CTA’s L turns 125: Where to eat local and celebrate

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This week marks 125 years of service for the L, Chicago’s iconic elevated railway that began running in 1892. To mark the occasion, we chatted with Lauren Smith, Senior Analyst on JLL’s Public Institutions team, about her team’s retail leasing work with the Chicago Transit Authority and the best places to pick up a snack along the transit system.

JLL’s Public Institutions team has worked with the CTA since 2008, providing a wide range of real estate services, including managing the CTA’s retail leasing program. Recently, the CTA has seen a welcome uptick in interest from hyperlocal retailers that are making significant investments into their CTA spaces and adding variety to the retail program.

“The retail environment of the CTA is nothing like traditional neighborhood retail. Much of the customer base consist of commuters quickly passing through,” Smith says. “A lot of people are looking to grab a quick cup of coffee or a bite to eat on the way, though we are seeing more sit-down restaurants and cafés come into the program.”

Since the transit retail environment is so unique, with spaces ranging from smaller subway kiosks to larger street-level storefronts and some stations see more than 3 million annual riders (7 million at the Lake Red Line station), rents for CTA retail spaces have a wide range and typically diverge from the surrounding retail market.

Some of the latest delicious additions to CTA’s retail spaces:

Flaco’s Tacos


Story: Flaco’s Tacos’ fourth and most recent location occupies two storefronts at Granville on the Red Line. One of the storefronts features delicious Mexican fare and margaritas and the other storefront, connected by a patio, acts as an ice cream shop (dubbed ‘Gordos’). Before opening, Flaco’s Tacos made a major investment in the space, transforming what had previously been a bare bones concrete box into a charming and welcoming restaurant space.

Stop: Granville Red Line

What to order: Flaco’s Tacos offers a range of specialty and traditional tacos, burritos, homemade tamales, quesadillas and sides.



Story: SmackDab pastry shop got its start in 2015, operating a pop-up within the Heartland Café in Rogers Park. At their new Wellington café space, CTA riders are able to purchase delicious and freshly prepared products on their way to and from the train. The café is a great addition to the retail program, providing handmade and locally sourced fare to the surrounding community and to patients, staff and visitors of neighboring Illinois Masonic Hospital.

Stop: Wellington Brown Line

What to order: SmackDab offers locally roasted, organic coffee and a daily selection of handmade pastries. We are also lucky enough to have their pastries served in our JLL Club coffee bar at Aon Center.

Café Jumping Bean (L’ Cafécito)

Story: Café Jumping Bean (the original) has been a mainstay of the Pilsen neighborhood, anchoring the corner of 18th and Bishop since 1994. The CTA was excited to bring in Café Jumping Bean to open up a satellite location called L’ Cafecito at the Damen Pink line, about a mile away from the original and right around the corner from the National Museum of Mexican Art. The small café is a warm and inviting coffee shop, with beautiful custom made wood countertops and convenient seating to enjoy your meal before heading on to your next destination.

Stop: Damen Pink LIne

What to order: L’ Cafecito offers delicious gourmet coffee and a full espresso bar, as well as a selection of pastries, sandwiches and teas.

Churro Factory


Story: Churro Factory first opened up in Pilsen in1996 and since then has expanded to eight locations in three states, including a location at Navy Pier. Churro Factory’s colorful storefront at the 18th Street Station in the heart of Pilsen brings the retailer back to the neighborhood where they first started and is a welcome addition to the CTA’s retail program. With a street-side walk-up window, both CTA riders and local pedestrians can order churros or coffee on the go.

Stop: 18th Street Pink Line

What to order: In addition to churros of all shapes, sizes and toppings, they offer hot and cold drinks and ice cream.