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Family friendly: Michigan Avenue
Foodlife, 835 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-335-3663, foodlifechicago.com
I've heard it called the EPCOT of downtown lunches, but the reality is closer to IKEA, a sprawling wonderland where quality isn't so much the overarching value as is variety and affordability (and bright primary colors). If you're towing along children, there's an additional quality-novelty. It's fun eating here, in the mezzanine level of Water Tower (steps from American Girl Place). Your hostess seats you, hands you a swipeable card, then explains the concept: Wander around, sushi to smoked BBQ to decent kung pao stir fry to smoothies made with real fruit (no powders), hand each booth your card, eat, present the card to a cashier on your way out (paying only once). Nothing bowled me over, and nothing bored. My pulled pork sandwich was full of smoke. My chair was lime green. You’d swear it was Swedish.