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Starbucks is launching a new lunch menu — and it looks delicious

by Tracy Saelinger / / Source: TODAY

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Coffee giant Starbucks seems to roll out a new drink every time you blink, but now it's ramping up a big effort to lure us in for lunch.

It's called the Mercato line — Italian for "marketplace" — and Chicago is the first city to get a taste of it.

Cauliflower tabbouleh salad
Riced cauliflower makes an appearance in this take on tabbouleh salad.Courtesy of Starbucks

Food-team researchers combed the country for trends all last summer, scoping out what people were ordering and what was flying off shelves.

Taking a look at the menu, you'll notice trendy ingredients like cauliflower rice and za'atar seasoning in lively looking salads and sandwiches, and a grown-up take on PB&J made with almond butter, strawberry slices and strawberry jam.

Also noticeable is an emphasis on high-protein, vegetarian and vegan options.

Starbucks' spin on a classic sandwich. Introducing the chain's Crunchy Almond Butter, Strawberries and Jam Sandwich.
Starbucks' spin on a classic sandwich. Introducing the chain's Crunchy Almond Butter, Strawberries and Jam Sandwich.Courtesy of Starbucks

Starting today, the menu will be in more than 100 stores in downtown Chicago, with plans to expand to additional stores over the year, a spokesperson told TODAY.

"Starbucks looks forward to expanding the Mercato menu in Chicago Starbucks stores in the coming months, and does not have additional information about other markets to share at this time," the spokesperson said.

Steak and mango salad
Yes, please! This colorful steak-and-mango salad is loaded with mango, pickled onion, cucumbers, carrot slaw, chopped peanuts, romaine and a red curry vinaigrette.Courtesy of Starbucks

Chances are pretty good we'll see it rolling out in other cities, though: Since 2013, Starbucks has grown its food business by 1.5 times — and plans to double it by 2021, according to the company.

About 50 percent of customers actually come in after 11 a.m., which is surprising, as most of us hit Starbucks for coffee, Frappuccinos or the latest new seasonal drink when we start our day.

RELATED: There's a new Starbucks drink for spring—and it's very pink

The new food additions, we have to say, look pretty delicious. Menus vary among stores, but check out some of the new offerings below:

  • Za’atar Chicken and Lemon Tahini Salad: herbed chicken with za’atar spice, grains, tzatziki, marinated carrots, chopped romaine and lemon-tahini dressing
  • Cauliflower Tabbouleh Salad: chopped parsley, mint, cucumber, tomato and riced cauliflower with fresh lemon juice on arugula
  • Seared Steak and Mango Salad: seared flank steak, minted mango, pickled onion, cucumbers, carrot slaw over rice noodles, and chopped peanuts over romaine lettuce with red curry vinaigrette
  • Herbed Chicken and Fig Spread Sandwich: herbed chicken breast with a flavorful fig spread and arugula, with whole grain mustard ricotta on Ficelle bread
  • Smoked Pork Cubano Sandwich: smoked pork loin, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, jalapeno whole grain dijonnaise, and dill pickle on flatbread
  • Crunchy Almond Butter, Strawberries and Jam Sandwich: chunky almond butter, strawberry jam and fresh strawberry slices on Bavarian wheat bread

One other cool thing to note: Last year, the chain found a way to safely donate its ready-to-eat food (not just pastries) to the hungry, and it will be doing the same with the new line of eats as well.

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