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.
As a general rule, I try to avoid non-Chicago chains for Lunch in the Loop because it seems like cheating. But then again, whenever I play Monopoly I always opt to be the banker so I can embezzle cash (I know, I'm going straight to hell), so I don't mind a tiny bit of cheating now and then. Besides, Serious Eats is really about discovering good food, and if a chain puts out a good lunch, then so be it.
Lavazza is actually a café chain from Italy that's made its way to the States and is mainly known for its coffee. In that way, it's a lot like Starbucks. The food selection, however, is a lot better. The only sandwich I've ever eaten from Starbucks was an egg salad sandwich that was seasoned with a buttload of regret. My coworkers visit Lavazza for lunch frequently now, and they'd been raving about the food, so I thought I'd give it a crack. Plus it's on the ground floor of our new office building. Yes, I'm lazy. Don't judge me!
The salami and gorgonzola sandwich ($6.95) comes on a chewy ciabatta roll, and along with the salami, it's dressed with creamy gorgonzola and almonds. The sliced almonds are an interesting addition; they add a snappy texture to each bite, though their flavor gets lost beneath the much louder flavors of salami and gorgonzola. The gorgonzola is soft and creamy, and is fairly mild, while the salami is salty, chewy, and rich.
The chicken pesto panini($6.95) is also a viable option for lunch. The chicken is tender, and the bright grassy flavor of the pesto ensures for a flavorful sandwich. I realize chicken pesto sandwiches are a dime-a-dozen, but they are satisfying now and then, especially if you're a basil addict.
The prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sandwich ($7.45) comes on the same hearty ciabatta roll as the salami sandwich, and it's simply prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and sliced tomato. The meat is cut a touch thicker than paper-thin, making it a little chewy. It could use some sort of dressing, even a drizzle of olive oil, to add moisture and a bit of flavor, as it ends up fairly dry.
There are also other baked goods on the menu, including a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato quiche ($4.75). It is uniquely warmed up; they slice the quiche in half, pile the halves on top of each other, and heat it up on the panini press to make sure it gets nice and toasty. If you like the tang of sun-dried tomatoes, then you'll enjoy this, because it's chock full of them. The goat cheese adds a creamy tangy flavor too. How many more times can I say the word tangy? It's a rich but satisfying quiche, and for $4.75, that makes a pretty good lunch.
All of the lunch orders come with a salad of spring greens and tomatoes with a side of deceptively addictive balsamic vinaigrette. The salad is a nice addition to each sandwich, making it feel like a full lunch rather than just a sandwich by itself.
By the way, even though I embezzle funds from the Monopoly bank, I still lose anyway, because I'm no Donald Trump. I'm about as handsome as Trump, though, so I'll always have that.
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.