No time for fine dining? Try a sandwich instead.

Who would think that spectacular repertoire menus, white tablecloths and wine pairings would be too confining for chefs? Turns out a number of top talents have branched out from their fine dining empires to include faster, more reasonably priced ways to sample their fare.

Tuna Salad from Grahamwich | Photo Courtesy of Tammy Green

Tuna Salad from Grahamwich

Grahamwich (615 N State Street) is the alter-ego of the multi-course River North restaurant, Graham Elliot (217 W Huron Street). Don’t expect signature dishes like deconstructed Caesar Salad at this casual spot, but do expect the same commitment to quality ingredients and unexpected touches. My favorite sandwich is a classic tuna salad. I enjoy Elliot’s upscale take served on ciobatta with green beans and a soft poached egg. I also like the flavored colas and when I have room, the soft serve ice cream.

Pepito Torta | Xoco | Photo courtesy of Tammy Green

Pepito Torta from Xoco

It can be a challenge to get seats at a Rick Bayless restaurant. Frontera Grill and Topolobampo have been winning James Beard awards for amazing Latin cuisine and outstanding service for years. Bayless opened Xoco (449 N Clark Street) to explore his love of Mexican street food. Everything — the churros, guacamole, and hot chocolates — are excellent pairings to the tortas. Try a Pepito Torta (pictured above), or my favorite, the Woodland Torta with mushrooms, goat cheese and black beans.

Meatball Sandwich | Belly Shack | Photo Courtesy of Tammy Green

Meatball Sandwich from Belly Shack

After Bill Kim launched his noodle shop Urban Belly (3053 N California Avenue), his next project was to push the concept a little further and make Korean food even more accessible. He succeeds with Belly Shack (1912 North Western Avenue). His version of a meatball sub might look mild-mannered, but the combination of chili paste, Somen noodles and mint will leave your mouth singing for hours. If you want the full experience, order a side of kimchi to go with your sandwich.

The full priced, sit-down restaurants of these chefs should be on your list of places to try. However, if you can’t spare the time or money, you can still experience award-winning, innovative cuisine from Chicago’s finest.

About Tammy Green, Chicago Bites

Tammy Green is the co-founder of restaurant review site, Chicago Bites, a local and independent collaboration of talented people interested in eating well. She’s been eating for years, but didn’t discover her professional fascination with food until she started talking about it every week. As a result of Chicago Bites, she has expanded her interest in food policy, gardening, canning, composting, organic issues, slow food, local producers and chefs and how these all impact the Chicago dining experience.
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