The Business of Lunch

Jeffrey Steen |
Food And Dining

Part of Chicago's undeniable charm is its bustling business crowd. There is a palpable energy that surges in the city's working enclaves, and, come midday, it moves from offices to a wealth of restaurants and cafés. It is in these culinary destinations that the movers and shakers of Chicago's business world make deals, laugh about office shenanigans, and take a breather from the fast-paced workaday world. If you're aiming for one of the best business lunches in the city, then look no further. We've got the scoop for the Loop—and beyond.

Coco Pazzo

{300 West Hubbard Street; 312.836.0900}

In addition to their regular menu, Coco Pazzo offers the new Piatto Unici menu, which combines first and second course selections on a single plate—a perfect meal for the business lunch crowd. Every day features a different featured plate, such as the Mushroom and Speck Risotto with Rushing Waters Trout. All the plates clock in at around $18, and that buys you all the elegant ambience, too—an antique bar, soaring ceilings, and tables that are well-spaced for private conversation (read: deal-making). And if all that doesn't convince you, consider the fact that Crain's Chicago Business called out Coco Pazzo as a prime location for power lunches in early 2013. Just ask the likes of Rahm Emanuel and Richard Daley. They should know—they're regulars.


{110 West Illinois Street; 312.644.0500}

A River North anchor, Sunda offers Bento Box Lunches—which is part of why it's such a reliable stop for a business meal. Monday through Friday, 11:30am-3pm, $18 bento boxes are flowing, so to speak, along with an $8.88 Chef's Lunch Special. The boxes include some of Sunda's most popular eats, like the Seafood Curry with shrimp, cod, sea bass, green curry, pineapple, peppers, and lemongrass. Sundawich Bento Boxes, $9 each, are also hot-ticket items, and showcase items like the mouthwatering Bulgogi and Pork Belly sammies. It's dished up in a dining room that's spacious, with communal tables that make for great group meetings and get-togethers. And, if you're dining at the right time, there's a see-and-be-seen bonus: big names like Charlie Trotter and Alderman Danny Solis have been known to chow down among the crowds.


David Burke's Primehouse

{616 North Rush Street; 312.660.6000}

Nothing is more quintessentially Chicago than a steakhouse. But then, who has time for a meaty meal midday? At David Burke's, you can have your steak and eat it, too—for both lunch and dinner. Monday through Friday, 11am-3pm, those craving a prime cut for lunch can settle in for a steak, a salad (the Caesar is a tableside classic), and a sweet treat, all while conducting business—or just gossiping about it. Dubbed the SHAKENsteak, it's part of what makes this culinary outpost such a draw. Another River North staple, David Burke's is a quite a meaty catch, so it makes sense that they've opened their doors for hungry business lunch-ers. And even if rib-eyes aren't your favorite, don't miss the bevy of salads and sandwiches on the menu. Trust us—that Chopped Lobster and Watercress number is just as satisfying.


The Italian Village

{71 West Monroe Street; 312.332.7005}

There are three reasons those of the collar-and-tied working set should turn their appetites to The Italian Village: The Village Restaurant, La Cantina, and Vivere. At Vivere, for example, a three-course prix-fixe lunch menu for $24 (sans libation) gives you just the Italian indulgence you crave. Settle into Arancini di Capra (fried saffron risotto rice balls), Venetian-style lasagna, and a classic crème brûlée, all while you're discussing mergers and budgets. A stone's throw from City Hall, this is the perfect spot for city workers aiming for a break from the grind, or for politicians eager to chat about pending legislation. And the magic here is only partly in the menu; an all-knowing staff takes scrupulous notes about what you like and what you don't, so the next time you happen by, they know exactly what you want even before you ask for it. How's that for service?


RL Restaurant

{115 East Chicago Avenue; 312.475.1100}

Nested in the Magnificent Mile, RL Restaurant is a one of the city's classiest settings for a business lunch. A mahogany-rich interior complete with a fireplace makes the space feel like home—a very high-end home, that is. It's this kind of ambience that brings the business elite into RL's dining room. As GM Rich Varnes paints it, RL is the spot where business moguls close deals—where big decisions are made. With the menu teasing appetites (ours was tickled by the Jumbo Sea Scallops and classic RL Chicken Hash), all that's left for guests to do is focus on that impeding deal. And while your curiosity may be piqued, RL's team is pretty hush-hush on their high-profile clientele. You'll just have to drop by for your own business lunch to see who's the talk of the business world.


Sumi Robata Bar

{702 North Wells Street; 312.988.7864}

The star of Sumi Robata Bar’s high-class business lunch has to be the Bento Box, which rings in at a modest $15. The Bento Boxes incorporate some of Sumi's robata favorites such as the Teriyaki Salmon, Sansho Pepper Skirt Steak, Chicken Tare, and a Vegetable Medley of asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and onions. Each is served over a bed of rice, along with a choice of miso or chicken soup, mizuna salad, and a seafood croquette. Now that's a feast. Just make your pick and settle into one of Sumi's elegant seating areas, each showcasing a wealth of natural design elements, including stone and bamboo. Guests can choose to enjoy their lunch in the dining room or along the glass-enclosed robata bar accented by beautifully-designed bar stools created specifically for Sumi Robata Bar by award-winning artist Fukutoshi Ueno. During alfresco season, retreat to the restaurant’s Zen patio, complete with a rock garden. The nature-inspired design carries over to the dining room where natural light pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows, accentuating the charcoal art and recessed greenery that dot the walls. It's practically a trip to the East for lunch, and no one has enjoyed it more than Chicago's own Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as other high-profile guests like John Cusack and Danica Patrick.


{412 North Clark Street; 312.644.1900}

There's something about the Caribbean—and Cuba in particular—that's always been a culinary draw stateside. Noe Bautista knew that when he opened Havana on Clark, and since the early days, Havana has become something of a lunch standby. While it's a big dinner draw, Havana's airy bar/dining room makes for a nice midday respite. For those looking to imbibe, $20 pitcher deals are offered throughout the week—caiparinha, sangría, mojito, etc.—while the nibbles are a mix of Latin-inspired eats and traditional Cuban fare. There is, of course, a Cuban sandwich front and center on the lunch menu, but there's also what Havana dubs the Havana Steak Sandwich—skirt steak topped with gooey melted cheese and the fixin's on ciabatta bread. Burritos, enchiladas, and burgers hold sway as well, so you're pretty much guaranteed to satisfy your lunchtime cravings. For those who fall in love at first bite, consider coming back for live music in the evenings—it's one of Havana's best treats.


NoMI Kitchen in the Park Hyatt Chicago

{800 North Michigan Avenue; 312.239.4030}

NoMI Kitchen has long been Chicago's pinnacle fine-dining outpost, but there is no longer lingering over white tablecloths only for special occasions. Since Executive Chef Ryan LaRoche has come on, NoMI Kitchen has seen a reinvention: high-quality food in a casual ambience, perfect for business lunches on the fly and meetings set to a light meal. Part of the charm of NoMI Kitchen is its inimitable view of Michigan Avenue and the Lake Michigan in the distance. Low noise levels make conversation comfortable (something many a Chicago restaurant can't claim), while artistic flourishes and clean design make it easy to sit back, relax, and enjoy a lunch in the middle of a hectic workday. The menu—a seasonal treat—has long offered classic sandwiches like Prime Rib Tartine and a selection of burgers, but now also sports a healthier take on lunch with the “Simply Prepared” offerings. Just pick a fresh protein—skirt steak, ocean prawns, farm-fresh chicken—and add sides of your choice. It keeps things light while also satisfying, and never distracts from important business to-do.


Then and Now

While business lunches were once a two-hour affair, involving martinis and cocktails, multiple courses, and conversation stretching from true deal-making to casual conversation, it's now a bit more fast-paced. These days, the business crowd demands more bang for their buck, and in a narrowed timeframe. What restaurants offer for dinner is generally expected for lunch, though downsized for time and appetite. Still, while some elements of the business lunch have changed, some have not. Here are some tips offered by for keeping a business lunch on track and ultimately successful (as well as delicious):

  1. Though food evokes feelings of comfort, don't get too comfortable. Personal chat is expected, but keep the goal in mind. Make the deal and walk away satisfied.

  2. Don't drink. Sure, a glass of wine or a light cocktail is nice, but it's important to stay focused. You've got to be on your A game if the meeting is going to be successful.

  3. It may be common sense, but keep manners in mind. Even if your guests are lacking in politeness, wow them with your own. And diplomatically avoid any confrontation. It's amazing how far a friendly approach can take you.

  4. Listen more than you talk. People like to talk about themselves, and they'll often reveal important information if you make them comfortable enough to carry on.

  5. Last but not least, pick up the check. If you set the invitation, then it's expected you'll pay. Even if it isn't, however, make a good impression and settle the check yourself. If your guests insists on paying, though, let them.