Ah, December. It's that time of the year when Chicago's downtown is draped in twinkling lights and normally tourist soaked stretches become absolutely flooded with the bodies of a slow-moving tourists with very large bags. But I get it. I speak as someone who has experienced the phenomenon as both a frustrated Loop worker and as a wide-eyed tourist from out of town. Eventually, both sides need to eat, and there are a surprising number of great options beyond the overpriced theme restaurants and national chains. This week I'm focusing on restaurant options along State Street, though the Mag Mile survival guide will come soon enough.
This one is kind of personal. As a kid, my family and I used to make our way through Marshall Field's (it was a long time ago), only to descend into the basement for the department store's glorified cafeteria. Little did I know that years later instead of dining in the darkness, we could have lived it up on Macy's gorgeous food court on the 7th floor, which features outlets from two of the best chefs in the city. Or that the streets immediately surrounding the main shopping zone on State Street would have restaurants worthy of actually stopping for.
To be sure, State Street has changed; and as far as the food options are concerned, it has been for the better. There is now no need to visit this culinary hot spot and have to settle for a stale sandwich. Instead, snack on artisanally made ones, along with messy mac and cheese, and deep bowls of reviving ramen.
For the guide, I only included restaurants that were located less than a block or two off of State Street from Wacker to Madison. Because, after all, a great lunch shouldn't cut into any precious shopping time.
Macy's Seven on State
Some of the best lunch options in the Loop all happen to be grouped together on the seventh floor of Macy's. Seven on State is one of the nicest food courts I've ever encountered. Want ramen? Noodles by Takashi offers examples from Chicago's foremost noodle expert, Takashi Yagihashi. Mexican? Rick Bayless's Frontera Fresco offers a cheap and quick introduction to his empire. Just want a burger? Marcus Samuelsson's Marc Burger uses only all-natural Angus for its impressive patties (reviewed here). Plus the fries are awesome.
What's the catch? Well, there are a couple. First, it's not exactly a secret, and lines can quickly get out of hand. Second, all of the options are only available for lunch, as the food court closes at 3 p.m. Still, the view almost makes up for all of those headaches.
Noodles By Takashi Yagihashi, 111 North State Street, 7th Floor, Chicago, IL 60602 (map); 312-781-4483
If you're looking for a little break from the other shoppers, you're probably best just leaving Macy's behind. Luckily, there are a number excellent sandwich shops nearby. Pastoral, a local cheese and bread store, has an outlet that serves up sandwiches of a frighteningly high quality for under $10. Seating, unfortunately, is extremely limited. New on the scene is Toni Patisserie and Cafe, which features a range of baguette sandwiches, along with salads and decadent French pastries. Hannah's Bretzel, which has been written about a few times on this site, is also a great option. On the cheaper and more filling end of the spectrum, Which Wich located in the basement of Block 37 is a solid choice.
If you want to experience what a real Chicago-style hot dog tastes like, Gold Coast Dogs on Wabash offers absolutely zero charm, but it does do things right. (There is a reason it made the Natural Casing Hot Dog Map.) Like most proper stands, you can get your hot dog steamed, but Gold Coast also offers a distinctive grilled version, which is definitely the way to go. The ends are sliced, which makes them flare out wildly during the cooking process. (Though I've honestly never experienced an example this wild until now recently.)
Coffee / Tea
Chicago is a surprisingly great coffee town, and one of the best local options, Intelligentsia Coffee, has a brand new shop on Randolph. If you're in more of an espresso mood, it's hard to go wrong with any of the offerings from the Italian chain, Lavazza. And, as the name suggests, Argo Tea is where to go for something a little less caffeinated.
Chef-Driven Restaurant (Comfort Food Edition)
When The Southern's Cary Taylor decided to start up a mac and cheese truck, Loop workers flocked in droves. To keep up with demand, he quickly had to set up a brick-and-mortar store on E. Lake, which serves up his creative takes on the childhood favorite in a bright orange room.
It is unfortunately not open on weekends. The shop just let us know that it is open on Saturdays, too.
Chef-Driven Restaurant (Nice and Nicer Edition)
Sure, nearby River North and the West Loop have some of the greatest restaurants in the country, but if you're growing weak on State Street and need immediate assistance, it's hard to go wrong with two options by chef Dirk Flanigan. The Gage is his upscale tavern, featuring incredible sandwiches, filling entrees, and a great burger. Still, it can be a bit chaotic and loud. If you need something much quieter and more dignified, Henri is the perfect place to splurge.
Thanks to the huge number office workers, the Loop features a few restaurants that are stuffed into odd spaces. None is quite as hilarious as the Oasis Cafe (reviewed here), which is located in the back of a jewelry store. If standard diner fare served in a gorgeous old lobby is more your style, Pittsfield Cafe is a welcome warm retreat from the surrounding chaos.
One of the city's most respected deep-dish practitioners, Pizano's, has an outlet nearby. It, of course, attracts hoards of tourists like no other restaurant in the area. Still, that's because it really does serve the best pizza (reviewed here).
Wow Bao is an Asian quick-service restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You. It is best known for freshly steamed dumplings and, obviously, bao—a Chinese-style bun stuffed with various meats and vegetables. The noodles are also pretty good, and the rice bowls can hit the spot. Also, just across the street is one of the busiest Potbelly's I've ever seen. While it can be a total zoo, it's hard to deny the power of a fully loaded Wreck.
Yeah, there is a Garret's Popcorn nearby, and it does feature much, much shorter lines than its Michigan Avenue counterpart. But it's the new shops that you should really check out. Magnolia Bakery—a.k.a. the cupcake shop that spawned the whole national craze— just opened its first Chicago outlet in Block 37. Located across the street from Macy's, this mall also features two incredible dessert options in its basement: Beard Papa's and Andy's Frozen Custard.
You Tell Us
Where would you recommend to eat near State Street in the Loop? Let us know!