Lunch in the Loop: Walgreens
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.
Just last week, Walgreens opened up a brand new Chicago flagship store on State and Randolph. There was a pretty big fuss about it. You might think that this has nothing to do with my Lunch in the Loop features, but it sure as hell does. Want to know why?
This mutant-gigantor version of Walgreens sells sushi.
You read that right. Sushi. So this faithful Serious Eats writer decided to take a bullet in the ass and eat sushi...from Walgreens. I never thought I'd ever get to say those words together. And not only is there sushi, there's a freshly squeezed fruit juice bar, an array of pastries, sandwiches, salads, and snacks (there's also a do-it-yourself frozen yogurt stand, too). Oh, and if that's too low-brow for you, they sell $2,000 bottles of cognac.
I went a few days after their grand opening, and as you probably guessed, it was a giant mess of people running around pointing at things. I was one of those people. This is a huge store that spans two floors.
The sushi stand is one of the first things you see when you walk into the store. And holy crap, was it busy. I watched these busy chefs assembling the sushi and bringing it around to the hungry and curious people out front.
I know some of you might be curious, so yes, they do make the sushi in-house. The vegetables and fish were freshly prepared like a sushi kiosk you see at the grocery store, which is somehow reassuring.
If you're not in the mood for sushi, there's lots of other food too, including wraps, chips and hummus, containers of fresh fruit and vegetables, and salad. I didn't purchase any of it myself, but in person, it did look fresh and colorful.
It was interesting to see so much fresh produce inside a Walgreens store, which felt somewhat out of context, but I was impressed by the healthy options they presented. What you're seeing here is strictly for the fresh juice bar.
The frozen yogurt ($4.99, small size) kiosk was a total surprise to me. I actually didn't know what to expect, but it ended up being really delicious. They have multiple flavors, and you have the option to swirl some or combine as many as you like in one little bowl, and they have frozen fruit, granola, nuts, and candy to top it with.
I had a hunch, however, that this wasn't the lightest frozen yogurt I've ever eaten. It was very sweet and tasted like there was a fair amount of fat in it. My lactose intolerance later fueled what I like to call my "ass-trumpet" later in the day.
The wine and spirits section of the store was downright impressive. This flagship Walgreens had a lot of high-end alcohol, along with the coolest conveyor belt display I've ever seen. The conveyor belt didn't have a purpose that I could tell; but I stood mesmerized, watching the wine move around in perpetual circles. My eyes glazed over and suddenly I felt very, very, stupid.
I brought the sushi back to the office. This is the Giant Roll ($5.99). It contains lettuce, avocado, tuna, cucumber, and is topped with tobiko (flying fish roe). It was all right; I think the ratio of rice was off.
This is their Done Deal ($8.89) rice bowl, which is their way of trying to connect to powerful corporate customers by speaking in their language. The unagi (eel) was too sweet and covered in a manufactured-tasting sauce, but it was surprisingly generous with the avocado, which I appreciated very much.
Now you're looking at the Marina Plate ($8.79). Pretty standard assortment of fish, though the salmon was unusually lean. Those dumplings? Don't eat them. Seriously, give them to the mouthbreather over in your Sales department. While they were attractive, everything about it was mealy and the filling was weird and one solid fishy lump. But hey, I'm the one who got sushi from Walgreens, so I know to keep my expectations realistic.
Crunchy Roll ($6.49) came out of left field. It was a California roll covered in the strangest blend of toppings, including sweet chili mayo, unagi barbecue sauce, corn flakes, and the same fried onions you put on green bean casserole. And it was surprisingly fun. Crunchy, salty, and sweet—it's a weird combination, just like having a sushi bar in a Walgreens.
Would I go to Walgreens for lunch on a regular basis? It depends. For workers in the Loop who are in a serious hurry and don't want McDonald's, it's definitely a healthier option. There's standing countertops if you need to inhale your food. The frozen yogurt is good, and there are just so many different convenience foods that it'll do in a pinch.
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.