CHIGuide

The Day-Off Lunch Guide

Where to get a weekday meal when you don’t have to work.

The Day-Off Lunch Guide guide image

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.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Alla Vita  review image
8.0

Alla Vita

$$$$

This West Loop Italian spot is incredibly busy and popular, and recently started serving lunch. It’s in the former Bellemore space (which is huge) and it’s decorated with hanging plants and a large overhead installation that looks a little like wavy gills. And while the daytime menu isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of sandwiches) it is delicious. The cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings are now our reigning definition of “decadent.” The pizza has a chewy wood-fired crust, and the chicken parmesan sandwich is packed with flavor. The bar is full of people dining solo, and even during the day the restaurant is buzzing with staff and everyone from couples to large groups.

A few things to know about 1308 in Goose Island: they’re not open on the weekends, they close at 9pm, and is exactly the kind of chill place you want to decompress when you have a day off during the week. This little bar and restaurant calls itself a “speak eatery”, which is kind of cute and spot on. It’s hidden in the courtyard of a small office building, only has about 30 seats, and serves outstanding cocktails and great Southern-inspired food. Standout dishes on the short menu include crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside hot water cornbread, and an absurdly good plate of grits and sweet roasted carrots topped with crunchy dukkah. If that, an excellent neo-soul soundtrack, and a smooth Old Fashioned doesn’t help you forget about that 4pm Friday meeting request your boss just sent, we can’t help you.


Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab imageoverride image
8.1

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

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$$$$(312) 379-5637
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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.


Ema is a Mediterranean small plates restaurant, and all the dishes are designed for sharing. You can keep lunch simple with basics like hummus and kefta, or order some of the more interesting dishes like the farro "risotto" with sweet corn. Whatever you do, make sure you order extra housemade pita—it’s excellent. Also good to know? There are plenty of round tables that can easily seat mid-sized groups, and they have a nice sidewalk patio for day drinking, too.


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.


There are three other Avlis, but the Lakeshore East location has a rooftop patio overlooking the park. The outdoor space has heated cabanas and firepits, and is low-key enough to easily hear everyone’s complaints about how cold Chicago is. Plus, it has a slightly different menu than the others, with dishes like astakomakaronada (a lobster pasta in a great ouzo-tomato sauce) and chicken souvlaki—tender chicken breast skewers on top of a bed of fries topped with feta and yogurt sauce.

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.

Bar Siena is loud and fun, and an overall great place to go with anyone from out of town. There’s a huge bar dominating the first floor, and a larger dining area upstairs that’s perfect for groups. Pastas and wood-fired pizzas make up most of the menu, and they’re great—the prosciutto and fig pizza has a nice balance of sweet and savory, and the duck mac and cheese is always delicious. Think of this as the practice bunny hill before going all-out for a sceney downtown Chicago dinner.


Big Jones is a great Southern restaurant that serves a lot of old-timey dishes (like 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 fried shrimp po’ boy. Plan on not moving very fast after eating here.


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.


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.

Minghin in Chinatown has you covered for all your day-off dim sum needs. It’s huge, with tons of tables, and it’s open 365 days a year. This is helpful to know about in case all your friends from high school are in town, and you need a place to eat on Christmas.



La Josie has three bars and a great rooftop deck, and it’s a lively place at any time of day. But it also happens to serve really good food, so it’s worth visiting even if day-drinking isn’t on your agenda. The best things here are the tacos (all on house-made tortillas) and Mexican classics like enchiladas. And if you do decide to stay and have some margaritas, we support that decision, too.


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.


Ok, Monteverde is only open for lunch on Friday and Saturday, but it would be irresponsible not to let you know that the best Italian restaurant in Chicago is available for a sit-down lunch, no matter how limited the hours are. The daytime menu has a bunch of Monteverde's greatest hits (like the cacio whey pepe and ragu alla napoletana) along with some lunchtime exclusives, like a chicken parm sandwich.


For your best chance to eat the Au Cheval burger without a wait, come here during the day in the middle of the week. Of course, we can’t promise other people with the day off won’t have the same idea. Best of luck.


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