The Willis Tower is the tallest building in Chicago, and the only reason why I'm calling it the Willis Tower and not the Sears Tower is that I'll eventually get yelled at by someone for it. I hate getting yelled at. Too bad it happens all the time. But really, most Chicagoans still refer to it by the old name, as do tourists when they stop me in the street to ask for directions (hint: look up). So whatever, it's still the Sears Tower to me, and that's that!
While the world knows it as the second tallest building in North America, Mayor Rahm Emanuel still insists it's the tallest, which is pretty funny coming from a small guy. And by small, I mean he's one inch taller than me.
Thanks to the Skydeck, the observation deck located on the 103rd floor of the building, it's one of the most popular attractions in town. I worked in the Loop for about seven years, just a few blocks away from the Sears Tower (or Willis, if you insist), and after exploring as many unique lunch options as I could, I've curated a trustworthy list for you in case you're in the neighborhood looking for something to eat.
In the Willis Tower
For all of the restaurants that are actually in the Willis Tower enter through the east side of the building, not the south side where the Skydeck entrance is located.
Walk down the right side until you see the escalators, and go up one floor. If you're unsure of where to go, just follow all the hungry looking people.
Market Creations is a buffet lunch spot with a ton of choices, including a great fresh salad bar with different items that rotate daily. It's my favorite salad bar in the Loop because of all the choices and the quality of the fruits and vegetables. If salad isn't your thing, there's a giant island in the middle with a mix between American comfort food and Asian-American food. There's also a stir-fry counter, where you can request a custom stir-fry order, and a sushi section. Just keep in mind that you have to pay by weight, so things can get expensive pretty quick if you're hungry and on a budget. Read more here >>
French Accent is owned by the same people who own Market Creations, and it has a decidedly European feel to it. It also features a mix between counter service and self-service, with carving stations, a buffet island, and a sandwich station. But one of the big differences? There's a bar. Plus, they're open for dinner. Read more here >>
Salseria is your choice for Americanized Mexican food. It has the usual suspects, like tacos and burritos, but it also has a fair amount of grilled platters as well. Salseria also has a bar, which seems to be the main draw, because you'll see a lot of office folks chilling during happy hour with a Margarita in hand. Read more here >>
Venice Cafe is the only restaurant on this list that isn't on the second floor—in fact, it's on the lower level. To get there, enter on the East side of the building and take the escalator down behind the front desk, one level. Take two lefts and you're there. Venice Cafe makes a ton of heavy pasta dishes, as well as sandwiches and pizza. Your best bets are the daily specials, as well as the calzones, which are my favorite item there. The pizza station is actually separate from the regular line, so take your pick and mosey into the line. Read more here >>
Near the Willis Tower
As you'd imagine, there are tons of restaurant options nearby, though most aren't worth your time. But there are a few genuinely worth checking out.
For quick take-out sushi and rice bowls, Kamehachi is a good pick, if not one of very few. It's located in 311 S. Wacker, the beautiful building just to the south of the Willis Tower. Their fish is fresh and light, with classic nigiri and maki rolls that don't fool around too much. If raw fish isn't your thing, that's cool. They have Japanese style curry rice bowls that are delicious, rich, and filling. While there aren't any seats in the actual restaurant, there are lots of them in the gorgeous inner courtyard, so take your pick. If it's nice out, sit on the lawn with everyone else and do some people watching. Read more here >>
For you health nuts, Protein Bar is a good option. It serves a wide array of wraps, salads, bowls, and smoothies—almost all centered around quinoa in some form or fashion. It is always packed at lunch time, but the line moves quickly. It is a little bit more on the expensive side for smaller portions, but you are paying for healthy food, after all. Read more here >>
What's a trip to the Willis Tower Skydeck without a little bit of stuffed pizza? Giordano's, a local pizza chain known for its stuffed pizza, is definitely worth a try if you've never had it before. If you feel guilty about devouring such a huge mound of cheese, by all means, enjoy the thin crust, but what you really want is the big stuffed pizzas (a variant on deep dish). The crust is thick, bready, and rich, and each piece is packed with an insane amount of cheese. I'm fond of it, but based off the pizza cognition theory, since Giordano's was my first experience with stuffed pizza, I'm biased. Read more here >>
If you're looking for more modest portions, but still want Italian-style food, just skip across the street to Avanti Caffe, where you can get satisfying Italian and American sub sandwiches, as well as big servings of pizza, salad, antipasti, and more. Almost everything is worth ordering, plus, the service is quick if you're in a hurry. Read more here >>
Luke's Italian Beef
There just aren't many hot dog/Italian beef stands in the loop, but Luke's is located a convenient block away from the Willis Tower. They serve a mix between hot dogs, Italian beef, pizza, and pasta, but stick to the dogs and the Italian beef, which is a good representation of the sandwich. If you're from out of town and you want to look like a pro, just ask for the Italian beef to be dipped. And if you're into spicy food, ask for hot peppers with it too. If you're hungry, then ask for the combo, which also has an Italian sausage thrown in there for good measure. Just be forewarned that the dipped sandwiches are messy. I've been known to secretly use a fork if I'm dressed nicely. Read more here >>
Bánh Mì & Co.
Bánh Mì & Co. is a relative newcomer to the Loop lunch scene, but it's definitely a welcome one. The Loop has been a bánh mì desert for years, but now new restaurants are slowly trickling in with the delicious Vietnamese sandwiches. I recommend the barbecue pork bánh mì, which is nice and piggy, but there's plenty of other options, including vegetarian and vegan items. Read more here >>
There's a lot of falafel and shawarma places in the Loop now, but one of them stands out, and it's BenjYehuda. The menu is deceptively simple looking, like Chipotle's, but the permutations are just as vast, if not more so. You can choose between a pita, a laffa (a flatbread wrap), or a box (either salad or rice), and fill it with falafel, chicken shawarma, or steak shawarma. Then, you can choose from the multitude of toppings, from various salads, to sauces, to pickles. But you can't miss the fries—crispy, slightly greasy, and pillowy, they're some of the best in the city. But don't forget the side of Merkts cheddar. Read more here >>
Chicken Planet is a Loop favorite for many people. It's cheap, filling, and it's whole grilled chicken right off the bone. It's always packed at lunch, but service is quick. Frankly, none of the sides are any good, but grab a few of those grilled pitas and you're good to go. If you're on a budget, you can make your dollar stretch a little further here. Read more here >>
Have you ever craved food off the backyard barbecue for lunch? Like charred burgers, ribs, and pork chops? Skrine Chops has all of those things, but they're most known for their pork chop sandwiches, which are slathered with a pile of rich, smooth, mashed potatoes. That might sound strange at first, but after your first bite, you'll be a convert. There's not much counter space to sit at, but there's a courtyard right across the street for you to enjoy your food with a bit of sun on a nice day. Read more here >>
Saucy Porka is a really fun place that serves up creative Asian-Latin fusion food that works well together. You can't go wrong with almost all of the menu here, but I do recommend that you at least try some of the "bacos," which are puffy steamed buns with your choice of filling. They're a lot of fun. Read more here >>
Steamed dumplings make a pretty good meal, and a quick one, at that. Wow Bao serves up palm-sized dumplings, bowls, noodles, and salad. You'll see that most people get the hot puffy dumplings that are filled with various meats and vegetables. My favorites are the barbecue pork and the thai curry chicken. This is the kind of meal you can carry with you, wherever you're headed. Read more here >>
If you want to feel like a lunch pro, waltz into the north lobby of the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), head to the north entrance of the building, and take the stairs located to the right down one floor. Here, you'll find Cellars Market (get the name?), a cafeteria that serves everything from salad to hot plates to sandwiches. The food might not be the greatest thing, but if you've never been there, it's really fun. Read more here >>
Poag Mahone's is one of the local watering holes near the Willis Tower where you'll find a lot of people loosening their ties after work. With booze you need food, and Poag Mahone's specialty is a thick, pub-style burgers. My personal favorite is the Stockyards burger, which comes with grilled onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and thousand island dressing. If you're feeling saucy (or sauced), add some bacon to it and wash it down with beer. Read more here >>
Billy Goat III
While you might imagine the Billy Goat Tavern as the dark one under a bridge with a man shouting "Cheezborger, no fries, cheeps" loudly, there is also one on the corner of Wells and Van Buren. I'll be the first to admit that their burgers aren't necessarily perfection, there's just something about them that's supremely satisfying. Every now and then I find myself craving one badly. Personally, I dig the double cheeseburger since the patties are so thin, but it's up to you. And strangely enough, this outpost does serve fries, though the original proudly doesn't. Read more here >>