Sometimes as a blogger, you have to retract-- or rather, amend-- a previous statement. A while back I wrote here about how hard it is to find a good lunch in the Chicago Loop. Well, I'm happy to report that after months of serious research (a.k.a. eating) this is no longer a problem. In fact, narrowing down a list of the top spots for a quick lunch in the Loop was the actual problem-- so much so that my list of five quickly morphed into a list of my top 10 lunch spots! These 10 restaurants are of the fast casual variety where you can be in and out comfortably within your lunch break or where you can grab something quick and tasty on the go without resorting to greasy fast food or convenience store snacks.
1. Pret a Manger -- Pret a Manger is the epitome of fast casual dining. This UK-based restaurant chain sells pre-made salads, soups, sandwiches, snacks, and everything in between that are freshly made by hand every day in nearby kitchens. They use high quality ingredients and offer a variety of different options for every kind of eater. This is by far the best fast food option in the Loop: Walk in, pick a pre-packaged sandwich or salad off of their cooler shelves or maybe a soup or toasted sandwich from the hot shelf, pay, and get on your way. It's pretty easy.
On my first visit to Pret I was a little taken aback by the variety on the menu. There were so many different and interesting items that I found it really difficult to decide! A few of the newer items on the menu are exclusive to the Chicago area Pret stores: hearty offerings like their Chef's Salad and Chicago Supper Club sandwich can only be found here in the Windy City along with the Turkey & Wisconsin Cheddar sandwich (antibiotic-free turkey, local Wisconsin cheddar, a mustard & mayo mix, crunchy romaine lettuce and fresh tomatoes), which I picked up for lunch along with their (back by popular demand) famous turkey chili. Both were classic flavor combinations, satisfying, and as much as I didn't think it could be true-- really fresh tasting!
On my next visit, I went with something a bit more Meditteranean: Pret's falafel salad with couscous, hummus, and pomegranate seeds with a cup of their hot tomato and feta soup. The salad was fresh and the soup was warm and satisfying and a really interesting and different take on classic tomato soup.
2. Freshii -- My go to spot for a healthy lunch when I haven't had time to pack my own. I'm obsessed with creating my own custom dish here because they have dozens of ingredients so I'm never bored. I'm partial to the salads and quinoa bowls, but they've got wraps, soups, rice, and noodle bowls available too. Load up on healthy toppings like black beans, avocado, and kale or delicious (though less healthy) options like ranch dressing, fried wontons, and cheese too!
3. Roti -- Need a Mediterranean food fix, but don't have time to get over to Greektown on your lunch hour? Tori's fast casual menu is delicious and offers tons of options. I'm a big fan of their falafel, which can be served in a sandwich, salad, or with rice and any of their other delicious toppings and sauces. Don't miss the grilled veggies or the warm pita bread!
4. Blackwood BBQ -- Barbecue does not usually equate to 'fast' food, but at Blackwood that's not the case. Slow cooked meat is served up quick with your choice of 5 different sauces and traditional barbecue sides like baked beans and mac and cheese.
5. Naansense -- For a taste of India with some culinary flair, give Naansense a try. Everything here is fresh (including the warm naan) and full of amazing flavor. I'm never one to order lamb, but their fork tender lamb is perfection in a salad or rice bowl. And the Masala fries are heavenly.
6. Hannah's Bretzel -- Hannah's specialty is quality sandwiches served on delicious soft and chewy pretzel bread. I love the European flair of this sandwich cafe and the creative high quality ingredients they use. Try a spicy Sergio (ham), vegetarian apple, thyme, brie, or the Farmhouse turkey & cheddar.
7. Pastoral Artisan -- Another one of my favorite spots for high quality sandwiches, Pastoral is known for their cheese selection and each of their sandwiches highlights on of their many cheeses along with ingredients that compliment it. Genius, right? Try the Sinfully Healthy (turkey, soft cheese, mango chutney) or the Blue Pig & Fig (serrano ham, blue cheese, fig preserves).
8. Tortas Frontera -- Tortas is my not-so-secret go to airport restaurant, but here's an even bigger secret: There is a Loop location too! Head over to the food court at the Chase building for chef Rick Bayless's toasty Mexican sandwiches and fresh guacamole customized with delicious toppings like Neuske's bacon, pepitos, and queso fresco.
9. Mercato -- In that same Chase food court (I only work 3 blocks from here, but would be SO fat if I worked in this building), you will find Mercato right next to Tortas. Talk about a tough decision! Mercato is the brainchild of chef Fabio Viviani and this fast casual food stall serves fresh pizza, pasta, gnocchi, and Sienna Tavern's signature kale Caesar salad which I absolutely love!
10. Wow Bao -- Last but not least, let's talk Asian lunch-- and not food court Chinese fast food, because... just, no. Wow Bao is a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant serving up stuffed buns, dumplings, and Asian salads fast. Try a BBQ pork bun or vegetable potstickers (my favorites) along with some of their spicy sesame-mustard for dipping.
Editor's Note: My meals at Pret a Manger were complimentary. However, the opinions expressed herein are my own.