It’s ironic that a takeover from a spiritual idol can suck the soul right out of a restaurant, but that’s essentially what happened with Alice & Friends Vegetarian Cafe. Recently, Supreme Master Ching Hai brought the restaurant into her Loving Hut fold, an international chain of vegan franchises that contribute funds back to the Master herself. The decor is so stark it recalls a dentist’s office, but the food—meatless bibimbap, mandoo—is exactly the same.
Maher Chebaro is a man who loves condiments. So while practically the only thing on the menu at his Lakeview storefront is falafel—fried to order and greaseless—it’s the salad bar visit that comes with each falafel pita or bowl that makes this place well worth a visit. There, toum (emulsified roasted garlic), sweet bulgur salad, spicy pickled ginger and creamy tabouli easily turn very good falafel into a very satisfying meal.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the hostess at Karyn’s, gesturing discreetly to my lazy Saturday outfit. “I didn’t know this place was so…fancy.” “I’m sorry,” I whispered to the hostess at Karyn’s, gesturing discreetly to my lazy Saturday outfit. “I didn’t know this place was so…fancy.” She seemed unfazed. She knew my type. I’d known vegan food was in store, and my head had clouded with images of grungy coffeehouses, disaffected servers, cracked walls covered in poorly hung art. What I never expected to see was one of the most gorgeous restaurants to open in Chicago in recent memory, its high-ceilinged dining room and lofted second-story lounge flush with natural light during the day and glowing an earthy, golden hue at night. Complementing the setting, there’s an extensive cocktail list (divided by century) and collection of about 40 well-priced sustainable wines, nearly all of which are available by the glass. While the owner, Karyn Calabrese (Karyn’s Raw, Karyn’s Cooked), doesn’t drink alcohol, her touch is evident in the cocktails: Magically, the Corpse Reviver #2 (19th c.) and the Southside (20th c.) manage to be both well-balanced and packed with so much fresh citrus I pretty much convinced myself they were healthy. But the menu—chicken legs, shepherd’s pie, poached haddock—was so far from what I expected, for a second I wondered whether I was in the right place. The servers quickly instructed me that all those meats are “faux.” And no matter how alluring the room is or how
Like a Zen koan shocking the mind into enlightenment, this Korean vegan restaurant is an awakening—for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike—to how delicious a meatless, eggless, dairy-free meal can be. Employing “Zen meditation cooking energy,” chefs whip up everything from vegan dumplings, organic veggies and noodle soups to spicy curry and tofu dishes. The popular green-tea vegan ice cream is available in warmer months.
This spot’s a neighborhood stalwart in a neighborhood that, frankly, needs stalwarts. In a family atmosphere for vegans looking to escape boring lentil hell, the “BBQ Twist” sandwich is as close to real barbecue pulled pork as vegetarians will get, and somehow the fried cauliflower tastes like chicken. If you have the time, sit for the full Sunday dinner: salad with tangy house dressing, fake-chicken potpie, collard greens, corn and potatoes. The vegan apple or peach pie that follows may not be healthy, but that was never the point of soul food.
Carnivores seem to think that without meat on their plate they’d starve. But this 100% vegetarian South Indian spot puts an end to that theory with its famous dosa—a gigantic cumin-, potato- and onion-filled rice and lentil crêpe that comes in a dozen varieties. Other good bets include vegetable pullav (a cardamom, clove and cinnamon-laced rice dish) and the “Madras-style” okra curry that regulars swear by.
While it would never occur to me to discriminate by nationality or color, creed has come up a couple of times. Namely (as I was recently reminded by a coworker), when I commented that a vegetarian could never serve as a thorough food writer for TOC, and again (as I was reminded by a friend), when I stated I’d never date someone who didn’t eat meat. My position hasn’t changed on the former, but somehow I went and crossed the line on the latter. And I’ve been swimming in seitan ever since. In an apparent effort to save the vegetarians from their strange fate of dining on shape-shifting fake meat (those who soak it in soy and say it tastes “just like duck” have apparently never eaten duck), Susan Thompson and Jill Barron of Sushi Wabi and De Cero have teamed up to open Mana Foodbar on the eastern end of the busy Division strip. Thompson took care of aesthetics and did a bang-up job of creating a casual but cool space, juxtaposing slate-toned walls and painted brick with warm, chunky wood stools and a bar that runs the length of the small room. A sidewalk patio doubles the size, but the servers already seem to have a handle on the back-and-forth. They also get that most diners are looking for variety, and they’ll rightly suggest sampling chef Barron’s menu as small plates (every dish is available in two sizes). A word of advice for trying to figure out price-point/plate-size ratio: Think of Mana as somewhere between Green Zebra and Earwax or Flying Saucer or wherever else you go