Despite our reputation as a meat-loving city, Chicago has an abundance of great vegetarian restaurants. If you're looking for incredible vegan milkshakes, head to the Chicago Diner. Want a great vegetarian brunch? Green Zebra is your spot. A tiny restaurant that serves small plates of hot and cold vegetable dishes? That's Mana Food Bar. Here are the best vegetarian restaurants in Chicago.
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Best vegetarian restaurants in Chicago
Even non-vegetarians know Chicago Diner. The vibe is normal, everyday diner, albeit with soy milk, tofu and tempeh on the giant menu. Waits for weekend brunch can get painful (even though the menu is served daily), but patient non-meat-eaters are rewarded with flaky soy margarine biscuits. Of the non-brunch options, the tofu and veggie-packed soul bowl is a healthy pick, and if you still have room, try the vegan caramel crunch torte or the thick, perfect milkshakes for dessert.
Shawn McClain’s moss-colored, Asian-tinged house of Zen is one of the only upscale dining experiences Chicago vegetarians can truly call their own. This is a great thing for dinners out, but it may be an even better thing for brunch. Here, there’s no worrying that bacon will be strewn over every plate (unless you count shiitake bacon). And with dishes like hen of the woods mushroom pate with Vidalia onion marmalade, and an organic duck egg with smoked potato puree, bacon is the last thing you’ll miss.
The multiple bike racks out back are packed with every kind of two-wheeler imaginable, no matter the time of year at this biker bar (and by biker, we mean bicycle-r). Eco-minded folks chat over tasty vegan fare (the barbecue seitan is great), check out each other’s rides and sample from the ample list of diverse drafts.
Karyn Calabrese is known for her 100% organic, vegan and raw cuisine (see: Karyn’s Fresh Corner). But here she turns up the heat. These dishes are still vegan and organic but appeal to those who aren’t ready for raw with hummus, pizza, salads and entrées made with fake meats. The restaurant serves organic wines and beer and yummy Sunday brunch, with a “conscious comfort food” vibe. Remember: In addition to meatless, vegan means no dairy or refined sugar.
This vegan cafe in Lakeview focuses on food made with their house-made seitan, like a meatball sub or pizzas with seitan pepperoni. A very good veggie burger is made hearty with quinoa flour and soy protein added to roasted herbs and vegetables, while a weekly selection of desserts ranges from cake slices to cupcakes to fudge.
At this shoebox-size meatless mecca, global vegetarian fare is gobbled up by diners lounging on chunky wood stools and in dark booths under dim lights. Most dishes are available in small and large sizes, so even a party of two can sample lots of dishes. Our favorites include the sesame noodles, bibimbap and a fresh panzanella, and you'll probably see at least one brown rice-mushroom slider delivered to every single table. Housemade ice creams make a great ending, unless you’re looking to drink dessert, in which case go for the cucumber Sakerita.
Come hungry to this South Indian vegetarian spot, where portion sizes are enormous. Start with rasam, a spicy cilantro-and-tamarind soup that’s hotter than a Bikram-yoga session (a few bites of rasa vada—lentil doughnuts with an array of chutneys—temper the heat). Delicious breads—including poori (think fluffy and fried) and a fantastically crispy dosa—complement the coconut chutney and various curries of the Royal Thali sampler.
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.
House-made seitan is the base for most menu items at Upton’s Breakroom, a bright little café attached to Upton’s Naturals, a company that makes seitan and sells it in stores across the country. The café has a small menu, including a pastrami seitan sandwich, grilled rosemary tempeh sandwich, baked goods and vegan soft serve. The employee meal, which is a rotating bowl of grains, greens and proteins, had a base of brown rice, a layer of raw kale, a generous helping of warm seitan chunks and a small container of bright-green nut pesto. There’s a great interplay of textures and flavors, and at $6 for a good-sized serving, it’s a satisfying lunch.