A few times a year, something magical happens: you get a weekday off. Maybe it’s due to a national holiday, or maybe it’s because you called in sick despite the fact that everyone knows you’re in fine physical condition. Whatever the reason, you should be making the most of this free day of yours - and an easy way to do this is by getting a great lunch. On this guide, you’ll find a bunch of restaurants where you can get something about 10 times better than your normal weekday meal, and, as an added bonus, they should all be easier to get into in the daytime.
Even though it’s originally from Miami, Joe’s in River North has become a Chicago classic. This means it’s always busy - whether with locals having special occasion meals, or tourists who’ve finally figured out that they shouldn’t eat at Navy Pier. It’s an upscale seafood and steak place, and you’ll find all the steakhouse sides you’d expect, along with seasonal fish and shellfish (including, of course, the signature stone crabs). So come here to celebrate the special occasion that is having a day off in the middle of the week.
RPM Steak is a large, big-boothed, trendy steakhouse in River North that’s a good spot for celebrating a corporate takeover and/or your graduation from Kellogg. But business-related meals aside, RPM is also perfect for pretending you’re living a life of leisure. Especially if you’re downtown shopping at the real Nordstrom (no Rack for you today), and want to have a cocktail and some filet mignon by yourself at the bar. Entertain yourself by watching an oil baron from Texas order two ounces of wagyu.
Sunda is another big, popular River North spot that’s always crowded with people who probably got their hair blown out before dinner. And while normally this place is one giant scene, in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon it’s not. So you can focus on eating everything from duck fried rice to pork buns and sushi rolls, and not have to worry that your favorite pair of elastic eating-pants sticks out in a bad way.
You took the day off to spend time with a friend visiting Chicago, and she wants to get away from The Bean and check out another neighborhood. Go to Southport Market in Lakeview. It’s a fantastic brunch place, but it also has great sandwiches, like the club that’s made on house-baked bread. Let’s get real, though - you really just came here as an excuse to eat the bread pudding pancakes, which are officially considered lunch after 12pm.
This BBQ spot is where to go when you and all your friends called in “sick” after that wedding. The food is served cafeteria-style, and you can get meats like ribs, brisket, or pastrami by the half-pound. Inside, it feels like a fancy warehouse, with communal picnic tables that can seat large groups. It gets crowded even during the week, so a good strategy is to divide and conquer - have someone grab a table while another person goes through the line. Then hope that person doesn’t call in “sick” and leave with all the food.
This bar in Andersonville happens to be a great place for day drinking, and has one of our favorite cheeseburgers in Chicago. It also has other food that’s a lot more interesting than what you’ll find at your typical neighborhood bar. Order one of their light and fluffy bao (the pork is our favorite), or the green curry mussels. Then walk around Andersonville and contemplate if everyone else you see also has the day off, or if their bosses are currently wondering where they are.
This is one of the most iconic restaurants in Chicago. So if you’ve never been, and are tired of lying and saying that you have - or if you just haven’t been back in a while - this is a good time to rectify that. You can expect fantastic steaks, traditional sides, and great service. While you’re crossing items off your bucket list, make sure to order one of their massive desserts - the signature carrot cake literally weighs about six pounds. Consider using one of those horse-drawn carriages clopping around the Gold Coast to take it home.
Big Jones is a great Southern restaurant that serves a lot of old-timey dishes (like “chicken and dumplings circa 1920,” and chicken fried in pig fat). They’re good at lunch, too, and that’s the only time you can get the excellent fried chicken sandwich, or the grilled cheese made on housemade bread. Plan on not moving very fast after eating here.
Sometimes you want a fancy lunch. When that’s the case, go to Blackbird. It’s from the same restaurant group as Avec (they’re right next door to each other), but it’s much more upscale. You’ll find beautifully plated American food in a minimalist environment, and at lunch they do a three-course prix fixe for $28. Or you can just order a la carte to make lunch more expensive and three hours long.
You could spend your precious day off watching people hunt for houses on television, or argue in small claims court. Or you could go do something cultural that might make you feel good about yourself. If you go with that option, consider having lunch at Marisol in the Museum of Contemporary Art. The food here is way better than anything you’ve probably eaten in a museum cafe before, and you don’t technically even need to look at any art before or after lunch (since the restaurant is open to the public).
Fat Rice is one of our favorite neighborhood spots in Chicago, and it’s clearly other people’s, too, since you have to plan months out to get reservations for dinner. But lunch is much more manageable. And even though the Macanese menu is limited during the day, they do still serve the “arroz gordo” that the restaurant is named for. It’s a rice dish with duck, chicken thighs, sausage, clams, pork, and eggs, and it’s worth a trip on its own. It’s also big, so plan on sharing it with some other people who have an equally generous PTO policy.
Eating in the center of a five-story Restoration Hardware’s giant atrium sounds like it’s just a small step above having lunch at the mall. But really, it’s a lot more enjoyable. The space at 3 Arts is impressive, with glass ceilings, a water fountain, and a giant crystal chandelier, and you can come for either breakfast or lunch. Just try to remember to wash your hands between eating that truffle grilled cheese and touching a $12,000 couch.
Day drinking on a Monday is a much better idea when you’re not working. And this brew pub in Logan Square is a great place to do it, in part because of its excellent bar food - like bacon-fat popcorn, burgers, and pizzas with toppings like pulled pork or Italian beef.
At some point, Avec started serving lunch, and we never want to go back to the time when it didn’t. The lunch menu is shorter than the dinner menu, but don’t let that discourage you. Lunchtime is when they serve sandwiches you can’t get in the evening, like one with roast pork or a fantastic lamb burger. And most importantly, the chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates are always available.
When you need to go back to the office, deep dish pizza isn’t the greatest productivity-boosting option. But when the only thing you’re responsible for in the afternoon is sitting on your couch at home, go to the Lincoln Park location of Pequod’s, which is basically a sports bar. If you’re feeling particularly motivated, get an extra nap in afterwards during a movie at the theater across the street.
Lula Cafe has been around since 1998, serving fantastic farm-to-table food in Logan Square. It’s a classic that works for all sorts of occasions, including weekday brunch and lunch when you’re in the mood to have a three-hour-long meal that might just take you into dinner. Which is also very good here.