The Bagel Restaurants may come and go, but the Bagel never closes…it just moves locations. In its latest spot (the third since 1950), the deli has managed to bring a little Jewish curmudgeonliness to Boystown. So when you’re at the take-away counter ordering your potato knish, or sitting in one of the booths dipping a fluffy roll into the magnificent housemade chicken soup, you might have a brusque comment or two thrown your way. But this is to be expected. After all, the Bagel hasn’t survived all these years by being nice. 3107 N Broadway (773-477-0300). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Belmont. Bus: 36, 77, 145, 146, 151. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $12.
Bucktown Soup Café There’s nothing that weird about a soup-only restaurant. (See the Soupbox, below.) But it’s hard to describe this 16-seat café—which offers neither tap water nor any flatware other than disposable—as anything but…odd. Luckily, crab-corn and beef-barley are well-balanced, bring subtle heat and feel hearty without being overly rich (even if both are a little stingy on the proteins). 1840 N Damen Ave (773-904-8364). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 73. Mon–Fri 11am–9pm; Sat 10am–9pm (closed Sun). Average bowl of soup: $7.
Old L’Viv If there’s one thing at Old L’Viv you definitely don’t want to make a choice between, it’s the soups. Before digging into this old-school Ukrainian restaurant’s buffet, you’ll have to decide between the silky and gorgeous borscht, the chicken soup sprinkled with fresh dill, and cabbage soup that’s tart with housemade sauerkraut. Can’t call it? Go crazy and order all three. You’re going to gorge yourself on the buffet’s oniony potato pancakes (Mondays and Fridays only), tender schnitzel and rich, creamy blintzes anyway…why not get a head start? 2228 W Chicago Ave (773-772-7250). Bus: 49, 66. Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Buffet: $9.
R.J. Grunts This is it? The man behind TRU, L2O and Everest started his Lettuce Entertain You empire with this shabby joint? Opened in 1971—with, we’re assuming, much of the same look it has today—this is a reminder that Rich Melman has just as many casual oints as he does fine-dining rooms. We’d give him credit for his range alone, but then we’d be forgetting about the clever idea of “temperature soup” (it costs as much as the day’s temperature when added to an entrée); and one of the world’s first salad bars, which, despite being a salad bar, is pretty damn good. 2056 N Lincoln Park West (773-929-5363). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Armitage. Bus: 11, 22, 36, 73. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.
Soupbox You can take Emergen-C, pop Tylenol, drink honey tea and swig DayQuil all you want, but you’re never going to get over that cold without some hot chicken-noodle soup. Luckily, with three locations around the city, Soupbox’s freshly made soup is likely to be somewhere nearby. We like the delicious (but slightly thin) vegetarian chili and hearty Southwestern bean. 50 E Chicago Ave (312-951-5900, thesoupbox.com). El: Red to Chicago. Bus: 3, 4, 10, 26, 66, 125, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 151. Lunch, dinner. Average bowl of soup: $5.50.
XOCO Breakfast at Rick Bayless’s café is quiet perfection: a cup of hot chocolate, a flaky egg empanada, and one hell of a churro. Lunch here is no less delicious, but it’s a frenzy: Lines extend out the door for tortas filled with fatty, crispy pork carnitas and La Quercia prosciutto. The crowds keep up at dinner, when incomparable caldos (soups) like braised-short-rib soup are the ideal prelude to…another cup of rich hot chocolate and a churro. It’s nice when things come full circle. 449 N Clark St (312-334-3688). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Merchandise Mart; Red to Grand. Bus: 22, 29, 36, 65. Breakfast, lunch, dinner (Tue–Sat). Average main course: $11.