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Jun 9, 2008 10:33 AM

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 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 -

              Potbelly's - a Chicago original - my favorite sub sandwich in chicago - there are multiple locations around the loop -

              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:

                    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 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. 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.