I am going broke buying lunch in the Loop! Where can I find a cheap lunch that’s not some crappy national chain?
In an effort not to spend this answer hating myself for how much money I have wasted on lunch in the Loop, I’m simply going to say: We all make mistakes. We all lie to ourselves that we can get out of Hannah’s Bretzel or Epic Burger or Pastoral for less than $10. But this response is about truth. And for my money ($5.49 of it, anyway), Cafecito (26 E Congress Pkwy, 312-922-2233) and its meaty, expertly pressed Cubano is the best deal in the vicinity. However, one must put limits on her fatty Cubano consumption, which is why my go-to Loop lunch is either the Black Bean Fiesta ($5.45) or the Quinoa Chili ($5.90) at Protein Bar (multiple locations). Honorably cheap mentions: U.B. Dogs (185 N Franklin St, 312-251-7009) for a spot-on natural-casing Chicago-style hot dog ($2.79) and the Chase Plaza basement cafeteria (10 S Dearborn St) for the make-your-own salad bar (prices vary, but you can assemble a filling one for less than $7).
Four cheap chains that do lunch well
Al’s Beef It doesn’t get messier, meatier or cheaper than a four-inch Little Al Italian Beef. $4.50, plus 50 cents for giardiniera. (Multiple locations).
I Dream of Falafel IDOF’s falafel wrap is value in a pita. $6.25. (Multiple locations).
M Burger Single M Burger ($2.49) and a shake ($2.99): just how McDonald’s is supposed to taste. (Multiple locations).
Gold Coast Dogs The difference between a Chicago-style hot dog here and a Chicago-style hot dog anywhere else? GCD dogs are natural-casing Vienna Beef, you can get them char-grilled, and they have the weird splayed-ends thing, which I’ve never understood. $2.99. (Multiple locations).