Ever tell someone you live in Chicago, and he or she makes some obnoxious comment about it being unbelievably cold all the time, as if we lived in the Arctic? Well, for most of the year, we can stuff those words back in their lying faces. But come January and February, we humbly keep our traps shut, zip up our puffy jackets, and don whatever accessories actually keep us warm.
And when it gets really cold, like it is right now, workers in the Loop take advantage of one of the city's little known assets: the Pedway. This mostly underground path—with a few covered pedestrian bridges thrown in—allows workers to shuffle to and from work without getting battered by the elements. As I found out, you can also eat down there.
Not exceptionally well, I might add, but there are options. While some parts are little more than drab runs of concrete and flickering fluorescent light, other sections look like subterranean malls, with a number of restaurants grouped together. This also means that there are a lot of corporate fast food restaurants, the kind that populate every food court in America. But there are some good options that work if you absolutely, positively don't want to go outside.
What Counts as the Pedway?
I only counted restaurants if they were on the official Pedway route (click here for a pdf map), but deciding what counted was harder than I imagined. Since it sometimes runs below ground, at ground level, and one floor up, it's hard to know whether you're actually in the sanctioned route or just in the lobby of some skyscraper. Sure, there are maps, though they sometimes confuse more than you'd think. In the end, I just looked for this sign. If I saw the above logo, I was in the Pedway.
Finding Your Way Around
Most people never venture down because they have no idea where to start. Instead of some carefully designed pedestrian thoroughfare, the Pedway is basically a maze of hallways that turn this way and that without much reason. Sometimes you're underground, and then five minutes later you're walking across a pedestrian bridge. There are also dead ends and sections that fail to connect, requiring you to go above ground for a block or two, before you can head back underground.
Since it's confusing to talk about the route, I'll group the offerings by the building above them.
Hopefully this guide helps. Click on the slideshow to check out the recommended restaurants, or see the restaurants grouped by building below.
Stay warm, and join me for my restaurant highlights in Chicago's pedway.
James R. Thompson Center
201 N. Clark
Renaissance Chicago Hotel
View Best Restaurants in the Chicago Pedway in a larger map