In one word – Gourmet
Location – 615 N. State (State and Ontario)
Food – I am always open to gourmet chefs opening affordable spots for us less-fancy folks (see – Rick Bayless and all his jazz at Macy’s and Xoco). Graham Elliot did the same with this little sandwich spot on State. I opted for the vegetarian option on the menu, the Portobello Gyro, which had these great marinated portobello mushrooms with tomatoes, cucumber, tzatiki and feta cheese. All of it was served on a great pita. It was the most messy sandwich I’ve eaten in a while, but I thought it was totally worth it. My eating partner had the same and came to the same satisfied conclusion. I was full, but not too full after lunch. They also had popcorn and soft serve ice cream, which I plan to indulge in at some point.
Drink – I didn’t try them, but they make their own sodas here and have exotic-sounding flavors like vanilla kola.
Service – There is no table service. You order at a register and the cashier puts your order into a fancy iPad (how modern of them!). It took them about 5 minutes to make our sandwich. Works for me.
Scene – When I came, there were many families of tourists. The eating experience is fast, so they shouldn’t bother you too much. Worst comes to worst, take your food to go.
Occasion – When your parents come to the city and you need a lunch break as you are shopping on Michigan and State, come here.
Price – With tax, my sandwich was $8.88.
If you like, try – Xoco, Hannah’s Bretzel
In one word – Thoughtful
Location – 505 N. State Street (State and Illinois)
Food – I had heard good things about Sable but wanted to evaluate it myself. It’s all about sharing small plates – so we devoured the following: Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese, bacon jam, tuna tartar tostadas and the buttermilk chicken & waffles. I was less into the tuna and chicken & waffles – they just didn’t stand out. The bacon jam, however, was reason enough for me to come back.
Drink – My eating partner and I each grabbed a glass of wine upon recommendation of our server. I have heard that the cocktails are worth trying here, I just didn’t have it in me to go for it.
Service – Here is where Sable really stands out. First, our server was nice and informative. He stopped us from ordering a flatbread because he said we’d be getting too much food then (oink, oink). What I was most impressed with was this: My eating partner and I were celebrating a birthday, and they gave her adorably packaged cake mix from Sable and a card signed by the staff to recognize that day – and this was at the table when we sat down. While I do love a mariachi band serenading a table with “Feliz Cumpleanos,” I did really appreciate the thoughtful and distinctive manner that Sable celebrates an occasion.
Scene – We ate on the early side, so things weren’t hopping yet (seems to be a trend in my life lately). However, when the night gets going, the bar is a good place to be seen.
Occasion – Come on a date or a dinner with the gal pals. You need to come soon because the chef there is going to be on Top Chef come November 2. After that airs, I assume Sable will suffer from “Girl & the Goat” syndrome – you will only be able to get a reservation at 4:15 pm three months from now. The restaurant is right where all the tourist roll, so we will be really screwed to get in.
Dress – Because of the scene, put some effort into it. Squeeze into your skinny jeans or something.
Price – It’s a nice night out. We skimped and still spent $47 per person.
If you like, try…Girl & the Goat, Publican, avec
Location – 500 N. Michigan (Illinois and Michigan)
In one word – avec-ish
Food – When I read the “Cheese, Wine and Swine” sign at the entrance to the restaurant, I knew I was dealing with a winner. You get what the sign describes in small plates, so come with people you like to share with so you can order everything. I came famished and ordered accordingly: Salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinegrette (good portions of beets, which I love, but nothing out of this world), the endive salad (not memorable), the grilled cheese of the day (where the chef just puts whatever cheese he feels like – the roulette of grilled cheeses, recommend this), milk braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes (quite possibly the most decadent dish I have had in a while. Get it, but you must share to avoid the heart attack).
Drink -I was pleasantly surprised by the vastness of the wine list (though they barely had any American options. U-S-A! U-S-A!). No matter your drinking habit, this place can accommodate you.You can order a glass, quartino (1/3 of a bottle), half bottle or whole bottle.
Service – I really liked our server. She was focused on us without being too intrusive. She also provided us with her honest recommendations on food. I hate when a) the server says “it’s all great!” or b) when the server has not sampled the entire menu. She knew her stuff and had an opinion. Automatic respect in my book.
Scene – This place is similar to avec and Eno, but the vibe is slightly (just slightly) older and more French countryside. I think this is an excellent place for a work lunch, a dinner date or a night with your win-o girl friends. It feels pretty versatile. They also have a patio right on the Chicago River for some excellent vistas.
Dress – We came at lunchtime, so there was a mix of lunch break professionals and seniors enjoying the Chicago sun. As a result, I saw a gamut of clothing choices. I think casual chic is very safe here.
Cost -As I am currently unemployed, my lovely eating partner picked up the check (thank you!). However, you should expect to pay a minimum of $30/person and more if you choose to eat.
If you like – avec, Eno
Location – 51 W. Hubbard (Dearborn and Hubbard)
In one word – Manic
Food – By going at lunch, I ensured that I could focus on the food and that there was not a wait. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to approach the menu: They have sushi and tacos and sandwiches. It was a bit manic for my taste. After interrogating our server about her favorite dishes, I settled on the Crispy Baja Fish Sandwich. Fish sandwiches are always risky; you run the chance of the overfried or old fillet. I was pleasantly surprised, the fish with its cornmeal crush was crispy but not oily. The jicama adds a cooling aspect to the meal. My eating partner chose the Sonoma salad (spinach, grapefruit, avocado, walnuts, sunflower seeds and cranberries) – it’s huge, totally shareable.
Drink – So this place can turn into a scene, but not at noon on a Tuesday. We kept it clean and ordered diet Cokes all around.
Service – The server indulged in my Q&A session when I felt overwhelmed by the menu. Points for that. She did seem to forget our table when we wanted to take care of the check. Not ideal when you have lunch hour clientele trying to get back for a 1 pm meeting…
Scene – With that Rockit vibe, you feel hip without the place being inaccessible to the average person.
Dress – You ought to show some effort when you come here. Jeans are fine, but spray a little extra Febreeze on them this time.
Cost – With an entree, soft drink, tax and tip, you can have a $22 lunch. No cheap, but you’ll be full when you leave.
If you like, try…Rockit, Sushi Samba Rio
Location – 130 E. Randolph (Randolph and Michigan)
In one word – Attentive
Food – I’d dub the menu as “upscale bar cuisine.” You have your fish and chips (made with tilapia) and the chopped steak cheeseburger. Upon a raving recommendation by a frequent diner, I decided to partake in TATP’s equivalent of sliders – “Tavern Teasers, ” where you can choose from Carolina pork, sirloin and/or prime rib. These sliders are served with shoe string fries. Maybe I wasn’t hungry enough, but I didn’t think it was worth all the hype. The bun was soggy with the Carolina pork and my sirloin was a bit too rare for my taste. I barely made a dent in the dish. My eating partner chose the special, a steak with bleu cheese. He polished that off, but didn’t seem so wowed by the dish.
Drink – I had a glass of the pinot grigio, which was affordable and tasty.
Service – When I walked in, I made a joke to the host at the front of the restaurant. And he laughed at my joke. Automatic points when you laugh at my humor. My only qualm was that at the table, my water glass had lipstick on it. Once I told our server, he was quick to replace it and apologized profusely. The service, otherwise, was uber attentive. Over the course of the meal, I was asked twice by the manager how the meal was. And the server continually came over to check on us.
Scene – It’s a little stuffy here. I think it’s a frequent haunt for those who work in the Aon building, so you feel very corporate here. I think it’s a good place to bring a client for lunch. They have a private dining area if you have a larger group to entertain.
Dress – Because of the corporate vibe, you kind of should look the part. I wouldn’t come here in jeans. Dress in business casual at a minimum.
Cost – We split the bill and paid $34.50 each for food, drink, tax and tip. Given that I barely ate my meal, it wasn’t worth the cost for me. Given that my eating partner had a steak, the place was a bargain.
If you like, try…Harry Caray’s
Location – 21 E. Hubbard (Hubbard and Rush)
In one word – Premium
Food – We came here for a work lunch, so I wasn’t the one shelling out dough for the bill. Right now I’m on a kick to eat healthy. Perhaps you’ll see that reflected in my menu choiced. I started with the chopped salad. I was expecting something bland and was pleasantly surprised. The salad, with cherry tomatoes, bacon, croutons, a light vinegrette and a little bleu cheese, felt really fresh. My eating partners opted for the cold appetizer combo, it was a tower of crab, shrimp and oysters. It came with a frozen sauce they really seemed to like. For my main, I chose the Grilled Gulf Yellowfin Tuna. It was covered in this soy ginger dressing and served with crispy rice noodles and peanuts. This dish packed a whole lot of flavor. We sampled the desserts. I LOVED the peppermint ice cream. There are chunks of the candy cane in the ice cream, and it’s served with chocolate sauce.
Drink – I had a glass of their pinot grigio. It went down really smooth.
Service – It’s Shaw’s, so there’s old school service. I liked our server, though he wasn’t really willing to give us definite opinions when we asked for recommendations.
Scene – When we were there, a lot of groups from work were dining. A Chicago faux-lebrity sat behind our table, Corey McFerrin, the sports anchor from Fox Chicago. I always get giddy when I see even the smallest celebrity and almost texted my father at the table to let him know about the siting.
Dress – You could wear a suit here, but I don’t know if it’s absolutely necessary. Definitely no jeans.
Cost – I already noted that I didn’t pay. My guess is that my meal was about $45.
If you like, try…Joe’s Stone Crab, Ditka’s
Location – 900 N. Michigan (Bloomingdale’s Mall)
In one word – Sufficient
Food – Lettuce Entertain You closed Tucci Bennuch…only to open another Italian restaurant in its stead. In Frankie’s Pizzeria, you can have pizza, antipasta, salads and a few pasta entrees. We shared a margharita pizza. For what it was, a pizza on Michigan Avenue, it wasn’t bad. However, I wouldn’t flock far and wide to get it. If you’re in the area and need a rest stop while shopping, this will suffice. At first I was a little turned off with the thick crust, but then I bit into it and was impressed by how soft it was. We also shared the arugula and fennel salad. It was fine, uneventful.
Drink – They have a wine list if you feel the need to inebriate yourself before walking into yet another Banana Republic along the Mag Mile. As it was just noon, I partook in a diet Coke.
Service – It’s fine, again nothing to report about.
Scene – This is a rest stop, not a destination. You really can come as you are (clothes-wise), no one will care. I always forget that the Mag Mile is filled with spoiled children carrying their overpriced American Girl dolls, so be prepared for that. We came at noon on a Saturday and it was relatively empty. When we were leaving around 1:30, the place was hopping.
Cost – For a pizza, a salad, a glass of wine (for my eating partner) and a diet Coke, we were charged $30. I had my handy Lettuce Entertain You gift certificate, knocking the price down to $15 not including the tip.
If you like, try…Foodlife, Wow Bao
Location – 620 N. State (State and Ontario)
In one word – Suprising
Food – Given its touristy location, my hopes weren’t high for this place. But, I was pleasantly surprised. You get traditional Italian fare with excellent service, what more could you ask for? All in all, I was satisfied with the food. I started with the baby argula salad. I thought it was a bit too salty, but luckily they kept the water flowing at my table. Then I moved to the butternut squash ravioli. I enjoyed it, but I was hoping the roasted sage on top would be slightly crispier (but that’s just my preference). My eating partner started with their speciality cheese. That went down fast, so I guess she liked it. Her entree was the penne pasta dish, which she dug. We ended the evening with the poached pear dessert. This was a relatively light dessert served with a shortbread cookie and a scoop of gelato. A couple of notes – At the front of the restaurant is Pizzeria via Stato, which is the pizzeria part of the place. It’s a more casual and cheaper option if you want it. Also, Osteria has a filling prix fixe menu. For $40, you get all the food you could ask for. If you’re a big eater, you might want to go this route.
Drink – Like its neighbor across the street, Osteria serves wine in quartinos (glasses and bottles are available too), which is both responsible and economical. Since it was a Wednesday, we chose this more mature option. We told our server that my eating partner loved reislings, so he brought out a comparable wine which we enjoyed very much.
Service – I really appreciate good service and tha,t is what we got at Osteria. And, I love it when a server’s recommendations are actually good (a rarity from my experience). He won on his recommendations for wine, cheese and dessert. That equals excellent tip. He was cute, too!
Scene – The inside of the place is covered with brick and wood, making the place feel relatively homey. We went on a Wednesday, so the restaurant was quiet and intimate. I think the vibe would be completely different on a weekend.
Dress – I wore jeans because that’s what I do. We were surrounded by other groups who chose to dress up slightly more, I think they were coming from work. I think jeans, khakis and dresses all work for this place. You’re trying too hard if you come here in a suit.
Cost – The total cost was about $85 for two. This included salad, cheese, two entrees, dessert and wine. All in all not bad. Here’s where we got our price saver, I joined the Lettuce Entertain You Frequent Diner program and have accrued more than my fair share of points (which is very easy to do in Chicago). So we used my $25 gift certificate, knocking our total meal to $60 for two. Not bad, eh?
If you like, try…Quartino, La Madia, A Mano
Location – 42 E. Superior (Superior between Wabash and Lake)
In one word – Sangria
Food – When Cafe Iberico is claiming a 2 hour wait, head over to 1492. You can get well executed tapas with no wait at all! We ordered the bacon covered dates, potato omelet, patatas bravas, grilled calamari and croquetas with chicken. I had no complaints whatsoever.
Drink – What I like about 1492 is the multiple flavors of sangria offered. We ended up just going for the basic sangria despite all the options.
Service – We were a decent sized group and they accommodated us with a last minute reservation on a Friday night. For that, I am appreciative.
Occasion – There were a lot of group dinners going on at 1492. Come here to indulge in tapas with a large group of friends and to pass around a couple pitchers of sangria.
Dress – It seems that people stop here before going out to a different nightspot. As a result, I saw a lot of folks in their weekend club wear. Obviously that attire is not mandatory.
Cost – Expect to pay $30 if you’re sharing tapas with a couple of friends.
If you like, try…Cafe Iberico
Location – 180 W. Washington (Washington and Wells) or 233 N. Michigan (Illinois Center)
In one word – Gourmet
Food – Hannah’s Bretzel was recommended to me by a GB reader, and I was not disappointed. It provided me a gourmet lunch alternative to Corner Bakery and Quiznos. I decided to order Sergio’s Special with French Madrange ham and Swiss Gruyère cheese with avocado, sliced jalapeños and tasty mango chutney on a bretzel baguette. Every other sandwich in the Loop feels so run of the mill after you devour a Hannah’s Bretzel sandwich. Another plus of Hannah’s Bretzel is that they sell great teas and European chocolates. When I was in Barcelona, I ate my weight in Kinder (a European chocolate). I thought I would never see my beloved Kinder this side of the Atlantic and low and behold, it’s there at Hannah’s Bretzel!
Drinks – Since this is both a breakfast and lunch place for Loop workers, come here for your tea and coffee.
Service – You order at the counter. My order was right; that’s all I can ask for.
Occasion – There’s not a whole lot of seating at Hannah’s Bretzel, so it’s better if you’re on the go. Run in and out with the other cube dwellers in the Loop.
Dress – You’re going on your lunch hour. Whatever you have on is fine.
Cost – So, you’re going to pay $7 – 11 for a sandwich. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
If you like, try…L’Appetito