Elle on the River

Mediterranean-inspired tacos at Elle on the River (Hilary Higgins / RedEye / July 17, 2014)

It's easy to get into a food funk during the work week if you're eating whatever you can brown bag or grab within a few feet of the office. But summer means it's safe to venture beyond your block to make the most of your lunch break. Whether you just have time to bring something back to your desk or are looking for a midday patio meal on your day off, you can enjoy some fresh tastes at these 11 new (and one more coming soon) lunch spots.

Current
644 N. Lake Shore Drive 312-255-4460
Location: Streeterville, inside the W Chicago Lakeshore
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Reservations accepted.
Best for: Leisurely lingering
Popular picks: The Italian bitter green salad ($15) mixes escarole, endive and frisee with beets, prosciutto, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. For something heartier, try the porchetta sandwich ($15) served on warm Italian filone bread with chili aioli, coleslaw and sesame salad.
Outdoor seating: There's room for 60 to 70 on the patio, which faces the lake and gets plenty of light during the morning and early afternoon. "It's a great, great spot when you get that eastern sun," executive chef Gregory Elliott said. "On a nice summer day, it can't be beat"

Ramen-San
59 W. Hubbard St. 312-377-9950
Location: The heart of River North
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Reservations accepted.
Best for: Quick sit-down
Popular picks: The express lunch ($17) gets you a half bowl of ramen along with a small salad, a dish of kimchi pickles and a plate of miso salmon, skirt steak or panko-crusted chicken over rice, all delivered within five to 10 minutes of when you order.
Outdoor seating: While there's no outdoor seating, the facade does open up to Hubbard Street so you can people-watch from the 10-seat table overlooking the sidewalk.

Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods
3755 N. Southport Ave. 872-802-3840
Location: Lakeview's Southport Corridor
Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations accepted.
Best for: Leisurely lingering
Popular picks: For a classic British lunch, enjoy afternoon tea (or coffee or iced tea) with a three-tiered tray of finger sandwiches, clotted cream, jam and house-made pastries ($19). You can also add a glass of champagne for $6. If you're time-crunched, opt for a savory pies ($7.50) in flavors such as steak and ale, creamy mushroom or chicken curry.
Outdoor seating: There's seating for 18 on the sidewalk, which is set with granite tabletops and wicker chairs and surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.

Mas
800 W. Washington Blvd. 312-243-1995
Location: Just off Randolph Street's restaurant row in the West Loop
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily
Best for: Quick sit-down
Popular picks: Try a cemita, a Mexican sandwich made with portobello mushroom, manchego cheese, pistachio pesto and caramelized apple, or marinated rib-eye with onions, guacamole and queso fresco (both $9). Add a watercress salad and a small order of guacamole for $5.
Outdoor seating: None for now, though management hopes to add sidewalk seating by the end of the season.

MFK
432 W. Diversey Parkway 773-857-2540
Location: On the border of Lincoln Park and Lakeview
Hours: Noon to midnight Sunday through Thursday; noon to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday (same menu served all day)
Best for: Leisurely lingering
Popular picks: This Mediterranean-inspired restaurant's menu offers plenty of light fare such as ceviche made with seasonal fish served atop poblanos, guacamole and a house-made tortilla ($9), and tempura-fried avocado with lime and chili ($10).
Outdoor seating: A patio with seating for eight to 10 is expected to open by end of July.

River Roast
315 N. LaSalle St. 312-822-0100
Location: River North, inside the Reid Murdoch Building on the north bank of the Chicago River
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday starting July 23. Reservations accepted.
Best for: Leisurely lingering
Popular picks: It's too early for customer favorites (the restaurant is slated to debut next week), but chef Tony Mantuano recommends the shaved vegetable salad with fennel, mushroom, artichoke, radish and celery ($8) or the Chicken in a Biscuit sandwich, a fried boneless chicken breast topped with sriracha pickles, house-made mayo, bib lettuce and horseradish ($10).
Outdoor seating: Mantuano calls River Roast's 150-person patio "the premiere seating on the river," with a view of passing boats and Riverwalk renovations.

Rustle & Roux
227 W. Monroe St. 312-285-2330
Location: On the second floor of the Franklin Center in the Loop
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. No reservations
Best for: Grab and go
Popular picks: This cafeteria-style restaurant offers myriad options spread between seven stations, including 12-inch wood-fired pizza with wild mushrooms, ricotta and ham ($7) and Tuscan kale caesar salad ($6), plus a rotating selection of entrees each week that has included Caribbean, barbecue and Indian fare ($6-$8).
Outdoor seating: None

Tamale Station
1341 N. Damen Ave. 312-909-7009
Location: Wicker Park, a few blocks south of the Milwaukee-Damen-North intersection
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (same menu served all day). No reservations
Best for: Grab and go
Popular picks: Unsurprisingly, tamales are the most popular dish at the sibling storefront to food truck Tamale Spaceship, with nine varieties available daily including pork, duck and chicken (two for $8). The menu also features four types of tacos: beef barbacoa, portobello mushroom, pork and grilled chicken (two for $6.75).
Outdoor seating: A small 24-seat patio is shaded by nearby buildings and gets a bit of sun in the evenings.

Fig & Olive
104 E. Oak St. 312-445-0060
Location: Gold Coast
Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Reservations accepted.
Best for: Leisurely lingering
Popular picks: Try this recently opened restaurant's namesake ingredients in the fig and olive salad, made with manchego, parmesan and gorgonzola cheese with a house-made dressing of dried fig, Spanish olive oil and balsamic ($17), or the fig and gorgonzola tartlet, which resembles a pizza with puff pastry dough topped with walnut, tomato, prosciutto and arugula ($16).
Outdoor seating: There's room for 40 on a terrace overlooking Oak Street that also provides a view of the open kitchen.

Brown Bag Seafood Co.
340 E. Randolph St. 312-496-3999
Location: Lakeshore East, just northeast of Millennium Park
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday (same menu served all day). No reservations
Best for: Grab and go
Popular picks: The Powerbox features spinach topped with a blend of quinoa, brown rice and lemon vinaigrette to accompany your choice of seafood such as crispy shrimp ($11.99), lemon whitefish or the blackened fish of the day (both $8.99). You can also order any fish in taco or salad form for the same price.
Outdoor seating: The covered 40-seat patio overlooking the site of under-construction Maggie Daley Park draws a crowd even on rainy days.

Elle on the River
330 N. Wabash Ave. 312-923-7705
Location: On the riverside plaza of River North hotel The Langham
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday (same menu served all day). No reservations
Best for: Quick sit-down
Popular picks: Try the tacos ($9 for three) with fillings such as mahi mahi marinated with Calabrian chili, orange zest and garlic, or deep-fried chickpeas with hummus, tabbouleh and red cabbage. All tacos are served on a Mediterranean flatbread made from chickpeas, yogurt and cilantro, which chef Tim Graham describes as "a mashup between a roti and a flour tortilla." Fruity sodas ($3) in flavors such as blueberry, watermelon and raspberry give the festive feel of daytime cocktailing (or go ahead and spike one with your choice of booze for $8 more).
Outdoor seating: The entire riverfront restaurant is outdoors, with space for 80 at a mix of dining tables, high-top tables and a bar shaded by giant umbrellas.

Mercadito Fish
10 E. Delaware St. 312-640-8141
Location: The former Little Market Brasserie space inside the Gold Coast's Talbott Hotel
Hours: 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Reservations accepted
Best for: Quick sit-down
Popular picks: The menu offers fun twists on classic lunch fare such as clam chowder with pancetta ($6.50), a wedge salad made from a mini-head of iceberg lettuce with bacon, red onions and house-made blue cheese dressing ($9.50) and grilled cheese with bacon, avocado and an over-easy egg ($12.50).
Outdoor seating: There's room for 100 on the extra-wide tree-lined sidewalk cafe.

Samantha Nelson is a RedEye special contributor. redeye@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink