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chicago cheap ass (9)

Salads in the Loop – AND A GIVEAWAY

This article has been several weeks in the making. I contacted several restaurants and chains with locations in the Loop (and River North, hereafter referred to simply as “the Loop”), and all of them gave me an opportunity to try their products for free in exchange for an honest review of their salads and their establishments as a whole. After finalizing details, I went in and did my testing.

Finally, it’s time to give you an unbiased opinion on where you should be getting salads in the Loop.

Protein Bar

Salads in the Loop

Protein Bar is a favorite of many of my fit friends. With 11 Chicago locations (with exponential growth planned for the next few years), it’s not hard to find one close to work. I love that Protein Bar was the brain child of a man who wanted to do better by himself health-wise… you know you’re in good hands when that’s the genesis story of the restaurant you’re visiting.

Taste:What I like about Protein Bar is it’s “flavor profiles” that can be executed in many different forms. I’m talking about taking the same taste you’d find in an asian salad (what I got, pictured below), to a wrap, to a quinoa bowl. The salad composition is what sets Protein Bar apart from anything else on this list. Each bite contains a taste of every ingredient. It’s a perfectly chopped and blended salad. Make sure to ask for your dressing on the side – these salads are big enough for more than one meal depending on your appetite.

Salads in the Loop

Nutrition: Depending on what you’ve set your macros to (they don’t call it Protein Bar for nothing), there are multiple tasty ways to hit them. They have an extremely customizable nutrition calculator to support those goals. Salads will typically set you back around 500 calories.

Price: On the affordability scale, Protein Bar isn’t the cheapest place to get a salad in the Loop, but it’s certainly one of the highest quality salads you can get from a fast casual concept. If you’re planning on being a regular, you’d better download their loyalty app, which gives you $8 after every $88 spent (and a free smoothie on your birthday). They tend to send offers via email as well.


Freshii is the type of chain that has cracked the code to creating an association between their brand and healthy living. I walked into the River North location pleasantly overtaken by a refreshing feeling. It’s hard to put into words, but I know you’ll feel the same when you check it out.

Salads in the Loop

Taste/Nutrition: There’s a soft spot in my heart for any salad that compliments a good cilantro-lime dressing. I got the Fiesta Salad and loved every bite. While Just Salad and Protein Bar have mastered the art of the chopped salad, Freshii has mastered the art of a fresh taste in every bite. I also tried their Kefir, which is kind of like frozen yogurt, but more nutritious. Finally, I sampled one of their green juices. It was an incredibly healthy lunch and I loved every bite! Their nutrition information isn’t quite as user-friendly as others on this list, but does exist online.

Affordability: Think along the same lines as Protein Bar.

Just Salad

Salads in the Loop

Courtesy of Just Salad team.

Just Salad is a recent Chicago addition, after finding success initially in New York. They opened with a bang, offering $1 salads and wraps on their first day. I scoped out the line and it was around the block. I decided to wait to try Just Salad in a more manageable setting.

Taste: As with many other salad providers on this list, you can opt to create your own salad creation, but should definitely give their mixes a try. These guys are salad artists. Like Protein Bar, they chop up the salad very well and you can taste all of the flavors in one bite. I got the buffalo chicken salad and several jealous stares from coworkers.

Salads in the Loop

Nutrition: Salads clock in at about 350 calories (including protein) and go up from there based on the dressing. I got a simple lemon dressing that only added 5 calories and still tasted amazing. The salads are well balanced in terms of protein to veggie ratio. Use their comprehensive and interactive nutrition calculator to drill down the specifics.

Affordability: Just Salad isn’t cheap, but they have a great special worth mentioning. Buy a reusable bowl for $1, and every time you bring it back, you get free two “Essential” toppings (veggies, fruit, grains, etc) or one free cheese topping. If you’re a regular, this will definitely add up! I think it’s an interesting take on a loyalty program that takes the environment into consideration. They also have an app to offer additional savings for loyal customers.


Salads in the Loop

Taste: Of all the featured salads, the least amount of love went into my Cosi salad. As Cosi isn’t primarily about salads, I guess I can’t be too sour about it. And they were extremely busy even when I went in after the lunch rush. The adobo lime chicken salad didn’t have anything wrong with it, it just wasn’t as special as some of the others listed.

Nutrition: Salads ring in around 400 calories or more, but come with a side of bread. Probably not the best place to go for a healthy balanced meal. I want to go back and try one of their sandwiches or bowls and review them again. But for this scope of this article, I’ll let my review stand.

Affordability: Cosi offers a loyalty program that offers you a free meal after your 10th visit. Otherwise it’s similar pricing to any aforementioned salad restaurant on this list.

Farmer’s Fridge

I will admit to a slight bias when it comes to Farmer’s Fridge, but only because I used to work for them. That’s right, their earliest social media marketing came with help from yours truly. But as you can probably guess by now, I don’t promote any brands I can’t get behind. Farmer’s Fridge is an awesome and unique concept – it’s a salad vending machine. This is where I usually lose people. Yes. The salads are refrigerated. And replaced on a daily basis. The leftovers are donated to food pantries.

Salads in the Loop

From: Farmer’s Fridge Facebook

Taste: Farmer’s Fridge salads are arranged in layers to keep as fresh as possible throughout the day. Once you shake in the dressing and distribute the different parts, prepare yourself for a flavor blast. All the ingredients are fresh and organic, so you can enjoy your salad guilt-free (is a salad every guilty, though?). The Cheater has one of my favorite flavor profiles, but look out for their monthly special salads to keep it interesting!

Nutrition: Starting this week, each salad has updated nutritional labels! A good feature is that most salads separate dressing nutrition facts from the rest of the nutritional information, so you can weigh using theirs (you should, it’s delicious) versus your own if you’re on a super low-calorie diet. Plus, as previously mentioned, only high-quality ingredients go into each jar.

Affordability: A regular salad will cost $6-8, a protein add-on is another $2. After 6pm, all salads are $1 off, and Farmer’s Fridge tends to offer promotions over their social media channels and through their email newsletter. You can return the mason jar it comes in to the kiosk, or upcycle it. I use mine to hold jewelry, tea bags, trail mix, and granola bars.

The above represents just a sampling of the places to get salads in the Loop. I think the major takeaway is that you should try a few and pick your favorite to rack up some loyalty points. Or stay in touch with the brands that tend to offer special promotions over their own channels!

Finally, Farmer’s Fridge has generously offered a free salad as a giveaway! Enter below if you’re a Chicago resident (can’t get them anywhere else… for now), and I’ll announce the winner by June 15!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


#CheapWeek: 4/19 – 4/26

Sometimes I do some pretty cool things that don’t necessarily warrant an entire blog post. So, moving forward, #CheapWeek will be a review of the fun things I did and ate in Chicago the previous week. This is your insider’s guide to how a real “Cheap Ass” lives.

4/19 – Chef Week Kickoff Party

Chef Week Kickoff Party Menu

Chef Week Kickoff Party Menu

People – embrace the power of Twitter, already. I received an invite to a Chef Week Kickoff Party by paying attention to Chicago Chef Week’s Twitter handle (it coincided with my previous post about Chicago Chef Week). I brought my lovely friend Mallory as a plus one, and together we caught up while enjoying quality cocktails, wine, and food at the J. Parker – all for free. The J. Parker is known for its cool retractable rooftop. Unfortunately, it was raining when we went, but regardless, the place had a cool vibe and I’ll definitely be back.

Chicago Chef Week

Food @ the Chicago Chef Week Kickoff Party

4/21 – Chicago Chef Week at Piccolo Sogno Due and Blog Partnerships

Delicious Lunch at Piccolo Sogno Due

Delicious Lunch at Piccolo Sogno Due

For my first Chicago Chef Week meal, I went to Piccolo Sogno Due, which is just down the street from where I work in River North. I went with a friend who works at the Merchandise Mart and we each took advantage of the $22 menu which included several choices of appetizer, entree, and dessert. Halfway through the entree we were both stuffed, so I took the rest to go for the following day’s lunch. While I would not spend $22 on lunch on a regular basis, Chicago Chef Week is a great opportunity to try an expensive restaurant at a more affordable cost.


Love the Chicago-inspired design of the Verizon store on Michigan Avenue

In blog related news, I responded to a request for bloggers with Choose Chicago, and will soon begin writing for their Chicago Like a Local Blog. Choose Chicago is an awesome organization with a lot of visibility, so it’s a step in the right direction for Chicago Cheap Ass. I also had a fun meeting with Rebecca at Verizon; Rebecca connects bloggers with their products. I checked out the two-level Verizon store on Michigan Avenue and made a wish list of products to test for my “Save or Splurge?” theme. Back in college, I had the opportunity to test Verizon products for my personal blog, so I’m excited to continue this partnership.

4/22 – QBBQ and Instituto Cervantes


A tasty lunch from QBBQ

QBBQ is right around the corner from me. I had a $5 off coupon that I’d been meaning to use, so I went in and ordered a pulled pork sandwich with two sides for about $4.50. Talk about an awesome deal. I’ve been to their brunch before and it does not disappoint – especially their garlic parmesan fries.


Los Caprichos exhibit at Instituto Cervantes

Later that night I met up with a friend to check out an art exhibit called “Los Caprichos” at Instituto Cervantes. The exhibit featured an intersection of work between two Spanish masters – Goya and Dali. Basically, Goya created a series of paintings making fun of Spanish sayings, and then Dali took Goya’s work and made it his own. The exhibit runs through June 10 and is definitely worth a look if you’re interested in seeing the work of Goya and Dali for FREE up-close and personal.

4/23 – Chicago Trolley and Bellwether

Chicago Trolley

Going out with Chicago Trolley

I happen to work for a company with many fringe benefits. We spent the afternoon with one of our clients, Chicago Trolley, who took us on a fun tour of Chicago. After the trolley tour, we went to Bellwether, which has the world’s best buffalo chicken spring rolls ($8 during happy hour, $12 regularly) and had a couple rounds of beer. I have never drank so much free beer or ate so much free delicious food as I have with this company.

4/24 – RPM Steak for Chicago Chef Week

RPM Steak

Thick. Cut. Bacon. (RPM Steak)

I got my first cavity filled today and was worried my mouth would be too numb to properly chew dinner, but luckily I got it together about an hour before my reservation. I went with some co-workers to RPM Steak for the first time in my life. Everyone talks about how RPM (both Italian and Steak) is a must-do. It’s rather pricey, so I would reserve this spot for a special occasion. Luckily, RPM was one of the restaurants participating in Chicago Chef Week and had a 4 course menu with plenty of choices for $44. Done. After realizing that RPM Steak is a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, I paid using a gift card that was burning a hole in my pocket. This was honestly the best dinner out I’ve ever had, which I can say without even thinking about it. That good. Our waitress (Jennifer) was amazing. AND WE MET GIULIANA AND BILL RANCIC. This could not have been a more perfect night.

RPM Steak

Yes, this cake has 14k gold flakes on it.

4/25 – Birthday at Hubbard Inn

It was a friend’s birthday and we went to Hubbard Inn to celebrate. I have been wanting to go there for a while, so this was the perfect excuse. They have tons of beers on tap and good food (though a little expensive). They even brought my friend two free bottles of champagne for waiting a little longer than expected for a table… now that’s service.

4/26 – Groupon at HALA IN

Vice City Brewing

Vice City Brewing

So I was going to go to C2E2 today, but that’s a frustrating story. Basically, my name was never put on the guest list after winning a contest through the Freebie App. So I altered my plans and checked out Vice District Brewing. Definitely not a Cheap Ass place ($15 for two beers), but it was delicious and a quirky spot. They have board games and popcorn (win). Determined to use some of the Groupons I had purchased for eating out in my current neighborhood (Lakeview) before moving to my new neighborhood (Roscoe Village), my boyfriend and I checked out HALA IN after hitting up the gym. HALA IN has some beautiful-looking Mediterranean food. For $22 we got $40 worth of food – two sides (hummus, falafel), pita bread, an entree with rice, and dessert. Here’s a pro-tip: Groupon frequently has 20-25% off sales on top of their local deals. Try to wait for those deals for ridiculous savings on food.

Hala In

Delicious dinner at Hala In

Check back next week for another roundup of what I did!

chicago cheap ass (4)

Spring Rewards – Chicago’s New Restaurant Loyalty Program

There’s little more annoying than having to keep track of endless cards, apps, etc. just to rack up points at your favorite businesses. My purse simply doesn’t have room for physical representations of all the businesses I frequent. But what if I told you that you could start racking up loyalty points at hundreds of Chicago’s favorite restaurants simply using your credit card?

Spring Rewards

Select different loyalty programs to join in a list segmented alphabetically and by neighborhood.

Spring Rewards is an awesome concept that allows you to connect your credit card to their program to track purchases and earn points. Some restaurants give welcome incentives like $5 or $10 credited back after your first meal with them as a Spring user. Others offer Groupon-esque deals where you pay a certain amount of money (say $5) for a certain amount credited back to you ($15 for example) upon purchase. The caveat – these deals tend to expire quickly after purchase so have a plan in place for when to use them.

Spring Rewards deal

An example of a deal you can purchase from Spring Rewards

As a relatively new company, Spring isn’t perfect. I’ve had to contact them on more than one occasion about a purchase not counting towards loyalty points or credits on my account. As they’re working out the kinks, you have to be proactive about making sure credits are applied. On the flip side, I’m pleasantly surprised when I get a text message from a place I didn’t realize was a part of Spring, and my purchase counts toward future rewards.

PRO TIP: A lot of these businesses (Hutch, Geja’s Cafe, Rockit Ranch, to name a few…) have Groupon offers than run simultaneous to the limited-time Spring offers. You can easily use both at the same time to double-dip for discounts.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to Spring Reward’s website and sign up with the credit card you use most for dining. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you used Spring Rewards? Tell me about your experience in the comments.