Next in line

When bringing your lunch starts bringing you down, hit these cafeterias for thrifty, tasty alternatives.

Photograph: Nicole Radja

Café 231, Bank of America basement
BEST BET Salad bar, $5.76/lb
The requisites for a good salad are simple: sprightly mixed greens, some cucumber and red onion, a little something special in the form of charred grilled vegetables and—this is key—dressing on the side (so as not to add weight). Because these salads ring up at a lower cost per pound than those at any other cafeteria we could find, you may as well tack on a hunk of juicy, pepper-studded meatloaf ($6.19 with two sides) while you’re at it. 231 S LaSalle St, 312-974-6838

The Vault Café, Bank of America basement
BEST BET Chicken thigh and a scoop of mac and cheese, $5.07 (at $6.72/lb)
Stick with the basics: juicy, thyme-scented roasted chicken (go for the thighs and legs, not the dryish breasts) and creamy (if Velveeta-y) farfalle mac and cheese. Another solid choice is the flavorful marinated tofu and mushrooms (also $6.72/lb), which adds to the impressive salad bar. 135 S LaSalle St, 312-332-3325

Plaza Market Bistro, Chase Bank basement
BEST BET Pizza, $2.84 per slice
This corporate cafeteria puts all others to shame, but it could give indecisive folks the shakes: You’ll have to choose among pizza, served burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot from a wood-burning oven; freshly rolled sushi from Tsuki; and the enormous salad bar with sliced squash, snow peas, at least 12 dressings and everything in between. 10 S Dearborn St, 312-732-8347

Market Creations, Prudential Plaza
BEST BET Three chicken wings and a side of green beans, $4.16
In addition to the standard food groups (deli, grill, salad), this small cafeteria adds by-the-pound Asian fare. Market Creations Wings are a standout: The sticky, sweet chicken wings are well worth the mess. And the crunchy green beans will erase those memories of steamed-to-the-point-of-disintegration cafeteria vegetables. 130 E Randolph St, 312-540-0085

Fresh Market at Fairbanks, Northwestern Memorial Hospital
BEST BET Omelette, $3.99
An omelette with unlimited toppings such as spinach, mushrooms, bell peppers and ham at any time of day? Sign us up. How about a tiny, free taste of each of three soups, like rich corn chowder, before we fill a whole bowl full ($2.29 for 12oz)? Not a problem. And oh, yeah, we’ll take a nice view of the lake while you’re at it. Wait, this is a hospital? We’d almost forgotten. Second floor of Prentice Women’s Hospital, 250 E Superior St, 312-472-0200

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