Meli Cafe and al Fresco dining

Meli Cafe and al Fresco dining

Meli Cafe and al Fresco Dining

Restaurant review: Enjoying the outdoors in the summer should be a goal, not just when you are out and about but when you are eating. There are a lot of great outdoor cafes and restaurants in Illinois and I’ll showcase many of them. This is Meli Cafe in the heart of Chicago with outdoor seating at 500 South Dearborn Street

By Ray Hanania

Ray HananiaThere’s nothing like enjoying a meal outdoors in the summer, even on one of thebusiest streets in the midwest.

Meli’s cafe, which has three locations, offers al fresco (fresh air) dining at its 500 S. Dearborn Street location. It has two other locations in Downtown Chicago, 301 S. Halsted Street and 540 N. Wells Street.

Although Dearborn street is often a traffic jam with horns blaring, wheels screeching and sirens blaring, all that just makes for an action-packed movie-like environment while you enjoy a great meal.

Being on a Calorie counting diet, I select healthy foods with low calorie counts. Dieting by counting calories does work, but you have to have a little patience to calculate the calories. My goal is under 1,200 a day and that’s been very easy, so far without cutting back on my favorite carbohydrates, proteins and dietary drinks.



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Meli Cafe fit my menu needs and I ordered the Salmon Salad, about 550 calories total. The Salmon is the bulk of the calories and the salad was great, along with low cal dressing.

Salmon Salad at Street view from Meli Cafe at 500 S. Dearborn Street. Photo courtesy Ray Hanania

Salmon Salad at Street view from Meli Cafe at 500 S. Dearborn Street. Photo courtesy Ray Hanania

The biggest complaint about downtown Chicago used to be that it was crime ridden and its smelled. Well, the smell was gone, although I can’t talk much about the crime, fortunately.

No one bothered us, that is if you learn to enjoy the peculiar people who sometimes wander the streets singing, yelling into the sky — or at you — or panhandle for money.

Sorry folks about I take care of a needy person, so I don’t share the profits outside of that circle much. It’s expensive. So the best response is avoid eye contact. They should be in shelters not wandering the streets begging for money, at least that’s where the person I help resides with my support.

Still, CHicago is just one big circus without a tent or restricted to the “rings.” The Elephant poop is gone, although you might see the occasional Chicago Police officers in blue with blue helmets riding horses up and down the streets avoiding the traffic jams that plague the Loop.

Street view from Meli Cafe at 500 S. Dearborn Street. Photo courtesy Ray Hanania

Street view from Meli Cafe at 500 S. Dearborn Street. Photo courtesy Ray Hanania

It was fun. Meli has two rows of small tables on the sidewalk adjacent to Dearborn Street, bordered by a small, low “fence” that you can see over.

It was fun, a great experience. And Meli’s menu is phenomenal, like I said with many options for those watching their weight and monitoring their diets.

I was there with my wife and son and they enjoyed their meal, too.

Like all downtown Chicago restaurants, it was expensive. More than a similar meal in one of the outlying and great suburbs like Naperville or Orland Park. But it was worth the extra fee to enjoy the “urban ambiance” of daily life and sounds.

The Mediterranean salad with Salmon was $20. Not too bad for a salad with a major meat item. The Salmon was great.

Check them out. It’s a fun experience. You can’t be afraid of Chicago. You have to be adventurous, but always cautious.

Meli Cafe is the perfect place to enjoy the South end of the Loop.

Meli Cafe
500 S. Dearborn Street

Meli Cafe at 500 S. Dearborn Street. Photo courtesy Ray Hanania

Meli Cafe at 500 S. Dearborn Street.


Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author & former Chicago City Hall reporter (1977-1992). A veteran who served during the Vietnam War and the recipient of four SPJ Peter Lisagor Awards for column writing, Hanania writes weekly opinion columns on mainstream American & Chicagoland topics for the Southwest News-Herald, Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers, and Suburban Chicagoland.  

Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America. 

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Click Here to LISTEN to Hanania's live radio show on 2nd Friday every month 7 AM CST. Click here to listen to Ray's Podcasts. 

His columns are archived here. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.

Email Ray Hanania at

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