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Lunching in the Loop

Working in the loop has its advantages (view of the lake, thank you very much), but eating is not one of them. Having tried to bag myself lunches to bring to work and failed, I'm resorting to an all-out search for anything to eat for lunch in the neighborhood.

After OD'ing on Chipotle (and realizing that there must be something unhealthy about eating a burrito the size of my bicep and still wanting more) I ate Oasis every day for the last 3 years. As much as I love it, I'm a little bit sick of it. When Kabob 2 opened in the place where Oasis had been (and has now returned to) it was a huge relief. What delicious baklawa! And the variety of sandwiches! Alas, a crane fell on them May 2007 and they closed and back to Oasis I went, with my tail between my legs. I'm not much of a babaganoush guy, and I'm not a fan of their Morrocan chicken, so it's been chicken shwarma or falafel sandwich for me. They are satisfying, made with loving care, and are a good value. I still recommend it to all (21 N. Wabash in the back of the Jewelry Mart) who hunger in the Loop.

The other place I eat regularly is Pizza Ria (formerly Got Pizza) on 719 S. State. The slices are huge and foldable like in New York (ask them not to cut the slice) and pretty tasty to boot. They are a bit fascistic about the soda machine, but it's cool. For near $6 bucks, I'm satisfied.

So these are the restaurants on my radar, but if you know of any others let me know and I will try them out.

Khyber Pass 233 E Wacker Dr
Chicken Planet 21 West Jackson
Epic Burger 517 S. State
Sushi Sai 123 N Wacker
Max's Take Out 20 East Adams
Taza 176 N. Franklin Street
Pastoral 53 East Lake Street
Perry's Deli 180 N Franklin
Ricobene's 222 N Wells

Khyber Pass: I discovered this restaurant recently and just as quickly I've decided never to return. The lunch buffet is full of good looking dishes that just don't go anywhere. I had a lamb curry that tasted neither of lamb nor particularly of curry: soggy and flavorless. It's hard to kill the lamb flavor in a piece of lamb, but they figured it out. It's all you can eat, but how much would you want to eat, anyway? The tandoori chicken they throw in is dry, more than usual. Feels like the leftover dinner special is being forced on the lunch crowd. Samosa, crusty crust, but the inside was just mush.

Chicken Planet: Admittedly, a great deal in the loop. I get a quarter bird with only dark meat and it satisfies. The sides I've tried so far are pretty uninteresting: the corn tasted like it was soaking in a salty broth for days, I knew I was biting into a cob, but the kernels would just pop like little water balloons releasing flavorless water. The potato salad was tolerable. The mashed potatoes with gravy are the only side I would repeat. The piece of pita they throw in there, though, oh man, I could eat a plateful of those. Anyway, it's all about the value. if you ever want to picnic in Millenium or Grant Parks, I would say get yourself a bird at Chicken Planet.

Epic Burger: Man, what a burger. If only they had American cheese, I'd be set. I'd get the bacon and the egg, too. But for some reason, American is out, blue cheese and cheddar are in. So I get the plain burger and it still trounces Patty's, in my opinion. This burger tastes and looks like a real burger. Shakes are good, but are like $5. Fries are beautiful and tasty, but one portion will feed two. I might just do a shake and fries lunch there. Eating a burger at lunch kinda hurts, so not a place I'll be going to often, though I recommend it to anyone seeking the future of burgers.

I will keep posting as I keep eating.

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  1. Have your tried La Cocina on Jackson (by the Chicken Planet)? I get the enchiladas suizas from there. Cheaper than Chipoltes and much better. The Korean place next to that is good according to my co-worker. I haven't been yet.

    1. If you like Pastoral, you should like Hannah's Bretzel, too, at 180 W. Washington St.

      7 Replies
      1. re: jbw

        OK, so I went to Hey Sushi in the Pedway, not expecting much. I asked for a roll, the guy handed me a preprepared box. I told him I wanted something fresh, he pointed towards the other boxes and said, "it's all fresh." Don't think he caught my drift.
        So I decided to skip Hey Sushi and went to Pastoral instead. I got the Bocadillo de la Mancha. Unfortunately they douse the thing in grain mustard and the two ingredients I wanted to taste—the Serrano ham and the Manchego cheese—were barely perceptible. The baguette felt a little stale, like it was from the night before.
        Anyway, it's totally acceptable as a sandwich (if the point of comparison is Potbelly or Jimmy John's). I will have to go back and try something else. Unfortunately, it was almost $10, without chips, without a drink, just the sandwich on its own. For $10 I want a soda.
        I will add Hannah's Bretzel to my explorations, will let you know what I think.

        I've been to La Cocina, and am a big fan of their guac. Cheap, filling, fresh-tasting. I've gotten something from there—a burrito, maybe?—that I wasn't too fond of so I never ordered anything else complex from them. But I guess they're still worthy of another shot.

        thanks lbs and jbw for the suggestions

        1. re: Owar Diel

          The hot dogs at Max's are a great value. It's a pretty authentic Chicago-style hot dog place.

          I don't know if you've tried Sopraffina, but I like most of the stuff they make. The hand tossed salads are my favorite.

          Also I like Taco Fresco. Everything is fresh and they're pretty cheap.

          For Chinese food I go to Tamarind. It's a little pricey, but the food is pretty good.

          My Thai is a passable Thai option at a good price.

          Have you checked out lunchintheloop.com? It's a great resource.

          1. re: turkob

            I still haven't gone to Max's, I will try tomorrow. What do you get when you go, a Polish?
            I haven't tried Sopraffina, it looks fancy, I will check it out.
            Ditto Tamarind, it's now on my radar.
            IMHO My Thai is barely passable, and I'm looking for something actually desireable. Like, remember that Vietnamese Pho place on Wabash that closed?

            I guess what I'm really looking for is: something fresh, something not too heavy (otherwise I'd be all over Epic Burger), and something that tastes good and has enough variety on the menu.

            Thanks turkob.

            1. re: turkob

              Best thing about Sopraffina (at least the one on Dearborn btw Wash & Mad) is that from 3pm to closing (4pm) ALL pizzas are HALF PRICE. They will cut full pizzas in half which makes for easy carrying in their plastic handle bags. When I've had to work thru traditional lunch hour or wanted to pick up something to bring home or to Millenium Park this is just the ticket!

          2. re: jbw

            Hannah's Bretzel is fantastic. Not a good place to sit down and eat, but if you like high-quality ingredients this is probably the bets place to go in the loop. I love the vegetable bomb...but if I were less of a health freak the vermont cheddar with cucumbers is awesome, as is the black forest ham sandwich.

            1. re: kjf

              My favorite on a cold day is the vegetable barley soup at Hannah's B

              1. re: kjf

                I'm a big fan of Hannah's Bretzel as well. Unfortunately, they discontinued the Black Forest Ham Sandwich, which was one of my favorites. My other favorites are the Salmon and the Italian Parma Ham. I should try getting the vegetable bomb with the bretzel baguette, since I thought it was just okay with the whole wheat baguette. The only sandwich I didn't like was the Thanksgiving 365.

            2. My three recommendations are:

              Oasis Cafe - IMHO some of the best middle eastern food in Chicago - and inexpensive as well - the ambience is not much but the food is fantastic.

              For Mexican I have always liked Taco Fresco - good fresh food - I like much better than Chipotle - there are multiple locations - http://www.tacofresco.com/#

              Potbelly's - a Chicago original - my favorite sub sandwich in chicago - there are multiple locations around the loop - http://www.potbellys.com/

              -----
              Oasis Cafe
              21 N Wabash Ave Ste 11, Chicago, IL 60602

              9 Replies
              1. re: weinstein5

                Yeah, Oasis, that's what I said.

                Never been to Taco Fresco, will have to try it out. Any specific suggestions?

                Potbelly's I vote against. At first, it's OK, but after a while it kind of gets to you. They're not quality meats, they're not sliced anything near fresh, the vegetables are just flavorless... nothing about that sandwich tastes good after a while. The shakes are alright.

                1. re: Owar Diel

                  For me potbelly's there is also a touch of nostalgia which adds to my enjoyment - I used to eat at the original lincoln all the time before the original owners retired and sold the concept -

                  1. re: Owar Diel

                    Have you had Fontana's subs? There is one on 20 E. Jackson. I really like them!

                    1. re: lbs

                      What's good at Fontana's? What do you normally order?

                      1. re: Owar Diel

                        I'm cheap so I go for the 6in just cheese sub. I have had the turkey. The wiseguy is good if fattening. I like the gardenieria they use and the veggies are fresh too. Pretty sure bread is Gonella.

                      2. re: lbs

                        The meatball sandwich is good, cheap, and messy. Get extra napkins

                    2. re: weinstein5

                      Some of the best middle eastern food in Chicago at Oasis? Sorry, but after having lunch there today, I can't let that go without a comment. I ordererd the Moroccan chicken special and got two very pallid leg quarters served over extremely greasy rice. It was advertised as being cooked with preserved lemon and olives, but neither were in evidence. I find the felafel at the branch down the street passable.

                      1. re: CathleenH

                        "Some of the best middle eastern food in Chicago at Oasis?" I WOULD NOT GO THAT FAR.

                        In my opinion, considering the options downtown, Oasis falafel and schwarma sandwiches are a relief. I stay away from the Moroccan chicken.

                        Where do you eat lunch CathleenH?

                        1. re: Owar Diel

                          Yes, if you stick to the basics, Oasis does have its place in the lunch roster.

                          I recently posted my loop lunch recommendations here:
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/528245

                    3. Went to Riccobene's today. Forgot what exactly I was there to get. Ended up getting a Sausage Pan Pizza, and it was... pretty OK. I'm not much of a pan-guy, what with the fried-tasting dough, but this was pretty doable. Six bucks with a soda. Filling.
                      Was I supposed to get something else, though? I feel like I was...
                      I'm also curious about their breaded steak sandwich, (it comes only with "red sauce"), will have to try again, even though it's a little further than I'd like to walk for lunch.

                      1. Since you like burritos, you should check out Burrito Buggy (206 W Van Buren St) on mon, wed, or fri for the Jerk Chicken Special.

                        Also, there's a new site www.looplunch.com which should help you discover new places...

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: ericg

                          Thanks ericg for the recommendation, I'll put Burrito Buggy on my list.

                          Alas, the only news I have to share is that I went to Sushi Sai.

                          And, you know what? It wasn't half bad. It was pretty good, actually. Sure, I didn't get any raw fish, I got the Spider Roll (soft shell crab tempura), so I can't speak for the quality of the catch. But I was satisfied with what they gave me. One thing that should be mentioned is that I asked the waitress if their soda was canned or fountain and she said it was from the can and proceeded to bring me what was obviously a fountain soda. I complained, she gave me my can of Coke and didn't charge me for two sodas. With the soda, it came out to $10.42.

                          Now, this doesn't mean I think it's among the best sushis in Chicago... I won't bring my girlfriend there for a classy dinner. But for Lunching in the Loop... it's ONE MORE POSSIBILITY.

                          1. re: ericg

                            At Burrito Buggy make sure to ask for their home-made hot sauce. It will blow your head off and they only give it to people who know to ask for it. Yummy!

                            1. re: zgwarnki

                              You can't talk Buggy without mentioning their Fridays-only red snapper burrito. It's the best burrito in town.

                              1. re: ferret

                                Went to Buggy today, not bad, not bad. Had the jerk chicken burrito and it was pretty straightforward. The chicken was pretty good, the rice and beans were pretty good, the corn seemed to be there only symbolically, as they didn't add to the flavor much. The salsa I got (green) was hot and good: is there a secret one I have to order by name, zgwarnki?

                                Anyway, I'll go back on Friday for the snapper: I'm very curious, but thanks for the tip, I'll include the Burrito Buggy in my lunch cycles from now on.

                                -----
                                Burrito Buggy On Van Buren
                                206 W Van Buren St, Chicago, IL 60607

                                1. re: Owar Diel

                                  Sorry, haven't been trolling the Boards much lately. At BB I've always just asked for the "special" or "home made" hot sauce. Same thing at Heaven on Seven on Wabash. They have a home made, tropical fruit based hot sauce that you have to know about to ask for - - it's not on the tables and has to be refrigerated.

                                2. re: ferret

                                  Alright, back to Burrito Buggy on Friday—much thanks to ferret for that tip! That was really delish! The fish was real tasty, I''ll make sure to get some lime to go next time (if they have it) because it would've been great with a dousing of straight-up lime juice. The one gripe is that, absent the beans, there is too much tortilla and you get the expected tortilla-bunch-up at the tips: compared to the jerk chicken burrito, it's half the size. Maybe next time I'll ask for beans, see how that goes.
                                  But, YES, Buggy's now on the weekly lunch cycle, maybe even twice a week. Three cheers for Chowhound!

                                  1. re: Owar Diel

                                    It's definitely better with black beans, not refried. Glad you liked it.

                                  2. re: ferret

                                    Great tip on the red snapper burrito ferret, it tops the jerk chicken. It was just a tad dry, but Owar Diel's idea of some fresh lime juice would be perfect.

                                    1. re: ericg

                                      I'm too busy to go out today; thanks for making my mouth water. It can sometimes be a little dry, depends on when you go. I try to get there early because they sometimes run out.

                                3. Went to Wow Bao today... not bad! I got the sixpack of baos (stuffed sticky buns) for 9 bucks and it was more than I could eat, and not bad. Mongolian beef was pretty good, the only one I won't order again is the Curry one. And in the future, I might get the pot-sticker/bun combo, which is cheap and looks filling.

                                  What's people's take?

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Owar Diel

                                    Glad you brought that up. I've seen Wow Bao from the el but have yet to dine there. I'm on the other end of the loop but will make the trek at some point.

                                    1. re: sis2catbat

                                      Depending on how you define "the other end of the Loop" there's a Wow Bao at State & Lake as well as the one at Van Buren & Financial. Of course, there's still the first one in Water Tower Place.

                                      1. re: ferret

                                        By "other end of the loop," I mean the opposite end, meaning as far north of Van Buren you can be (the Wow Bao location Owar mentioned) and still be in the loop, i.e., East/West Wacker Drive. However, I was unaware there was a Wow Bao on State and Lake, so I'll have to check that out. Stone's throw from my apt and office. Thanks for the info.

                                        1. re: sis2catbat

                                          Wow Bao is perfectly acceptable Chinese dumplings for in the Loop. The State Lake outlet is on (enter at) the NW corner along State. The six pack deal is quite good. My vegetarian teenage daughter is a big fan of WB so I got her the custard one (the only desert dumpling they serve) since she has a sweet tooth but I haven't remembered to ask her what she thought of it.

                                  2. I tried the new Indian buffet today on the second floor of the 7-11 at Washington and Wells. I had low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. The buffet costs $6.95 a pound and includes a free drink. They has about 6 or 7 entrees available as well as rice/naan/samosas/chutney/daal. I thought the food was pretty tasty and reasonably priced (I spent less than $5). I hope they manage to stay in business becuase it's sort of off the beaten path. I'm happy to finally have a decent Indian lunch option in the loop!

                                    1. Try Potbelly Sandwich Works at the Merchandise Mart or one of their other locations. I LOVE the turkey and if omit the mayonnaise, they are fairly healthy. I always get skinny (not as much bread)

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: KimberH

                                        Ok, So I went to Cafecito today, try out their Cubano sandwiches (voted TimeOut's best Cubano in Chicago) and was pleasantly surprised. The sandwich was rich without being greasy, the pickles serves as a flavor accompaniment rather than a principal player (which is what i want it to do: don't love the pickle) and the bread was flaky, soft and delicious. Plus it only costs 5 bucks!
                                        Add Cubanito to my list of daily lunch spots, along with Pizza-Ria, Burrito Buggy's Friday red snapper, Frontera's cafe at the Macy's food court and the occasional Oasis schwarma.
                                        Now if only I could find a good sushi in the area a little closer to the Art Institute, I would have a well-rounded lunch calendar.

                                        -----
                                        Cafecito
                                        26 E Congress Pkwy Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60605

                                        1. re: Owar Diel

                                          Have you tried Oysy at 888 S. Michigan? It's a bit south of the others, but if you're desperate for Loop sushi, it's nearby:

                                          http://www.oysysushi.com/

                                          1. re: jbw

                                            There's a place on Randolph just east of Wacker called Sushi Sai that opened fairly recently. Had lunch there a couple of months ago and it's perfectly acceptable Loop sushi. Large selection of rolls, decent service, not overly expensive.

                                      2. I am wondering if somone can help rivive my memory. Within the last couple of years I went to a small diner located on LaSalle between Randolph and Adams that felt very old and basic. I entered the diner off of LaSalle and walked through the ground floor corridor of a building and the diner was located in the middle of the building not visible from the street. Does this ring a bell to any of the local loop hounds?

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: ldsilver

                                          Courtway Restaurant
                                          29 S Lasalle
                                          Chicago, IL 60603-1507
                                          http://www.courtwayrestaurant.com/

                                          Great time warp restaurant. Excellent rolls.

                                          1. re: tonyg

                                            Let's do the time warp again. My lunch club buddies and I used to call The Courtway "the cheap place."

                                        2. I like the udon at Tokyo Lunch Box, and the sushi is ok, too. They have a few locations around the Loop, I think. Also, don't forget about the Kamehachi in the building at Jackson/Franklin, always good sushi. Next door to that is my current favorite lunch spot, Freshii. I am a big fan of the chicken soup and the rice bowls, and I don't feel disgusting after eating it - seems pretty healthy. That being said, I'm going to have to try out Epic Burger - sounds great! And Burrito Buggy too. Yum.

                                          I tried a new place yesterday, Flaco's Tacos down on printer's row. Not exactly in the Loop, but not that far. I was pretty happy with it - had great tamales and a good fish taco. It may have unseated my other favorite in the Loop for tamales - La Cocina (they have a couple of locations, on Jackson and on Wells).

                                          Sopraffina's is ok - I used to go to the one in the AT&T building all the time. The best kept secret is the soup - no line to get it and usually is pretty great. Also, on the second floor of that building is a cafe with lots of pretty decent options - asian stir fry, diner, mexican, deli, soup/salad bar, and a chef's station.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: basilb

                                            Tried Cafecito today on Congress. Really enjoyed the Cubano sandwich. Plan to go back and try others. The owner was so nice. Asked me how I liked it and said he was anxious to hear from the hounds etc....Try it..cant beat the price...

                                          2. Just wanted to post a "thanks" for mentioning Max's on Adams. Stopped for a dog fix on Friday and was very happy.

                                            1. The Tribune just did a photo-essay called "Loop lunches we love":

                                              www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/...

                                              1. Went to Chutney Joe's yesterday. Got a Rogan Josh desi bowl, rice, naan, and a samosa. It cost me more than $10. It was a complete failure. The samosa tasted like the vegtables had been boiled in a swimming pool. The crust lacked any and all flakiness. Samosa fail.
                                                The naan was a pita in the shape of a naan. Nann usually puffs up to form a pocket, there was no pocket here (which really means a naan half the size). Naan fail.
                                                The Rogan Josh looked appetizing enough, and it is my favorite thing to get at Indian restaurants, so even though I tasted the Chicken Tikka Masala and liked it, I caved and went Rogan. By the time I got back to the office, what had seemed like a creamy, textured sauce had disappeared. I was left with grey, ugly, grainy pieces of lamb on a bed of wet, not-at-all-interesting-or-flavorful rice. Rogan Josh fail.
                                                The condiments seemed OK, but most of them had been refrigerated too long and so were too thick to pour. They were OK. I mgith go back and see if the Tikka Masala Chicken holds up, but I'm not very excited about it.

                                                -----
                                                Chutney Joe's
                                                511 S State St, Chicago, IL 60605

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Owar Diel

                                                  Skip the Tikka Masala Chicken. I had it last week, and to say that it was mediocre would be undue praise. I won't be back.

                                                  1. re: Owar Diel

                                                    You may want to see how Chicago Curry House, a couple of blocks south of Joe's,compares. The place has a pleasant curry-infused ambience, bar service, a Tandoori oven, and a very large menu with Nepalese specialties and many, many vegetarian offerings. There's a luncheon buffet, and altho I'm not usually attracted to those, ]I have been for dinner. I found it to be a pleasant experience, the cuisine somewhat uneven, altho with one very memorable course: khasi ko maasa (goat meat w/ bone, Nepalese style), and that winner alone was enough to make me want to return and try more.

                                                    http://www.curryhouseonline.com/

                                                    Chicago Curry House
                                                    899 S. Plymouth Ct.
                                                    Chicago, IL-60605
                                                    Tel: 312-362-9999

                                                  2. So the Frontera Grill outpost at Macy's 7 on State—Frontera Fresco—now has a new torta, "de cochinita pibil".

                                                    It is pretty darn good, if still expensive (comes out to more than $8 for the sandwich alone, no drinks, no chips, no nothing). Pork is moist, the glazy sauce is tangy and delicious, break is crusty and good... if only they could figure out a way of not having their sandwiches collapse as you eat them.

                                                    But flavor-wise, they beat anything else in the loop. I challenge anyone to find anything that tastes as good within a 7 block radius of the AIC!

                                                    -----
                                                    Frontera Fresco
                                                    111 N State St, Chicago, IL

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Owar Diel

                                                      Ruby of Siam's outpost on Washington near Lasalle has added a good new thai option downtown and has a very affordable all you can eat buffet as well.