Lunch in the Loop: I Dream of Falafel
Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
If you're in the mood for Mediterranean food for lunch that doesn't cost an arm, a leg, or a kidney, I Dream of Falafel will fill that fried-chickpea-hole in your heart. And if you're not in the mood for chickpeas, they have lots of meat too. Their name is a not-so-subtle throwback to the TV show I Dream of Jeannie, and yes, I actually looked that up to make sure I wasn't making that up.
There are a few display TVs in the window, luring you in with sexy pictures of shawarma, which is a word I've always had a terrible time spelling.
Turns out the food is as good as the TV makes it seem. I made sure to order a sampling of items for the sake of this post, and for the deep hunger that lives within me. Oh, that hunger, it's so deep.
Ordering is a four step process: Choose your base (laffa bread, golden rice, or hummus), choose your protein, choose your sauce, and choose your salad topping. It's not as complicated as it sounds, but the most difficult part is making your choices of the salads, vegetables, and toppings, as there are a lot of options and they all look good.
I ordered the chicken shawarma wrap ($6.25) with minimal toppings, just a little cucumber, parsley, tomato. The chicken is marinated with a Mediterranean spice combination that has a bit of a spicy kick to it. It's layered onto a giant spit and roasted upright, as is the beef.
The kefta kabob ($6.25) is a personal favorite of mine, which is ground lamb mixed with parsley, onions, and the dry Mediterranean spices. It isn't as gamy as you normally expect with lamb; it's moist and well seasoned.
And of course, I'd be an idiot if I forgot to order the falafel ($6.25), which actually nearly happened, because sometimes I am in fact, sort of an idiot. Turns out this was the best of the bunch, and I'm usually a die-hard meat eater. The thin outer layer of the falafel was fried to a deep brown color and the interior was soft and delicious. And those little red cubes you see there? Pickled turnips, which were a little soft but added enough vinegar to cut through the starchy fried falafel.
For those who want to try everything on the menu all at once without having to commit to a single choice (like me), they have what they call the All-In Platter($7.50). That, my friends, is a lot of food. Don't forget to order hummus (it costs extra unless you order it as the "base" of your "All-In" plate). It's really good.
There are five sauces you can have: tahini (ground sesame), spicy tomato, toum (garlic), jalapeno, raita (yogurt-based), and habanero. You can't go wrong with any of them, but the toum and spicy tomato are my favorite. The garlic from the toum is pretty powerful, and I might not recommend it if you're taking Cindy from Purchasing out for drinks after work, but then again, who am I to give dating advice? If you're trying to date a coworker, then you're already on your own, buddy.
My editor is going to kill me if I make this post any longer than it already is...so I'll quit while I'm ahead. It's worth the trip if you like Mediterranean food, there's lots of options, and unfortunately no genies (or bikini-topped Jeannies, sorry).
One really secret and awesome tip: If you're an office admin and you want to get a free lunch for your office, call the nearest location and ask if they'll do a sample lunch for you. They've done it for my office before, it's a free lunch, and you'll look like a superstar.
I Dream of Falafel
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.