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This place does pesto right.

There comes a time in every Loop office dweller?s life when she has to call it quits...with Potbelly?s turkey on wheat. You and your work besties deserve somewhere nice to dine on the occasional Friday, minus the slow table service and awkward bill splitting.

Enter Vapiano, the fast-casual Italian spot beloved in Europe, with a new location in the old Carson Pirie Scott building.

The restaurant?s red-hued, almost nightclub-like interior is ringed with food stations--pasta, pizza, panini and a full bar--manned by workers who sometimes break into dance steps as they whip up carb-focused entrées.

And Vapiano?s figured out how to split an eight-person meal with ease: Each person gets a chip card, swipes it at the food stations and pays at the end. (Open until midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends, Vapiano hopes to lure the post-theater crowd, too.)? Nothing costs more than $12, and the food quality goes toe-to-toe with Loop sit-down standards like, say, The Italian Village. ??

Our pesto e spinaci--house-made pasta with a pesto cream sauce, spinach and tomatoes--was fresh tasting and expertly cooked, while a thin, simple pizza with ham and mushrooms was crisp-crusted, oozy perfection.

For dessert? A bellissimo $8 glass of strawberry-basil sangria, naturally (our boss was out of town).

??Vapiano, 44 S. Wabash St.; phone 312-384-1960 or

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