I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan. However, I do enjoy meatless dishes, as much as possible.
Last night I was feeling the literal weight of my inner carnivore, the result of a gluttonous, 2-week pork parade around town. I don’t believe in beating myself up too much but I was living a little too “high on the hog.” Enough was enough! So, I decided to treat myself to a more healthy solo dinner at Mana Food Bar.
Mana Food Bar is a fabulous vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. It is located just 3 blocks
west of the Division ‘L’ stop along the CTA Blue Line. At the recommendation of my dear friend, Anca, one of the few dedicated vegans I know, I headed on over there. So happy I did.
Chef Jill Barron is serving up some really beautiful and flavorful dishes. It can be difficult to choose between the many hot and cold menu items. Since most of Chef Jill’s offerings come in both small and large portions, I decided to order 3 small dishes. First up was the cold sesame noodles. It is made with yellow wheat noodles tossed in a spicy sesame peanut sauce with shredded pea pods and carrots. I had been missing the really great cold sesame noodles that NYC does so well. These hit the mark for me. The pea pods and carrots were super fresh and crunchy. The sauce was just spicy enough. Really yummy.
I have an insatiable appetite for especially spicy food and I gave into to it by ordering the Ma Po Tofu with spicy eggplant, Chinese black beans, red chili paste and brown rice. The tofu was silky smooth, the eggplant was tender and the spice factor was really there. I was happy that the brown rice was just enough to add texture to the dish rather than weigh it down. I’ll be back for this one again.
I had room to sample one more item. I had a hard time choosing between Mana’s mushroom and quinoa slider or the potato pancakes with apple-chutney and crema. I chose the latter, just because I love potato pancakes, especially sweet potatoes. Also, this dish sounded more like a dessert and I felt it would balance out the heat from the other 2 dishes. I chose wisely.
Mana has fun libations, too. They offer chilled sake, sake cocktails, wine, beer smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices and more. I’ll save those for my next visit 🙂
Oh! Mana Food Bar has been honored with the Michelin Bib Gourmand award for the last 2 years. Well, deserved! This place is really a great bang for your buck.
The space at Mana is tiny with only 20 tables at the front of the house. Half of those seats are at the bar. As the weather warms up, they will open a small carriage house out back which can be reserved for private parties. Nice.
Mana Food Bar is located at 1742 W. Division. They are open everyday for dinner. They serve lunch on Saturday. For more information, visit www.manafoodbar.com.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails Series, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA Blue Line to Mana Food Bar. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!