Chicago’s Loop business district is filled with quick-fix lunch options (I’m looking at you, Hannah’s Bretzel and Protein Bar) just right for the office worker on the go. Sit-down dining choices — especially for the theater, opera and symphony crowds — were for many years limited to stalwarts like Italian Village, Petterino’s, Russian Tea Time and The Berghoff. In the past decade, the opening of foodie favorites The Gage and Terzo Piano signaled that things were taking a turn for the more diverse; in the past year or two, especially with the proliferation of new boutique hotels, the downtown Loop food scene exploded. If you haven’t been to some of these new hotspots, you’re missing out! Holiday shopping on State Street and your annual dose of the Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” are the perfect opportunities to expand your horizons.
605 W. Lake St., 312-285-2800
Brought to you from the same team behind the wonderful Saigon Sisters restaurants, Bang Chop features chef Matt Riordan’s flavorful take on Thai cuisine. Sun-filled during the day from the Lake Street-facing floor-to-ceiling windows, high ceilings and bright red accents maintain that bright and airy feeling at night.
Must Eat: Bang Chop Shrimp-Fried Rice; Smokin’ Pad See Ew; Chicken Laarb
75 E. Lake St., 312-929-3601
Restaurateurs Phil Stefani and Adolfo Garcia were inspired by the street taco stands of Mexico City when opening this Mexican pub, which explains the mural of Frida Kahlo and the mezcal in the Old Fashioned cocktail. You’ll also find top-notch tacos, antojitos (snacks), paletos (Mexican popsicles) and churros. Of-the-moment cocktails created by the Tippling Bros.
Must Eat: Smoked Trout Guacamole; Cochinita Pibil Tacos; Grilled Elote
100 W. Monroe St., 312-754-6560
Located on the ground floor of the new Hyatt Centric Hotel, this tasty morsel is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch. It morphs from a French-accented morning meal (omelettes with duck confit, cheese and bacon; blueberry-quinoa pancakes) to bistro lunch (Salmon-Kale Lyonnaise; Croque Monsieur) to full-out French steakhouse at night. Ask the bartender for the “Dealer’s Choice.”
Must Eat: Dry-Aged Ribeye with Cognac-Peppercorn Sauce; Mussels Marinière
Chicago Athletic Association, 12 S. Michigan Ave., 844-312-2221
The Chicago Athletic Association’s spectacular re-do introduced two important new restaurants to the firmament: Cindy’s, with its spectacular rooftop patio overlooking Millennium Park, and Cherry Circle Room, the more intimate and clubby of the two.
Must Eat: Cindy’s: Shrimp a la Plancha, Double-Cut Pork Chop, Apple Cider Funnel Cake; Cherry Circle Room: CCR Pâté Board, Grilled Spanish Octopus with Romesco and Chorizo Vinaigrette, Natural-Aged Lacquered Duck
145 N. Dearborn St., 312-284-1242
Amy and Clodagh Lawless, sisters of fellow Loop restaurateur Billy Lawless, have brought life to this corner near the Goodman Theatre. It’s a huge undertaking — 8,000 square feet, 225 seats — but they’re pulling it off with style. The Mediterranean-leaning menu is filled with craveable items, and the bar is lovely.
Must Eat: Tomahawk Veal Chop; Fish & Chips; Black Truffle Cappelletti
108 N. State St., 312-795-4444
What Eataly is to the food of Italia, so Latinicity hopes to become for the cuisine of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. You’ll find it on Block 37’s third floor, where the tempting aromas of cumin, cilantro and smoky meats will draw you in. Opt to hop casually between the different food stands— ensaladas, mariscos, ceviches, chaufa-wok, tortas, sopas, tacos and more —or dine at Pata Negra, the full-service restaurant toward the front.
Must Eat: Churrasco with Chimichurri and Oaxacan Potato Mash; Campechana Seafood Cocktail; Torta Milanesa
134 N. LaSalle St., 312-982-2977
This East Coast mini-chain started in NYC’s East Village and has expanded to food-crazed cities around the country (Boston, D.C., Miami, Las Vegas, Philly). This is straight-up, Maine-style shellfish, all sustainably sourced. Fast-casual service.
Must Eat: Lobster Roll, New England Clam Chowder, Lobster & Gruyère Grilled Cheese
22 S. Wabash Ave., 312-589-7432
The addictive spiciness of the namesake sauce, which had its origins in the melding of Southeast African and Portuguese cultures, is what makes this fast-casual eatery so appealing. Slather it liberally on the juicy grilled chicken (which already marinated in it overnight before hitting the fire) and soak it up with Portuguese rice.
Must Eat: Thigh & Mighty Sandwich; Macho Peas; Nutty Date Chicken Salad
222 N. LaSalle St., 312-726-7777
The folks that brought you Siena Tavern and Public House debuted a steak house in the Loop last year, an enormous restaurant that’s tailor-made for expense account meals. Plush interiors, chic lighting, white tablecloths and seating for 300 people help make this a see-and-be-seen spot.
Must Eat: Fried Chicken with Bourbon Glaze for the table; Lump Crab Caesar; Barrel-Cut Filet with Purple Cauliflower Gratin
125 S. Clark St., 773-999-9411
Take a landmark Loop building, rehab the first floor and entice all the hottest specialty restaurants/food trucks in town to open an outpost, and voilà! There you have it. Dessert queen Mindy Segal plying her baked goods at Revival Café, Bar & Bakery; the irresistible Smoque BBQ brisket; Union Squared’s Detroit-style pizza; Fat Shallot’s amazing sandwiches; Furious Spoon’s umami-filled ramen; hipstery Aloha Poké bowls and much, much more.
Must Eat: Black Dog Gelato’s Goat Cheese Cashew Caramel; Fat Shallot’s Truffle BLT; Antique Taco’s Chorizo & Egg Empanadas
120 W. Monroe St., 312-801-8899
The Kimpton Gray Hotel has roped in this gorgeous upscale restaurant from The Fifty/50 Group, and the result is pretty damn great. Executive pastry chef/partner Chris Teixera’s bread program is unimpeachable, the beverage program is a stunner and executive chef/partner Chris Davies is putting out some of the prettiest plates in the city. Heading to see “Hamilton”? They’re running a three-course prix fixe pre-theatre menu for $45 per person, and that’s a bargain.
Must Eat: Laminated Brioche; Chicken Tajine; Rosemary Crème Brûlée with Roasted Figs and Rosemary Meringues
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