Chicago vegetarian options are on the rise and while I don’t consider myself a vegetarian or a vegan, I try to avoid eating meat most of the time. When a craving for beef, veal or lamb hits me, I allow myself to indulge. The body wants what the body wants. Luckily, those meaty cravings don’t happen too often. Chicago has several restaurants which offer vegetarian and vegan dishes on their menus. Lifestyle changes and sensitive diets seem to
dictate how restaurants cater to its customers these days. Still, there are surprisingly few establishments which are dedicated solely to vegetarian and/or vegan cuisine. Below are the 5 Best Chicago Vegetarian Restaurants, in no particular order:
The Chicago vegetarian scene got elevated recently with the addition of this new West Loop restaurant. Bad Hunter is vegetable-forward but it does have some proteins on its menu.
I enjoyed the “One Bamboo Straw for Man” cocktail made with vodka, Spanish rose, rum, lime and pecan orgeat. It is refreshing and not too boozy.
The chilled carrot noodles with roasted carrots, carrot dashi, and spicy carrot sauce was a very exciting dish.
Fried kale sprouts with chili jam, saffron aioli and almonds is new on the menu and it added a crunchy contrast to the soft carrot noodles.
Bad Hunter is one block south and four blocks east of the Morgan ‘L’ stop on the Green and Pink Lines.
Bad Hunter – 802 W. Randolph St.
Mana Food Bar
Chicago vegetarian options don’t get better than Mana Food Bar. This cool Wicker Park restaurant is located 3 blocks west of the Division ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Blue Line. There are approximately 20+ tables in this rustic, galley-style space and you can sit at the bar, counter or one of the booths. They offer meatless fare with an international flare.
After you start things off with a creative cocktail, beer, sake, a smoothie or some fresh-squeezed juice, peruse Chef Jill Baron’s creative and fresh menu. Personally, I love her cold sesame noodles. The spicy peanut sauce is perfect! I am genuinely confounded at the surprising lack of Asian restaurants in Chicago which do not offer this iconic dish. I am even more confused by those restaurants which do have it on their menu and fail miserably at it. Lucky for us, Mana Food Bar nails it! The noodles have great texture and the greens are fresh and crunchy.
Mana’s Ma Po Tofu with eggplant is pretty awesome, too. So often when I order tofu out in restaurants, I am disappointed because It is either too dry or way too mushy. I had the very best tofu at Mana Food Bar. It is a super spicy and hearty dish. The tofu is a really great medium texture which does not fall apart when you try to pick it up with your chopsticks. Hooray!
Mana Food Bar – 1742 W. Division St.
This Chicago vegetarian restaurant is in West Town, 10 blocks west of the Chicago ‘L’ stop on the CTA Blue Line. The #66 Chicago bus stop right out front.
The interior of Green Zebra is lovely with green palms, booths, and tables that fill the sleek space.
I started my meal with a festive Champagne cocktail. It’s been years since I had one and Green Zebra’s version did not disappoint! I had a really tough time choosing from the many interesting small plates here but I narrowed my selections to the following:
At the recommendation of my server, I started my meal with this Hen of the Woods mushroom paté, with ramp leaf mostarda and pickled fennel. Ramps (a spring onion) were in season so I did not want to miss this opportunity. This was a wonderfully earthy and savory plate. I am grateful for my server’s advice.
Next up, I chose this Za’atar roasted acorn squash. It was served over a kale cake with some cherry bomb pepper, an olive vinaigrette, and a roasted garlic sauce. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern herb blend that is rising in popularity here in the U.S. I really love it. The spicy and smoky flavor was the perfect complement to the sweet acorn squash. The cherry bomb pepper, olive vinaigrette, and roasted garlic brought this dish to an exclamation point. Nicely done!
I decided to end my meal with one of Green Zebra’s side dishes rather than indulge in their dessert menu. I ordered this bright and spicy dish of sauteed ramps with miso and Calabrian chili dressing. Great choice!
Green Zebra – 1460 W. Chicago Ave.
This cute Chicago vegetarian spot is located in Wicker Park and it is delicious. It has a bicycle-theme and it is 9 blocks west of the Damen ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Blue Line. The #72 North Ave bus stops directly in front of the restaurant.
After eyeballing Handlebar’s interesting veggie and vegan options, I went with this Huevos Diablos dish. Two fried eggs sat atop corn tostadas and a spicy tomato sauce dressed the plate. Brown rice, black beans, and buttery avocado rode shotgun. Wow! This plate has enough protein and heft to make you forget about missing the meat.
Handlebar – 2311 W. North Avenue
The Chicago Diner
The Chicago Diner is located in the Boystown section of Lakeview. Impressively, It has been serving vegetarian and vegan fare since 1983 which is pretty groundbreaking for a meat-loving town like Chicago. Hop the CTA Red or Brown Lines to the Belmont ‘L’ stop and walk 5 blocks north. If you’re catching a Cubs game, take the CTA Red Line to Addison and walk 4 blocks south.
The Chicago Diner has an extensive menu of salads, sandwiches, burgers, and entrees. They even serve brunch and I really enjoyed their Buddha Karma Burger. It has a curried sweet potato-tofu burger with grilled pineapple, lettuce, tomato and chimichurri sauce. It’s one light and flavorful meatless item.
Chicago Diner has a pretty solid reputation for its dessert menu, including an array of tasty vegan shakes. Check them out!
Chicago Diner – 3411 N. Halsted
So, there you have them, folks! Ditch the car and ride the rails to the 5 best Chicago vegetarian restaurants. Do you have some favorite vegetarian or vegan restaurants you’d like to share with me? I would love to hear all about it! Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA trains and buses to the 5 best Chicago vegetarian destinations. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!