By no means would I consider myself a vegetarian or a vegan. I like an array of proteins in my diet. However, lately, I am bent on living a mostly meatless existence. In an effort to watch cholesterol and fat, 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 Chicago’s 5 Best Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants in no particular order:
This cool Wicker Park restaurant is located 3 blocks west of the Division ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Blue Line. There are approximately 20+ tables in this rustic, galley-style space. 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 such an 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. It is either to 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 also offers sweet as well as savory dishes. I am a sucker for potato pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce. Mana makes theirs with sweet and white potatoes, crema and apple chutney. It’s really delicious. Bonus: It’s sweet enough to count as dessert 🙂
Mana Food Bar is located at 1742 W. Division St.
Chicago Diner is located in the Boystown section of Lakeview. It has been serving vegetarian and vegan fare since 1983. That 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.
Chicago Diner has an extensive menu of salads, sandwiches, burgers and entrees. They even serve brunch. 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 is located at 3411 N. Halsted. There is a second location in Logan Square at 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue.
I made my virgin visit to Handlebar earlier this week. It’s located in Wicker Park and, yes, it is one of “those hipster joints.” You know what else it is? DELICIOUS!
Handlebar, a bicycle-themed spot, is located 9 blocks west of the Damen ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Blue Line. The #72 North Ave bus stops directly in front of the restaurant. I can’t wait for the cute outdoor patio to be open now that the weather is warming up.
After eyeballing Handlebar’s interesting veggie and vegan options, I went with this Huevos Diablos dish. Two fried eggs sat atop corn tostadas. 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 is located at 2311 W. North Avenue.
I have been meaning to visit Green Zebra for the last several years. Chef/Owner Shawn McClain, a 2006 James Beard Award winner, has been serving seasonally-focused shared plates for 12 years running. Two days ago, I finally made it to this elegant restaurant in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. It’s located just 10 blocks west of the Chicago ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Blue Line. The #66 Chicago bus stop right out front.
The interior of Green Zebra is lovely. Green palms, booths and tables 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 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) are in season right now for a short run, so I’ll take them wherever I can get them. 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. Again, ramps are in season for a limited time, so I ordered this bright and spicy dish of sauteed ramps with miso and Calabrian chili dressing. Great choice!
I cannot wait to try the rest of Green Zebra’s menu. I must bring some reinforcements with me next time. Hey, Anca! I’m talking to you, girl 🙂
Green Zebra is located at 1460 West Chicago Ave. They are only open for dinner Tuesday – Sunday.
Karyn’s Cooked/Karyn’s Raw/Karyn’s Corner:
Karyn Calabrese is a walking wonder. In her late 60s, she puts the rest of us mere mortals to shame with a body that glows both inside and out. It’s the result of living a vegan and holistic lifestyle for several decades. Ms. Calabrese owns 3 establishments in Lincoln Park: Karyn’s Cooked, Karyn’s Raw and Karyn’s Corner Market. Take the CTA Brown Line to the Armitage ‘L’ stop and walk 3 blocks east and 1 block south. The #8 Halsted bus stop right out in front.
I ordered off of the cooked side of the menu. Since I am a sucker for soup, I started with a cup of this roasted vegetable soup which was chock full of fresh veggies and beans. There was a nice amount of spice to satisfy me here. Full bowls are available for each soup as well.
Next, I decided to give Karyn’s tofu a whirl. Given the amounts of lackluster tofu I’ve eaten around Chicago, I was managing my expectations. I ordered this jerk tofu wrap with creamy garlic and jerk sauces, crispy lettuce, and tomatoes. I had it wrapped up in a tomato tortilla but you can choose a whole wheat bun, if you prefer.
Wow! The texture of the tofu was medium firm which I loved. The jerk sauce was truly addictive. The wrap was served with two generously thick-cut, baked potato wedges with some barbeque sauce on the side. I’ll be back for this wrap again and again.
There is also a day spa with a myriad of services . Can you say “Feminine Rejuvenation” or “Colon Hydrotherapy?” I just know you can! I have not checked out Karyn’s interesting spa menu but I may just start with a facial or pedicure for now 😉
Karyn’s is located at 1901 N. Halsted.
So, there you have them, folks! Ditch the car and ride the rails to reach at the best vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Chicago. 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 these tasty vegetarian/vegan destinations. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!