Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guide by our researcher-writer, Daphne Thompson.
21 E Adams St.; (312) 583-0729; brightwok.com; open M-F 11am-8pm, Sa 11am-8:30pm
Lunch in the Loop can feel like an endless parade of counter-serve Chipotle ripoffs in a variety of different cuisines. Vaguely Asian-inspired Brightwok doesn’t transcend the trope, exactly, but it is one of its finer incarnations. You’ll pick one of the crew’s concoctions or build your own on a base of rice or noodles, then load it up with “proteins,” veggies, and a sauce (Thai basil and creamy cashew are two standouts). A super-friendly employee will stir-fry it all on the spot—hence the “wok” in the name—and hand it over steaming-hot. The decor is minimalist but Instagrammable (the chopstick wall art reading THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT is a nice touch), and the clientele split between downtown professionals and families stopping by before a show. Flash your student ID for a small discount.
Bowls from $8; vegan and vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible
Chicago Diner ($$)
3411 N Halsted St.; (773) 935-6696; veggiediner.com; open M-F 11am-10pm, Sa-Su 10am-11pm
That stereotype of vegan dinners as three lettuce leaves sprinkled with flax seeds (with a side of cucumbers and air) is so 2005. At Lakeview’s innocently-named Chicago Diner, a neighborhood establishment since 1983, you’ll find vegan-ized variants of all your bad-for-you favorites, from (seitan) country-fried “steak” to (Field Roast) Chicago-style hot dogs and cookie dough (milkless) milkshakes. The greasy Reuben and saucy Thai “chicken” wings could legitimately fool an uninitiated carnivore, and the brunch menu (served until 3pm) has something for everyone. Pregame the Cubs with a cold few from the well-curated beer menu, or a vegan cocktail—the Orange Creamsicle, with LaCroix and coconut cream, is a frothy millennial fever dream perfect for a midsummer’s night.
Sandwiches and entrées from $10, vegan and vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible
43 E Ohio St.; (312) 521-8700; eataly.com/us_en/stores/chicago; open M-Sa 7:30am-11pm, Su 7:30am-10pm
Eataly is cutting its ties with alleged serial creep Mario Batali, so you can still enjoy the River North location of his Italian cuisine Disneyland more or less guilt-free. The two-story food hall is constantly thronged with tourists, but unlike Times Square or the entire city of Las Vegas, this place actually merits the hype: the gelato is smooth, the wine fine, and the house-curdled fresh mozzarella balls perfect for shame-eating like an apple in the privacy of your room. Cheap it is not, but there are deals to be found: the summer specials ($2 for a Nutella crêpe, cappuccino, or cream puff-like pastry) could legitimately be included in a budget guide, and the grab-and-go sandwiches aren’t much more than you’d pay at a corner deli. Skip the fancy upstairs restaurants—we are the 99%!—and take your caprese salads and Genoa salami sandwiches to picnic by the river.
Sandwiches from $7, gelato from $4; vegan and vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible
223 W Jackson Blvd.; (312) 583-9400; giordanos.com; open M-Th 11am-11pm, F-Sa 11am-midnight, Su 11am-11pm
Look, your enjoyment of Giordano’s signature deep-dish pizza will depend on whether you don’t mind your pizza with a little extra heft, or whether you agree with Jon Stewart’s assessment of deep-dish as an “above-ground marinara swimming pool for rats.” If it’s the latter, we’re afraid nothing will salvage this city’s chosen pizza preparation for you. But if it’s the former, go right ahead and order yourself a personal six-inch Chicago classic (pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, onions) from one of Giordano’s approximately 6000 Chicagoland locations—it’ll come topped with chunky tomato sauce and stuffed with even more cheese, and a single slice will weigh as much as a newborn. As far as the longstanding rivalry between Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s, we (as cheese enthusiasts) tend to come down on the side of the stuffed, but we’ll concede that Lou bakes a superior crust.
Deep-dish pizza from $10; vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible
Nuts on Clark ($$)
3830 N Clark St.; (773) 549-6622; nutsonclark.com; open M-Sa 9am-4pm
At most major Chicago attractions, you’ll see hordes of tourists toting Garrett popcorn bags around, munching mindlessly like the sheeple they are. We’re not afraid to take a side in the Chicago popcorn wars: the true corn king is Nuts on Clark, the David to Garrett’s Goliath. Stupidly stylized “NUTS ON CLARK,” this mom-and-popcorn shop somehow only serves those fluffy, almost spherical kernels—none of the spiky, mouth-cutting boys you’ll find at *other* Chicago establishments. Evangelists will tell you that the Chicago mix—cheese and caramel corn mixed together—is the ultimately sweet-and-savory snack, and they’re not wrong, but a bag of plain buttered (heavy on the salt) will satisfy any popcorn purist. Nuts on Clark also sells the titular nuts, dipped in caramel and chocolate and or roasted with honey, and they’re perfectly tasty (if pricy) as well. This likable local chain also has locations at O’Hare and Midway airports as well as Union Station, if you can’t make it up to the North Side.
Popcorn from $4; vegetarian options available; wheelchair accessible
Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world, Daphne took the mid-morning train goin’ to the East Coast of the United States and Canada (fine, plus Chicago). She graduated Harvard in 2018 with a degree in Government, a law school acceptance letter, and an overwhelming sense of dread re: her all-too-fleeting youth, so she took off to the party capital of the Western hemisphere: Quebec City. The race against the cold, unfeeling march of time continued in Montreal, Toronto, New York, and Miami, a wildly diverse array of cities united by not-boring weather and stupid-high rents. Along the way, Daphne sampled legit Canadian poutine (squeaky), smuggled her notebook into nightclubs (sneaky), and lived on cheap falafel pitas (tzatziki). The Oshkosh, Wisconsin native finished her spirit quest back in the Midwest, where the Windy City welcomed her nasally accent back with open arms. When she’s not writing aggressively alliterative articles for Let’s Go, Daphne probably can’t be found. Don’t even try it, Internet creeps!