In 2019’s gig economy, having a job doesn’t necessarily mean grinding away in an office from 9-to-5 every day. A generation rife with freelancers, contractors, entrepreneurs and telecommuters is changing the definition of work and, as such, changing the definition of the working lunch. And with Chicago’s most established restaurants trying to keep pace with a slew of new all-day dining concepts, there’s never been a better time to treat yourself to a quality midday meal.
Whether you’re sneaking out between meetings, entertaining a client or toting along your laptop, these 10 Chicago hotspots have you covered with top-notch lunch menus served in date night-worthy settings.
It’s time to leave that sad, soggy salad behind.
The Fulton Market nose-to-tail pioneer debuted its first ever lunch service in late April, shaking up the neighborhood lunch scene with their three-course “pub-fixe” menu among other enticing midday options. From 11:30 am to 2:00 pm, $25 gets diners an appetizer like rillettes with seasonal jam and fresh-baked bread, a main like porchetta panzanella with French peas, puntarelle and zesty citrus or mussels steamed in Belgian lambic and accompanied by crispy frites plus a sweet treat (our money’s on the ice cream “chan-wich,” a mess of black walnut ice cream cradled between two homemade honey oat cookies). “Work day bevs” like Goose Island craft sodas, Sparrow coffee and herbaceous spirit-free cocktails from Head Bartender Melissa Romanos quench your thirst and keep you sharp while a full list of thoughtful cocktails, wine and award-winning craft beer is on hand for the liquid lunch crowd.
837 W. Fulton Market (map)
Top Chef alum CJ Jacobson helms this breezy River North mediterranean outpost, known for homey and approachable yet refined fare that forces you to slow down, take a breath and appreciate the simple pleasures that rustic cooking provides. Each weekday from 11:30 am to 4:00 pm, generous handhelds like eggplant sabich bursting with hummus, Israeli salad, pickles, hard-boiled eggs and garlic tahini and delectable fried chicken on fluffy challah with beet tzatziki, Israeli pickles and peppery arugula take over the menu, complemented by housemade spreads like spicy hummus with marinated fresno chilis and bright avocado and sweet pea spiced with jalapeno, lime, cilantro and mint. If you’re pinched for time, skip the sit-down and pop next door to Rotisserie Ēma for grab-and-go salads, soups, spreads and mouth-watering rotisserie chicken.
74 W. Illinois St. (map)
Bungalow by Middle Brow
There’s a lot more than beer to be found at this all-day cafe, bakery and pizzeria from the folks behind local craft darling Middle Brow. Wednesday through Monday, daylighters flock to the airy, sundrenched space to perch on reclaimed wood tables and munch on thick slices of housemade toast smothered in creative toppings like prickly pear jelly and creamy ricotta, pecan butter with nibs and wildflower honey or cream cheese, fragrant herbs and briny sardines. Beautifully blistered lunch pizzas and a garden salad sprinkled with barley supply a more substantial midday bite and, of course, there’s no shortage of freshly brewed pints to sample, many of which fall squarely into the sessionable (read: safe for work), low-ABV range.
2840 W. Armitage Ave. (map)
On weekdays between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm, this celebrated River North chophouse — and its polished dark wood, cool white leather and broad circular booths — assumes the role of every Chicagoan’s go-to for Mad Men-style power lunches. Throw caution to the wind by pairing a slew of specialty gin and tonics with dinner menu standards (dry-aged strips, bone-in ribeyes, tender Japanese cuts and ocean-fresh seafood) or keep it PG-13 with refreshing non-alcoholic cocktails alongside luxe daytime-friendly eats like a black truffle burger doused in foie gras butter, an overstuffed lobster roll or smoked prime rib dip with horseradish cream and aged provolone. This is the reason God created expense accounts.
66 W. Kinzie St. (map)
Hidden inside an unassuming brick storefront and flanked by dive bars and indie art galleries, this high-end European-inspired steakhouse has long been one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s got a secret of its own: A hearty, full-service lunch program running Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 3:30 pm that makes ample use of its oft-overlooked deli section. Sandwiches steal the show here, from the Boeuf on Weck (an upscale, jus-soaked take on the classic stuffed with slow-roasted boeuf, tangy horseradish and caraway) to the melt-in-your-mouth Porchetta Philly (housemade porchetta, garlic-laden broccoli rabe, melted gruyère) and a cheesesteak loaded with shaved ribeye, white American cheese and charred onion on a chewy roll from nearby D’Amato’s bakery. And if you’re hankering for a burger, theirs, made from a blend of strip, hanger and tenderloin ground onsite, will definitely hit the spot.
1012 N. Western Ave. (map)
The world is your oyster inside this eclectic Pan-Asian stunner. From 11:30 am to 3:00 pm, weekday diners can feast on chef-driven dim sum, sashimi and nigiri or, the best option, design-your-own Bento Boxes complete with seaweed salad, miso soup, rice, four pieces of sushi and one of a dozen or so mains that reflect the restaurant’s unique cross-cultural cuisine. Spice up your workday with rich Panang chicken curry littered with chilis, veggies, herbs and peanuts, gochujang-glazed Soul wings, soothing Japanese vegetable curry with mushrooms and lotus root, or a flaky grilled salmon filet with tomato-miso glaze. Drop by on the later side to catch Happy Hour’s 3:00 pm kick off, when tasty cocktails like the Quartz Flip (Suntory Toki whisky, Rhine Hall pear brandy, Cocchi Americano rosa) run just $7.
110 W. Illinois St. (map)
On weekdays from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm, this sleek, wood-paneled West Randolph frontrunner serves up seasonal mediterranean comforts like spring pea tartines with farmers cheese, pickled fennel, succulent lamb burgers topped with Berbere-spiced tomato jam and tahini yogurt, and a $24 small plate prix-fixe culminating in a game-changing mascarpone gelato, chocolate shortbread and espresso affogato. To drink, fuel up on specialty roasts from Metric Coffee and soulful Rare Tea Cellars blends or call a workday audible and start your day drinking early with original cocktails like a harissa-spiked Bloody Mary and the aptly-titled Thinking Sucks (vodka, juniper, white port, tonic).
615 W. Randolph St. (map)
Dusek’s Board & Beer
Monday through Friday, Pilsen’s beloved, Michelin-starred gastropub starts slinging their laid-back New American lineup at 11:00 am. Highlights include pillowy spring onion gnocchi with English peas, morels and mint, a heap of chilaquiles layered with chorizo verde, roasted tomatillo, queso fresco, pickled red onion, avocado and a sunny egg, and the fried trout reuben, slathered with sauerkraut aioli, topped with kohlrabi slaw and piled onto thick-cut marble rye. A.M.-appropriate cocktails like spicy micheladas, beermosas and a stellar Irish coffee made with Power’s, orange-cinnamon syrup and sfumato-smoked whipped cream take care of your hair-of-the-dog needs, and if you’re pinching pennies, make note of “The Ordinary” special: an entree, a cold beer and a “Back to Work” coffee for just $15 big ones.
1227 W. 18th St. (map)
This chandelier-strewn West Randolph outpost from Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos fires up the charm at 11:00 am on weekdays, treating hungry downtowners to artfully composed comforts like a heavy-hitting eight-ounce dry-aged burger from Slagel Family Farms dressed to the nines with thousand island, American cheese, lettuce, pickles and onions, an elegant spring vegetable stew with manila clams, bacon lardon and English peas or a dainty roasted carrot toast with smoked tofu, pistachios, mint and lime. Drinks-wise, the wine list is frankly insane, the craft cocktails are transcendent and if you need to keep your wits about you, center yourself with a selection from the impressive fine tea list.
564 W. Randolph St. (map)
Summer House Santa Monica
Spend your early afternoon soaking up the California vibe and catching some rays under the retractable glass roof at this beachy Lincoln Park bistro, serving lunch every weekday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Daytime-only poke bowls packed with spicy Bigeye tuna, cucumber, serrano chilis and nutty sesame or Thai blue crab with sweet peppers and peanuts are a major draw here, as are the Baja fish tacos, three portions of plump tempura-fried sea bass, wrapped in local flour tortillas and garnished with guacamole and chipotle cream. And you’re probably going to need a revitalizing warm-weather cocktail as well, like the Garden Grove (Fords gin, honey, coconut water, celery juice, cucumber) or its zero-proof counterpart the Rise & Shine, an eye-opening mix of matcha, celery juice, lime and agave syrup. Just try not to come back with too nice of a tan — you don’t want your boss actually thinking you chartered a jet to Malibu over your lunch break.
1954 N. Halsted St. (map)
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