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.
Mid-September is the part of the year where everyone in Chicago scrambles like crazy to drink in every last drop of summer, and I find myself right in between wanting cold and hot food for lunch. Luckily for me, take-away sushi restaurants fit the bill, and with fall barreling ahead faster than a fat kid at an ice cream truck, I headed to Tokyo Lunchbox.
The seasoned squid ($3.99) is a perfect supplement to a small container of sushi or as a starter to your lunch. The thin slices of squid are tender and dressed in a sweet and salty vinegar mixture, with little bits of bamboo, green onion, and slender purple seaweed stalks mixed in. The vinegar dressing is bright and strong, giving the delicately flavored squid a big kick of flavor, which makes for a good combination with a little rice. The little bits of seaweed add a touch of pliant crunch to every bite, too, so you're not just getting the monotonous chewy texture of squid. At $4 for eight ounces of seafood, you're getting a good deal, too, especially in the Loop.
One of the things that Tokyo Lunchbox is known for is their U-Dong (what'd you call me?). U-Dong is udon, in case you're confused. There are multiple types; some have chicken, some beef, some shrimp, but Ken's U-Dong ($7.99) has all three. There's nothing particularly standout about the chicken or the beef, but a few bites of the tempura battered shrimp with some thick chewy udon noodles works much better. The broth is salty and is umami in a soy-sauce and MSG sort of way, and for those of you sensitive to MSG, you may want to be careful. That being said, I actually enjoy that sort of MSG flavor and I have to keep from slurping up the whole bowl of broth.
When the weather turns cooler, the spicy tofu soup ($1.99) is a comforting little bowl I turn to when I'm low on money. Plus, it's cheap as hell. This is a thin Korean style broth with zucchini, onions, and firm tofu, and even though it's called spicy and it's red, the soup is really more bark than it is bite.
I'll go ahead and say that the sushi here isn't spectacular. I tend to prefer their specialty rolls, like the Special Roll with Shrimp ($9.50), which contains shrimp, spicy tuna, spicy shrimp, masago, lettuce, spring mix, avocado, and cucumber. This is one of those busy sort of rolls that mostly tastes like unagi barbecue sauce.
But most of the time, when I have sushi at Tokyo Lunchbox, I stick to the dragon rolls ($8.50). They're generous with the amount of avocado, but occasionally, it can be a gamble on whether or not you get a fair amount of fish tucked inside the roll.
If you're in the mood for sushi at lunch, I'd really recommend Kamehachi over Tokyo Lunchbox for their rolls, but as the cooler weather sets in, I'll be right at home with a steaming hot bowl of U-Dong. Hee hee. I just had to say it one more time.
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.