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Lunch Options in the Loop? My Ramblings...Brown Bag it!!!

OK...these are tough times...even shopping at ALDI is beginning to set me back on my retirement goals...but I still gotta work, and my job is in that great Chicago culinary wasteland, the Loop

Quite a bit has been written in these posts on this matter and all I hear about is that Oasis. I don't mind bumping into eloping couples shopping for zirconium engagement rings as I make my way to the back of a jewelery store to inhale 4 falafels stuffed into a pita- it is absolutely delicious, but why does the store security guard always stare me down as I make my descent to the ordering counter!!!

But what else is there outside of the Oasis....it behooves me how the masses wait in line at Potbelly for their Wrecks on wheat...I enjoy an occasional Wreck myself because I am, but I do not like having to scream my order when I'm still 15 feet away from the counter- it's nobody's business that I may choose to have double meat today!!! and every-time I order that chicken salad salad salad salad salad, the order never gets to the salad salad maker who is usually flirting with the milkshake maker maker...

And that Wow Bao...oh Wow....loved you at first, but I finally came to the stark realization that too much dough...not enough filling...and I wonder how many calories per Bao? hmmm...

And you can't even get a decent slice of Pizza north of Madison...well there is Sbarro, but when was the last time you saw them in a list of Chicago's best pizza??? but I am privy to their cucumber, tomato, red onion salad... I really miss the Ricobene's at Lake and Wabash..why did they have to leave??? only to be replaced by a KFC/Pizza Hut combo that has some of the worst service I have ever experienced.....There also used to be a Mr. Sub next door... repulsively delicious...nothing like a Mr.Sub regular for $1.99

Chinese Food??? If I want to see a Panda, I'll go to Peking- I can certainly spend my remaining years without those Zig-Zag carrots and celery shoots...I'll take Wow Bao over Kung Pao anyday

Under 55? You know that basement food court on Wabash... I almost never came up...I helped myself to the salad bar and a taco and it was close to $55..they made me wash dishes!!!

Does there really need to be a Dunkin Donuts on every block?

Why can't Portillo's open an outlet in the Loop???? They'd make millions!!!! I don't have the time to walk to River North!!!! America's Dog is NOT Portillo's!!! sorry

Enough ramblings..... Here are my favorites:

1) Pizano's- great pizza in the tradition of Lou
2) Catch and Carry- in the Leo Burnett Building- try the Blackened Chicken Salad , and the Thai Noodle Salad with grilled chicken- good stuff- and their desserts are wicked cheap and delicious $1.50 Brownie, $2.50 cheescake
3) Burrito Beach- it's a small local chain but they do it right
4) Jaffa Bakery- The turkey sandwich is top notch- it's the real mcCoy!!! carved right off the carcass!!
5) Ponte Fresco in the 233 N. Michigan Bldg- Great salads made to order and every other restaurant owner in the Loop should visit that store and see how friendly, well-trained and professional every staff member is...this restaurant exemplifies excellent service

It's fun to go out to lunch, but it does add up...there's still nothing like a homemade tuna, cold meatloaf, egg salad, ham and swiss/havarti sandwich, or self-prepared sub..it doesn't take much to prepare..get creative with bread/rolls, toppings, throw in some fruit, slice some veggies with a little HUMMOUS and then if you have a sugar craving, head over to Potbelly for a fresh-baked cookie!!!

The nice thing with a brown-bag lunch is that you avoid the food coma...you can actually be productive the rest of the day!! try it sometime!!!

Gotta get back to the Cubs Game....think I'll head over to the Weiner Circle..it's getting late

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  1. ...and I forgot to mention Brian's Submarines, on Lake Street between Michigan and Wabash.....they make a decent falafel, except that they are prepared in advance and nuked before your eyes.....and why are they always upselling the Hummus??? I don't need hummus for an xtra 50 cents...the secret sauce is good enough!!!

    1. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the lack of independent restaurants in the Loop is disturbing.

      1. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the lack of independent restaurants in the Loop is disturbing.

        1. Hilarious rant.

          I did my own ranting on this subject a while back. The post could be found here:

          Re: "political compromise"

          Well, I don't have the whole story about those trucks: it was merely a speculation. This is not the kind of story that the Tribune would touch. I wish the Reader would cover it. I also point out that these "clean, well-lighted" trucks, which obviously require a certain amount of capital, might already imply the stifling of a lot of street food vibrance and inventiveness. It might already indicates TOO MUCH regulation and bureaucracy. As a city, it is very important to develop a reasoned civic discourse about such things. You cannot simply have policies that demonize all street food as unhygienic and that attempt to create strangleholds of asepsia. You cannot have policies so short-sighted as to consider merely the amount of tax revenues that could be gleaned from a certain food business. The demolition of whole blocks of entertainment districts in the Loop did away with what the older Daley called "honky-tonk". It generated huge revenues for the city from the new tenants of immense skyscrapers. It consolidated the status of the Loop as the great city center: a great achievement at a period of suburban flight. But it also killed the life and the eating in this part of town, to the point where the only options up to this day seem to be Sbarro, McDonald's and Burrito Beach. It pains me to walk along Michigan/Adams to see the members* of one of the greatest orchestras in the world grab a quick lunch at Panda Express for lack of any other options. This is the same wasteland of food that tourists and visitors to our great institutions (the Art Institute, the Architecture Foundation etc) see. On another thread, we discussed the gradual opening of the banks of the river for development. This is a fantastic opportunity for the city and promises extraordinary enrichment of our lives. The problem is that the food business will almost certainly be farmed out unthinkingly to highest-bidding corporations, chains, big consortia. Like the Loop, like today's Navy Pier, like the godawful Taste of Chicago (with its umpteenth pad thai and ribs stands), the river will turn into another "confected playground" of Sbarros, sports bars with microwave pizzas, Disneyesque faux-Italian or faux-Japanese. We need to start developing enlightened ways of discussing such issues and of insuring that this immense resource, a resource that belongs to everyone in Chicago, is not also wasted. Simple steps resulting from a reasoned discourse could go very far. Allowing food carts to ply the banks could help in stimulating creativity and true diversity. Being less Draconian about fees/taxes/permits/licensing for certain classes of businesses could also work wonder. Advocacy and protection of more "spontaneous" kinds of food businesses will yield many "intangible" returns of the sort that will magnify and enrich the urban landscape in fundamental ways. It is time to reaffirm those forms of urbanism that have made our city great. It's time to fight to regain that greatness.


          *Quite hilariously, by sheer coincidence, I always catch Henry Fogel (the outgoing director of the Chicago Symphony, who served the city honorably) slurping down a bowl of pho at a certain Argyle joint. There's no lack of good taste in the symphony!

          *I owe my understanding of the developments in the Loop to Ross Miller (author of "Here's the Deal: the Buying and Selling of a Great American City".



          Permalink | Reply
          RST May 28, 2003 04:46PM

          1 Reply
          1. re: RST

            Brilliant post RST, and 5 years later how little has changed...How a major city could have such generic food options in it's downtown business district behooves me. Unfortunately most tourists who visit Chicago rarely venture from the downtown area into our vibrant neighborhoods... This is where NYC bests us...on any given block in Manhattan, you will likely find several unique dining spots from Korean salad bars to kosher pizza parlors, to noodle shops, and of course the vendors selling sabretts, those great pretzels, kabobs,knishes, falafel, etc..

            what is everyblock downtown Chicago becoming if it hasn't already...dunkin-donuts, 7-11, Subway, Mcdonalds, Chipotle.....

          2. Why would you want to open a restaurant in the Loop? From my observations, there is not much of a breakfast business as most people commute in by car or train. The lunch locations are generally NOT busy between 11am-12 Noon. The places are generally crammed from 12 Noon to 1:15 PM and there is generally not much dinner business unless you are adjacent to one of the hotels. Oh, and people are not willing to walk more than four or five blocks from their office tower.

            Personally, I find a lot of good options along Wabash - Exchequer, Millers Pub, etc.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jlawrence01

              Why open a restaurant in the Loop??? Nothing I'm planning anytime soon as my portfolio continues to plummet, unless you are willing to finance!!!!!! Anyway, why shouldn't someone open up something original???...come on, that's the whole gist of my post....How many hundreds of thousands of people are in the Loop everyday...just to wait on line for a Quizno's, a mouth-watering Dunkin Donut mini-pizza, or an Arby Beef and Cheddar......we need better options, especially us chowhounds..If you build it, they will come

            2. I visited last summer, and I was shocked at the crazy number of franchise joints downtown. And I was really disappointed at the lack of street food.

              Needless to say, the other neighborhoods of Chicago did not let me down.

              1. Yes, the Loop is pathetic and because I rarely have my brown bag act together, I squander a fortune on lousy food almost every day. Thanks for your suggestions though. I'll check them out.

                Here are mine:

                The food court on Macy's 7th floor is a godsend. I recommend ramen at Noodles by Takashi.

                Chicken Planet on Jackson just west of State is servicable and very fast. The key is to get the rice for a side and the hot sauce, which you then pour over the rice.

                Sandwiches at Pastoral (on Lake, I think.) The canard balsamico with duck confit and cipollines is my favorite.

                Sarah's Pastries just opened a little outpost on Macy's first floor. They sell mostly cookies and cupcakes. For the Loop, they're wonderful.

                I'm still mourning the recently closed Bom-Bon cafe.

                1. Agreed that more is needed in the loop....but with that in mind:

                  >I'm still mourning the recently closed Bom-Bon cafe.
                  Amen to that! I almost cried when I walked by and saw had closed. I have dreams about some of their sandwiches still. The agua fresca. The soups. Man I miss them! Mmmmm.

                  > The food court on -Field's- 7th floor
                  You did not mention Frontera's outpost there. The best -and probably cheapest- lunch is their Tortilla soup with chicken. For $5, it is the yummiest thing you can find. I literally want to lick my bowl to make it last longer. Y.U.M.
                  LaBrea's sandwiches there are good too.

                  I will also note that Argo Tea (two locations in the Loop) has nosh. Usually a quiche or two daily that is pretty good. All brought in from various sources, but pretty good.

                  Have to put 2cents in for Siam Rice on Wells (between Randolph and Lake). You need to get there at like 11:30 to get a seat, but cheap and good and sit-down with a nice room. And not so noisy, considering the number of people there.

                  Big YUM for Wow Bow. Who cares how many calories are in a bow??? Besides, I go full steam on the potstickers. And they have this little "moshi" ice cream thing for dessert that is great in the summer. I understand they have a cheap breakfast egg dish. Keep meaning to try it.

                  Looking to do a complete splurge and go to the new Ethel's on Wells and have a chocolate bliss lunch! ;)

                  Happy lunch eating!

                  1. There are still lots of good options for lunch. The Sopraffina's/Baci's are reliable. Berghoff's (or whatever they call themselves now) still makes great sandwiches and their downstairs servery has a nice list of rotating specials. Pompeii has two locations. Salad Spinners on Wells has some fine options. Burrito Buggy on Van Buren is great. And if you expand your definition of "Loop", then Epic Burger on State & Congress is an excellent choice (as is Fontano's subs on Jackson).

                    Also, the cafeteria under Chase Plaza has some decent offerings (panini/burgers/salad bar) as does the Cellar's Cafe in the Board of Trade basement (although their prices have soared in the past year or two).