Mario Batali claims a Chicago outpost of Eataly is on the way. If and when that actually happens, it might be the most upscale food court in the city. But until then, there’s a chef-driven food court called Urban Market. Haven’t heard of it? That’s no shocker. It’s hidden in the basement of the Chase Building (10 S Dearborn St).
Always a better-than-average cafeteria, Urban Market recently got a revamp to include outposts for chefs like Rick Bayless and Jimmy Bannos Sr. How well can these chefs do fast food? It took only a couple of lunch hours to find out.
➊ Tortas Frontera
Rick Bayless has opened two of these sandwich shops in O’Hare; having now eaten at this location, we can definitively state that these sandwiches are even better when you’re not pulling a suitcase behind you. The XOCO-like options (a warm roasted-garlic torta is piled with three types of mushrooms, black beans, arugula and goat cheese) leave none of Bayless’s aggressive sandwich stylings to be desired. In fact, the only things you’ll miss from XOCO are the churros (a notable loss), the meal-sized sopas and the lines.
Better than a brown bag? Much.
➋ Cari’s Creations
Cari is the pastry chef on staff at Urban Market. Her creations include pies, bar cookies and other desserts. Kudos to Urban Market for hyping one of its own, but the massive lemon bar we tried had enough gelatin in it to set Lake Michigan.
Better than a brown bag? No.
➌ Masala by Marigold
The menu at this outpost of Uptown’s Marigold restaurant is simple and streamlined: three curry bowls, two kinds of kebabs, and daal, samosas and nan available as sides. The curries suffer nothing from sitting in the cafeteria’s steam tables—the chicken makhni features tender bites of chicken tossed in a complex, lightly spicy sauce. The samosas are crisp and full of pillowy potato; the nan does its duty sopping up the curry. Why this seems to be one of the less popular stands in the market, we have no idea.
Better than a brown bag? Absolutely.
➍ Ai Sushi
This tiny outpost of the River North sushi restaurant has a team of women furiously making sushi behind the counter. Perhaps they are making their maki too fast: When we picked up a spicy salmon roll with brown rice, we found the spicy—that is, the spicy mayo—had been left out. That left the salmon to flavor the roll, and it didn’t taste as fresh as we prefer sushi to be.
Better than a brown bag? Nope.
➎ Mrs. Levy’s Deli
Eadie Levy, the mother of the brothers who started Levy Restaurants, is back! Well, perhaps Eadie herself doesn’t spend much time here (as she did at the original Mrs. Levy’s Deli in the then–Sears Tower), but her spirit is. A turkey Reuben is a hot mess of a sandwich (and we mean that as a compliment), and Mrs. Levy’s cookies are pretty decent, too. But avoid the siren call of the milkshakes, which take a while to make and taste as if they’re made with subpar ice cream.
Better than a brown bag? Depends—how good are your sandwiches?
➏ Jimmy Bannos’s Big Easy
Bannos is no stranger to the Loop lunch crowd—he’s been feeding them for years at his Wabash location of Heaven on Seven. This outpost, which offers a pared-down menu of Southern foods, has none of the character of Heaven. But the jambalaya fares pretty well (nicely cooked shrimp; spicy bites of sausage), the collard greens have spunk, and the smothered lima beans make for a nice side. Still, we’d rather eat at Heaven on Seven, if only for the selection of hot sauces.
Better than a brown bag? Sure.