sandwiches such as the PFG with prosciutto, fig jam and goat cheese and the RD Grilled Cheese on Parmesan crusted sourdough. A turkey sandwich becomes a thing of luncheon beauty with the addition of roasted tomato and smoked Gouda. House-made snacks include elote guacamole, whipped Feta and Korean chili dip to enjoy at the bar or on the patio with a Sour, Spritz or cold beer and there are to-go options for when you just can't face other human beings after a long day at work.

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

Jacky's expert tip: The Ruin Daily's motto is "Healthier Lunch, Happiest Hour" so be sure to stop in for both.

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Fred and Denise Bertucci have seen a lot of change in Bridgeport over the last three decades but serving excellent Chicago style grub remains the same at Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery. The family-owned spot serves fast food but, trust us, these aren't sandwiches and pizzas that are delivered from a corporate food truck. Everything is made from scratch daily, portions are generous and prices reasonable. Milk shakes made with real cream and whipped cream; shrimp comes from Lawrence Fishery; Italian sausage is homemade; and where else can you get a tasty burger named for an exciting White Sox player? The "Yerminator" features patties seasoned with Dominican spices plus grilled tomatoes, gently pickled red onions, green pepper, Provolone cheese, purple shredded slaw, and, of course, secret sauce. Choose whole pies or by the slice; wraps and subs; an array of sandwiches from breaded steak to chicken Parm; salads; and pasta entrees. Do Rite Donuts are delivered fresh daily and it's the only joint serving Simple Chocolate Cake to Live For by Simple Bakery.

Recommended for Lunch because: Three-to-five hundred people a day for 32 years can't be wrong - Freddies is a winner that's a three-minute drive to the White Sox.

Jacky's expert tip: There are about dozen parking spots in the alley.

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Open for lunch Wed.-Fri.(and brunch weekends), the flagship and first location of The Hampton Social serves coastal-inspired food and cocktails that are sure to improve your mood as well as satisfy mid-day hunger minus the food coma. All HS locations feature sunny decor and year-round summer vibes that makes you feel as though you're on vacation, not just on a lunch break. Consider luscious items from the cold bar: seafood tower, briny oysters, shrimp cocktail, salmon poké, or ceviche. Share some Bang Bang chicken, crispy fried calamari, colossal crab cakes or a scrumptious pizza (the avocado corn version is especially bright). Sizable salads and handhelds are made for lunch munching (the lobster roll is served two ways - warm and buttery Manhattan style or the classic cold Maine version). Large plates like fish 'n' chips and balsamic glazed skirt steak may satisfy for the rest of the day. Share the warm doughnut drops or you're liable to devour all of 'em. If you can wait a little longer for lunch, enjoy half-off off selected rosé wines and pizzas, Monday - Friday from 3 pm - 6 pm. The nautical-inspired Streeterville location has a four-season covered dining room with floor to ceiling windows and an expansive outdoor rooftop.

Recommended for Lunch because: Take a lunchtime trip to the East coast with coastal-inspired food and bright cocktails.

Jacky's expert tip: The nautical-inspired Streeterville location has two patios - a four-season covered dining room with floor to ceiling windows and an expansive outdoor rooftop.

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Sushi-san at Catalog in Willis Tower offers dine-in, order ahead, and grab-and-go options. Have your hand roll fashioned right after you order a shiso cuke; salmon avocado; yuzu yellowtail; crunchy fatty tuna or spicy scallop hand roll. Try a couple or do a three, four or five pack that comes with miso soup. There are myriad grab-and-go options from various nigiri and maki and little slabs of spicy tofu to broccolini goma-ae salad and a fabulous edamame hummus accompanied by light sesame crackers, plus build-your-own bento boxes. The River North location additionally offers hold-the-rice maki; cooked items like Togarashi chicken nuggets, bbq beef lettuce wraps, XO green beans, shrimp tempura and sizzling rice dishes. Take advantage of the Express Lunch option daily until 3pm - it includes miso soup, salad, choice of San-specialty and rice bowl.

Recommended for Lunch because: Sushi-san's Express Lunch makes it easy for a lunch break while grab-and-go at Willis Tower works for everyone looking for tasty food in a snap.

Jacky's expert tip: The extensive grab-and-go options at the Willis Tower location are perfect for a picnic lunch outdoors.

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Fulton Market

Riposo is the Italian equivalent of "siesta," a midday break when shops close and everyone indulges in a languorous lunch. Enjoy a European riposo at Formento's in the West Loop, 11:30am-4pm Thursday-Sunday. Chef David Schwartz has a delicate touch on Italian classics like his popular bucatini carbonara and cacio e pepe but the Wisconsin native gets robust with new sandwiches served with luscious truffle fries: Prime rib slices topped with caramelized onions, melted Provolone and zippy horseradish aioli tucked into Texas toast or how about Lucille's ham & cheese with prosciutto, Provolone, arugula and Dijonaise on crunchy handemade focaccia? Starters transfer nicely from the dinner menu: Pei mussels; Nonna's meatballs; burrata made much more interesting with arrabiata sauce and Serrano chiles, among the lot. Sit on the lovely patio and people watch while enjoying a refreshing spritzer including lemony Summer Water then dig into a gem lettuce salad enhanced with avocado, radicchio, piquant red onion, a fabulous oregano vinaigrette (add a protein to make it complete). There are also steaks, chops and entrees like zesty shrimp with creamy polenta. Count on brunch-y items, too, like Sarah Howlett's waffles or pastry board with housemade Danish.

Recommended for Lunch because: Who wouldn't want to indulge in a dreamy afternoon repose at Formento's all-day riposo lunch?

Jacky's expert tip: The world-class wine menu lists more than 600 varietals from around world.

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Located in River North, Streeterville, Fulton Market, Oakbrook and now in the Loop, Beatrix offers convenient extended lunch hours weekdays (11am-4pm). Known for healthy meets delicious menu specials, fresh-squeezed juices and an appealing coffee and pastry counter, Beatrix can't be beat for lunch. Launch lunch with freshly squeezed juice (Power Greens or a Blue Boost sound good); and if you're going light, try a snack of chicken meatballs and hummus, Mediterranean chopped salad or poké bowl. Go all out with luscious glazed salmon; blackened fish tacos; wild mushroom teriyaki bowl; or a Prime 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: Exclusive to the Loop location the new 'Happy Hour' menu from 4-7pm. offers healthy comfort food, local beers, select wines, hand-crafted cocktails, coffee drinks and cookies.

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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