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Our month-long road trip last year was incredibly fun, and also incredibly indulgent. Put simply, we ate like sh*t. Oh, all that Southern food was tasty, but by the time we made it to Chicago, our bodies were screaming for something healthy. Luckily we discovered that in addition to its famous deep-dish pizza and polish sausages, the Windy City has a great selection of vegan restaurants. Normally we are veggies, not entirely vegan, but we tried to fit in as many of these vegan restaurants as possible during our four weeks in town. We sampled old favs like veggie burgers and salads, along with dishes using ingredients like tempeh and seitan, which we hadn’t had much of until then. Here is a round-up of what we loved and what we didn’t at a few of Chicago’s vegan restaurants.
Note: This is by no means a complete list of vegan restaurants in Chicago and we’ll continue to try more of them every time we’ll visit.
The best vegan restaurants in Chicago
Native Foods Café
We love this place! In fact, the Native Foods Café is the reason why we didn’t make it to more vegan restaurants in Chicago. We kept sneaking back here again and again. Every single dish we tried was delicious, especially the Earth Bowls, which all have brown rice, a selection of veggie and Tanya’s delicious home-made Tempeh. We are seriously addicted to this Tempeh, so not surprisingly it is also the main ingredient of our other favorite dish at Native Foods Cafe – the Scorpion Burger. In our reviews of other vegan hotspots in Chicago below, you’ll see we are not big fans of faux meat, but at Native Foods, we even loved the seitan meatballs on the Meatballs Sub with pesto sauce – absolutely delicious. We don’t love fake (okay, veeeegan) cheese either, but these vegan sweet potato tacos were seriously good.
We found out after our first visit to NFC on Belmont Ave that this is actually part of a small chain of vegan restos founded in Palm Springs, California, in 1994 by chef Tanya Petrovna. Until very recently, Tanya operated at a handful of California locations. Chicago was her first city of expansion last year, and those three outlets have been so successful, that there are now plans in the works to roll out several locations nationwide in 2012 (including one in Boulder, Co where will be this summer – we can’t wait to get our NFC fix!).
The menu balances comfort food staples with adventurous options for longer-term vegans. One thing we absolutely loved about Native Foods Cafe is their big sporting event menu. For play-offs and superbowls, they offer a big platter for delivery to your party, filled with veggie burgers and faux meatball subs, plus their un-buh-lieveably yummy french fries that might not be heart-healthy but would easily satisfy even the staunchest steak-lovers.
*Address: 1023 W Belmont Ave, (Lakeview); 1484 N Milwaukee Ave (Wicker Park); 218 S Clark St (Loop)
*Opening Times: Daily 11am – 10pm, Loop: Monday – Friday 10.30am – 8pm, Saturday 10.30am-4pm
*Menu: Lunch & dinner; salads, soups, burgers, wraps and earth bowls (vegetables, greens, grains and seitan)
*Price range:Entrees between $8.95 and $9.95, personal pizzas $7.95, sides from $2.95, deserts $2.95
The Chicago Diner
Our vegan adventure actually started at The Chicago Diner, which is a vegetarian diner but offers plenty of vegan options on the menu. We ate here twice and while we didn’t love the food, the atmosphere is really fun. The restaurant is set right on Halsted in the heart of Boystown, just two blocks from the lake. We would hang out here again, but the food isn’t what would get us back in here as we just don’t enjoy the faux meat items such as the seitan wings with vegan ranch dressing, a BBQ ‘chicken’ salad (with seitan), vegan nachos (where’s the fun in those?!), a vegan meat loaf and a vegan Reuben sandwich.
We would probably try the Bi Bim Bap (a Korean rice dish), the Soul Bowl (Seasoned quinoa, spicy grilled tofu with chimichurri sauce, flashed greens, mashed sweet potatoes & black beans) or the vegan cupcakes, which are rumored to be delish.
*Address: 3411 N. Halsted, Chicago
*Opening Times: Mo-Th 11:00-10:00, Fr- 11:00-11:00, Sa 10:00-11:00 , Su 10:00-10:00
*Menu: Breakfast, lunch & dinner, Brunch on the weekends, burgers, salads, sandwiches, soups, desserts & cakes
*Price range: Entrees between $8 and $11.
Karyn Calabrese is a well-known personality in the holistic health industry (she’s been on Oprah and plenty of other shows) and has three vegan restaurants in Chicago: Karyn’s Raw, Karyn’s Cooked and Karyn’s on the Green (also a holistic beauty center). A big advocate of eating raw, Karen was even named ‘Raw Foodiest of the Year’.
Even though we are big fans of her principles and the raw food philosophy (look at how she looks at 63!),we were dining with friends and went for the ‘safe’ option, choosing Karen’s Cooked over the raw places. Confession: We should have probably opted for her raw restaurant instead.
The four of us shared a basket of breaded vegetables (zucchini, tofu and cauliflower) which, as breaded things tend to be, were tasty. Like the other places we tried, the entrees are mostly focused on fake meat items. The vegan meat loaf with broccoli and mashed potatoes was actually very good as was the Buddha Bowl (brown rice with grilled veggies in teriyaki sauce). The meatball sub seemed to be made of the same nut loaf-like ingredients as the meatloaf dish, just without the yummy mashed potatoes, a bit boring. The roast beef sandwich was a total miss, unfortunately. The thin slices looked just like the real thing (which we don’t eat) and tasted like nothing at all (which we don’t like either). The dishes were heavy and filling, assuaging a common fear that meat-eaters tend to have about vegan food. For us life-long vegetarians, however, we would have enjoyed more bursts of flavor and risky ingredients over the comfort food. We would like to support Karyn’s work, so next time we are in town, we’ll definitely opt for Karyn’s Raw Cafe instead.
*Address: 738 N Wells St, Chicago
*Opening Times: Sunday-Monday 11.00am- 9.00pm, Tuesday-Wednesday 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, Thursday-Saturday 11am-11:00pm; Saturday Brunch 11.00 am-2.00 pm, Sunday Brunch 11.00 am-3.00 pm
*Menu: Lunch and dinner, brunch on the weekends
*Price range: Entrees between $9 and $13, sides between $2 and $4.
Delicious Café (update: This cafe is now permanently closed)
The Delicious Café is a small neighborhood spot in the Lincoln Square-ish area. The food is a bit ‘meh’, but it really is a quick, cheap and easy way to eat healthy for lunch or breakfast.
My genetics control me in a way that I must order a grilled cheese if one is on the menu, so I was basically forced to tried the vegan Grilled Cheese. I liked the baby carrots on the side better than the tasteless faux cheese, but the pumpkin soup and vegan B.L.T. on a whole-wheat bagel were both pretty good. Our bill was under $20 for three of us, including juices, though – not bad at all in this neighborhood.
*Address: 3827 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago (at North Center neighborhood)
*Opening Times: Mon 8am-3pm, Tue-Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 9am-6pm
*Menu: Breakfast & Lunch, Sandwiches and pastries
*Price range: Breakfast items start at $1.50, lunch $5.50, sandwich & soup combo $7.50
For a full listing of vegan restaurants in Chicago, check out Happy Cow.
Have you eaten at vegan restaurants in Chicago? We would love to expand this list, so if you have suggestions for vegan restaurants on our next visit, share them in the comments below!