I'm not often in the Loop for lunch, but many healthy options have sprung up in the last several years (Freshii, Naf Naf, Hannah's Bretzel, and Protein Bar come to mind) so yummy and nutritious don't have to be mutually exclusive adjectives to describe lunch. The menu at Roti Mediterranean Grill is short and sweet, although it can be a bit intimidating to order in the rapid-fire line for the first time. There isn't really time to ask the cooks on the line what they might recommend as a side for your falafel, for fear of incurring the wrath of the hungry lady in the pencil skirt behind you with aching feet. Luckily, before it was my turn to order, a lovely food service worker named Deborah saw me analyzing the menu and offered to make a few recommendations based on my preferences.
I ended up with a falafel and roasted vegetable combo salad plate ($7.95) so I could try as many things as possible. The roasted broccoli, bell peppers, and onions are served cold, but I'm told this will soon switch to brussels sprouts and root vegetables served hot, which will be nice with cooler weather descending upon us. I then opted for the S'hug sauce, which I'd never heard of before, but it's spicy and that's all I needed to know. I piled on the sides, including cous cous, red cabbage slaw, Spanish eggplant, and tomato and cucumber salad. The Spanish eggplant, prepared in a caponata style, was a little sweet for my taste, but everything else was crisp, fresh, and tossed lightly in extra virgin olive oil.
The S'hug—which I learned later is a Yemeni hot sauce made from cayenne peppers, coriander and garlic—really made the meal. Just enough heat to make the vegetables sing, but not so much to leave me panting for water. My meal was not only vegetarian, but vegan, and I didn't have to ask for any substitutions. The create-your-own salad almost has the feel of a salad bar at Whole Foods or Plum Market, but with a more curated Mediterranean vibe. Gluten-free pitas are also available for those avoiding the wheat protein.
Roti Mediterranean Grill
10 S. Riverside Plaza, Chicago, IL 60606 (map)
33 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60602 (map)
310 W. Adams St., Chicago, IL 60606 (map)