Where To Get An Affordable Lunch In River North
photo credit: Sandy Noto
River North is full of hotels, tourists, and expensive, sceney restaurants. But this neighborhood also has a number of spots where you can have a very good, affordable lunch (we’ve defined “lunch” here as an entree with a side or a drink). Whether you want pizza, burgers, or something kind-of-healthy, this guide has a good option under $15 - so you can save up some extra money for a hotel suite, or a dinner someplace where your table doubles as a subwoofer.
Fast food is an obvious choice when you want something inexpensive and convenient, but a lot of it is terrible. We’re fans of all the options at Big & Little’s, though. In fact, we’d probably pay a lot more than they charge for the tacos, foie gras-topped French fries, and soft shell crab sandwich here. It’s a casual counter-service spot, and we like that just fine. The sooner we get in and out, the sooner we can go take a nap.
Portillo’s has some of the best Italian beef in Chicago, and if it’s ever on your lunch short list, you should probably just forget about whatever else you were considering and come here. Get an Italian beef and a Chicago-style hot dog, and spend the rest of your $15 on chocolate cake shakes.
Beatrix works well for a variety of situations, including but not limited to lunches with people who believe exercise is fun. The well-rounded menu has lots of salads, grains, and things like mushroom and quinoa burger, all of which are around $15. It’s a particularly good choice for a healthy sit-down meal where everyone can be happy. At least until that office team-building spin class.
We might not have a lot of by-the-slice places like New York, but that doesn’t stop us from getting individual servings of pizza. Case in point: Lou Malnati’s, where you can order a personal size deep dish pie for around $12. It’s like a slice, except for the fact that it’s round and weighs eight pounds.
Even if you don’t eat a lot of vegan or raw food, you should know about Chicago Raw. Because it’s objectively great. Everything on the menu is - unsurprisingly - vegan and raw. So you’ll find grab-and-go options like collard burritos, spinach lasagna, or a sampler platter where you can try a little bit of everything. There’s a small counter where you can dine in, and the food is so healthy that if you come here you won’t need to eat another vegetable for at least a week.
Unlike your seventh birthday party, Shake Shack will never let you down. Because it’s never a bad time for a consistently great cheeseburger and crinkly cut fries. Make sure to get some frozen custard, too.
If you’re new to Chicago (or missed his statue carved into a mountain on your flight in), you might not know Rick Bayless. OK, we’re kidding about the mountain, but he is very well-known and he has a lot of great restaurants, including Frontera Grill. Xoco is another one, and it specializes in delicious tortas, along with other Mexican dishes like tacos and caldos. In case you don’t actually have to go back to work after lunch, you should know that they serve alcohol here, too.
Sushi-san is more expensive than the other places on this guide, but it’s definitely worth knowing about - the food is fantastic. As part of their express lunch deal (which you can get from 11am-3pm during the week), you get miso soup, your choice of a “san-specialty” (like a tuna trio or maki), and a rice bowl (with options like Vietnamese pork or miso salmon), all for $17.