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.
I actually didn't know this place existed until a friend suggested we go out to lunch one day. We met at City Hall and she pointed to a restaurant just across the street with a relatively nondescript exterior; it had a simple black awning and a bit of white print on the windows. She was pointing at Mista.
If, say, you've been chillin' at City Hall with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, talking about mayorly things—like legalizing cooking on food trucks or talking about your mutual love for creative profanity—and you're hungry for salads, wraps, pasta, and thin cracker-crust pizza, you can sprint across La Salle to Mista with your arms flailing (because that's how I sprint).
I'm still trying to eat healthy these days, so I ordered the antipasto salad ($6.65). Even though it's loaded with Italian meat and cheese, it has the word "salad" in it and that way you can tell your mother you've been eating salad for lunch. This is a win-win situation.
And wow, is Mista generous—along with the meat and cheese, grape tomatoes, olives, pepperoncini, and romaine lettuce are all featured. I forgot how salty cured meat can be, and in that quantity, it can be a bit overwhelming. But if you're in the mood for an Italian sandwich in a box, this is a good choice.
If you're trying to actually eat healthy, instead of Dennis Lee's version of healthy, Mista has a number of wraps on the menu, including the Mista Wrap ($5.95). It comes with a healthy amount of organic greens, roasted chicken, Granny Smith apples, dried cherries, macadamia nuts, provolone, and Mista's signature dressing.
I ordered the dressing on the side, and it was probably better that I did so. It's thick and sweet and I could see it possibly overwhelming all the other fresh, clean flavors in the wrap when it's tossed in. You've got crisp and bitter greens, savory chicken, tart apples, sweet cherries, rich macadamias, and cheese, which makes for a great combination. Considering the organic ingredients, it's priced at an affordable six dollars, which is somewhat of a rare find in downtown Chicago.
I'll start this section off by admitting I'm not the resident Chicago pizza expert like Daniel Zemans, but since the menu was nearly half pizza, I thought I'd give it a crack. Small pizzas clock in at 10 inches, and the large ones are 14. The prosciutto pizza ($11.75) comes topped with red sauce, fresh mozzarella, arugula, roast tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, and prosciutto.
All of the pizzas come on supremely thin cracker-like crust, and when I say thin, I mean, really thin. It's not bready or chewy whatsoever; it really is like a very thin cracker. In the case of this prosciutto pizza, the crust arrived soggy in the center and made for a bit of a flaccid slice.
For the most part, all I tasted was the prosciutto, and for the first time in my life, I'm going to say that less prosciutto might have been better. Not only for balance of flavor, but also because a huge slice of prosciutto inevitably slid off each slice when I took a bite.
The Florentine ($9.00) was the pizza that really caught my eye on the menu, and it's topped with tomato sauce, spinach, ricotta, mushrooms, garlic, fresh mozzarella, and extra-virgin olive oil. This time, the ultra-thin crust stood its ground against the spinach and generous piles of delicious, rich ricotta, providing a crisp texture against the soft toppings. For someone who almost always prefers meat on his pizza, the Florentine pizza was a welcome change.
Mista's menu advertises that it chooses organic ingredients whenever possible, and that it makes every menu item to order. It's also really important to note that Mista can make almost all of the menu items gluten-free for those with specific food allergies or preferences.
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